If there’s one thing that Hong Kong has a reputation for, it’s their food. I knew from the moment that I searching that eating and searching for places to eat would easily take up most of my holiday (and I wasn’t wrong!).
One point of contention which kept coming up again and again in my research was the Michelin Guide, and Hong Kong’s reputation for having the most affordable starred restaurants in the world. The rewarding and selection of the restaurants was enough to cause an uproar and locals that I spoke to were split between being impressed and disdainful of the rating system.
I decided to let my stomach to do the talking and ended up at three very different Michelin restaurants.
Tim Ho Wan
Tim Ho Wan is undoubtedly the most famous of the Hong Kong Michelin restaurants. When it first received its star the restaurant was labelled as the cheapest Michelin restaurant in the world and the crowds flocked to it, it’s not uncommon to be kept waiting for 1-2 hours outside the tiny eatery which only fits 29 people. The demand has been strong enough that a second branch was opened at Sham Shui Po, capable of seating over a hundred people but today I’m with Boo at the original branch in Monkok waiting impatiently in line at 9.30am.
It’s only a matter of minutes before the line begins to swell behind us and a sheepish Brad joins us 20 minutes later, luckily we’re close enough to the entrance that when the doors open at 10am we’re in the first 29 and are ushered in to our table. We’ve been obsessing over the menu ever since our arrival and quickly pass it over to the owner who gestures for us to sit down quickly. It’s a near agonising wait as baskets of Dim Sum arrive at every table but ours, but when it does… Oh my.
The Baked bun with BBQ pork (Char Siu Bau) (HKD 12 – $1.50AU), a known specialty is delivered and devoured in seconds, unlike a normal Char Siu Bau the bun has been deep-fried lightly, thin enough to crisp as I pick it up to eat without any oily residue. Knowing its reputation we’ve ordered two batches and even then I find myself looking longingly at our neighbour’s spread. The Glue Rice Dumpling (HKD 20 – $2.60AU) is an amazingly generous banana leaf wrapped serving of sticky rice enveloping a coyly sweet BBQ Pork center.
Pan-fried turnip cake (HKD 12 – $1.50) is another surprise. Delicately diced turnip all pressed together and fried lightly on each side, at first glance it seems as though it will be flour glutted but in actuality is refreshingly light. The Steamed Catfish & Celery Dumpling (HKD 12 – $1.50) is undoubtedly my favourite dish of the entire meal, the almost translucent dumpling wrapping is hiding a texture explosion – slightly crunchy turnip and celery all mixed with the steamed fish. It’s enough to have me contemplating a return the next day!
Between the 3 of us we’ve ordered 15 dishes (16 if you include the doubles), and by the end of the meal we’re faltering. The table is nearly overflowing with dishes as we struggle with cameras and stomaches and it’s with a groan of contentment that I finish off the Steamed Beefball with bean curd (HKD 12 – $1.50AU), steamed to a perfect texture that manages to just sit on top of the beancurd.
Of course, there’s no meal that’s complete without dessert and we’ve ordered every dessert on the menu with my personal favourite being the Tonic Medlar and Petal Cake (HKD 10 – $1.30AU). The ‘cake’ is actually a translucent jelly with Medlar seeds and petals scattered throughout, it’s surprisingly refreshing and the last thing I manage to eat at the meal.
As we roll out of the restaurant the crowds are as strong as ever, they’re all waiting for their numbers to be called and I take the opportunity for a quick snap. Service is brisk and brutally efficient, when I sneak back to the entrance to steal a paper copy of the menu the owner only looks at me quickly before snapping out, ‘How many!’. It’s asian service at its finest and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As for Tim Ho Wan’s reputation for being the cheapest Michelin restaurant, between the three of us our meal is a tiny total of HKD 210 ($27AU!).
I recommend visiting Tim Ho Wan early in the morning, if you arrive early enough you’ll be in with the first session otherwise it will be at least an hour’s wait. Other advice I’ve heard is to turn up at 3pm, just after lunch but before supper! I haven’t tested this theory, but good luck if you do try it!
Tim Ho Wan
2-8 Kwong Wah St
Mong Kok, Hong Kong, China
It’s a reunion of the Novotel Bloggers at a lunch kindly organised by Hong Kong Tourism and stepping into the restaurant I’m struck by the remarked contrast of the decor of Island Tang compared to the day before at Tim Ho Wan. Situated in the heart of central, art deco style, golden teapots and lazily spinning ceiling fans make me feel as though I’ve stepped into the world of ‘In the Mood for Love’.
We’re dining on a set menu for today’s lunch, with the courses chosen to reflect the range of dishes available at Island Tang. Our meal begins with the arrival of the Island Tang Dim Sum Combination, with no description available I take a quick guess of Taro Cake, Prawn dumplings and Chestnut and Mushroom dumpling. The Taro cake has been fried to a satisfying crunch, and the Chestnut and Mushroom dumpling translucent enough to make out the shape of each of the interior components. The precision and careful plating is admirable and sets the tone for the rest of our meal.
I find the pairing of the Deep-fried Shrimp and Vegetable Dumpling a curious one. They’re not similar in tastes or textures at all and while I can’t find the connection between the two, eaten apart the separate components shine. While fried foods have my heart, it’s the almost paper-thin Vegetable Dumpling in Matsutake Bouillon which has me fascinated. A gentle poke of the spoon is enough to split the wrapping and soon I’m quickly scooping up the diced vegetable in its beautifully clear stock.
We’re moving smoothly through the food groups with the next few dishes, the Deep Fried Spare Ribs with their brilliant scent of Shrimp Paste suddenly have me thinking of lap cheong, fried just enough for the exterior to have a light crunch while not drying out the pork. The Baked Chicken is slightly drier than I prefer but the skin has been baked to a crackling like texture, giving off a brilliant crack with every bite. Of course, every chinese banquet must end with Fried Rice, the fragrant Ginger and Spring Onion fried just enough to enhance rather than distract from the rice.
I find it fascinating to watch as the waiters quickly distribute the large platters of food into our individual servings reminding me of the dozens of Asian Banquet weddings I’ve attended, but find myself missing the theatricality of having this done at the table.
We’ve enjoyed a nicely balanced lunch which I can’t help but wish was a few courses longer, but service has been impeccable through our lunch with the waiters moving smoothly between the tables distributing plates and ensuring our tea is never empty. I notice a mixed crowd of locals and businessmen as we slowly wander our way out and can’t help but snap a photo, ducking out quickly as a businessman raises his eyebrow at me.
Shop 222, The Galleria,
9 Queen’s Rd,
Central, Hong Kong, China
Ph: 2526 8798.
Eatshowandtell dined as a guest of Hong Kong Tourism
Having gone to two one starred Michelin restaurants, Boo and I are determined to try out as much variety as we can. Luckily our research coincides with the release of Time Out Hong Kong’s 2010 Dining Awards, and soon we’re drowning in choices. It takes us a few days but we finally narrow our choice down to Ming Court, recently promoted to two stars in the 2010/11 edition of the Michelin Guide.
We’re down to only two bloggers now and much to our dismay we’ve discovered this severely limits the amount of food we’re able to try! A conservative, ‘Hmmm’ from our waiter sees us reluctantly culling a dish from our lunch menu but by the end we’re more than grateful we’ve done so!
The Pan-fried buns with assorted mushrooms are a fluffy wonder with an intricate leaf pattern painstakingly imprinted on the top, and a crunchy sesame seed layered base all stuffed with sautéed mushrooms. The mushrooms are already enough to win me over, but it’s the combination of fluffiness, crisp base and mushroom that’s the triple combo of delicious.
Having originally planned on ordering a chicken dish along with our stir-fried sliced Garoupa, I suddenly understand our waiter’s hesitation when the massive plate arrives at our table. The Garoupa is easily a full meal on its own with the sliced Garoupa all delicately tossed amongst scattered handfuls of mushroom and lined cutely with vegetable stalks, with a small bowl of rice each suddenly there’s silence as we methodically decimate the entire platter. In a good way.
Of course, no matter how full we protest we are there’s always room for dessert! Luckily Boo has as much of a sweet tooth as I do and there’s no question about dessert. It’s my first time eating steamed custard buns, and unfortunately for me… I think these particular buns have ruined me for all custard buns. The buns are deceivingly cute and innocent all nestled inside the basket, but it’s when they’re torn open that the goey golden center is revealed. It’s a tongue burning creamily sweet experience that suddenly has me wishing we’d ordered two!
For our last dish we’ve gone with a recommendation from the waiter, and it’s probably the only time throughout the meal that he’s steered us wrong. The shark fin crystal extravagance is a jaw dropper as it arrives at our table, theatrically the lid of the box isn’t lifted until the box itself is settled on the table allowing for the full impact of the dry ice overflowing the sides of the box. It’s an impressive sight which unfortunately isn’t really matched by the dessert itself, revealed to simply be a cube of mango jelly with a layer of translucent Shark Fin jelly.
Nestled on the upper floors of Langham Place Hotel, Ming Court is a more traditional atmosphere when compared to our other Michelin restaurants. The seating area is surprisingly spacious with only 4 tables scattered in a space that could easily fit 5. There’s an elegance and that extra level of detail to the dishes that make them all memorable, with my only regret being that with only two people we weren’t able to try enough dishes to do the kitchen justice.
6/F, Langham Place Hotel,
555 Shanghai St,
Mong Kok, Hong Kong, China
Ph: 3552 3300