Nostalgic late-night eats at new restaurant Loyal Dining
Serving late-night dim sum from 10 p.m., and staying open until 4 a.m. on weekends, Loyal Dining seems determined to take on that stalwart of post-party dining, Tsui Wah Restaurant, located just a few meters away on Wellington Street.
Both eateries are about classic Hong Kong dining available late-night in the heart of our nightlife district.
But Loyal Dining is sophisticated and retro-chic. No greasy, tissue-strewn floors here.
Loyal Dining is a peculiar name for a restaurant, but it’s actually an adapted transliteration of a local slang word "來佬" pronounced "loi lo" which refers to imported goods from the West.
The term gained currency in the 1960s and 1970s as Hong Kong’s rapid economic progress enabled a higher standard of living for a growing Chinese middle class that was, for the first time, able to experience the exotic and relatively luxurious foods of the West.
The result was a surge in restaurants that fused the imported goods and flavors of the West with existing local tastes, marking the birth of a new cuisine: soysauce Western.
These East-meets-West restaurants have mostly faded away over the years, but some, notably Goldfinch Restaurant, Boston Restaurant, and the granddaddy of them all, Tai Ping Koon, are still in existence.
We visited for dinner on a recent weekday and found this newcomer in the soysauce Western game a worthy rookie. After 11 p.m. however, the items featured here are not available as Loyal Dining rolls out its late-night menu of dim sum and signature roast pigeon.
Walking into Loyal Dining, the decor evokes the gravitas of the past as viewed through a modern prism. Heavy doses of marble and wood define the dining areas that span four floors. Leather upholstery, bound menus and framed photos of old Hong Kong complete the ambience.
One drawback is the tile flooring and wood walls seemed to emphasize the conversations of surrounding tables, making the space a bit of an echo chamber. It was difficult to carry on a conversation amidst the din.
The menu features the usual mishmash of dishes one would expect from a soysauce Western joint, including everything from Portuguese-style baked chicken to stir-fried ho fun noodles. We were most curious about the baked escargots.
Arriving on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, the half dozen escargots were tender and well-flavored with the expected heavy overtones of garlic.
The 66 Beef Wellington is billed as one of Loyal Dining’s specialties.
We ordered it with gravy (the other choices were black pepper sauce or garlic sauce) and it arrived on a Hong Kong-style sizzling hotplate alongside a baked potato and a handful of boiled vegetables.
The Beef Wellington was very straightforward. The puff pastry provided a nice exterior texture to the tenderloin, and there was a musty flavor to the whole package by virtue of the middle layer of pâté.
The main complaint about the dish is that at HK$188 (for the set, which includes a dessert and coffee or tea), it is the most expensive thing on the menu, and it seems a bit pricey for what it is.
The seared foie gras and barbecue pork (cha siu) with rice was a bit of a disappointment, as the cha siu was drenched in an overpowering sweet sauce.
The dish was nine parts cha siu to one part foie gras. The foie was also permeated by the sweet sauce but it worked with it markedly better than the cha siu. Skillfully seared, the foie was able to showcase its natural earthy umami flavor.
Against the backdrop of a local heritage movement that always seems to be perilously close to being overrun by salivating land developers, Loyal Dining has inserted itself into the heart of one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighborhoods and has chosen to showcase a unique segment of Hong Kong’s dining heritage.
Keeping this in mind, don’t visit Loyal to snack on run-of-the-mill noodle or rice dishes, as you’d be better off eating at a nearby cha chaan teng or dai paai dong for a fraction of the price. The full Loyal Dining experience is best enjoyed if you treat it as part of a larger exercise in nostalgia.
Tell yourself: it’s 1969, Hong Kong is growing by the minute and “loi lo” goods are in abundance. Take the tram to Central one night, make your way to the laddered stretch of Pottinger Street, and walk up the steps. Look down at the large stone slabs beneath your feet that were laid in the early days of the colony.
As you enter Loyal Dining, pull up a chair, open the menu and understand that you are now part of a cosmopolitan city and that the world has come to you in the form of hotplate Beef Wellington and baked escargots.
Loyal Dining; open Sunday - Thursday, 7:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; Friday - Saturday, 7 p.m -4 a.m. 66 Wellington St., Central, +852 3125 3000, loyaldining.com.hk
Have you been to Loyal Dining? Did you love it or hate it? Rate the joint in the comments box below.