The truth about Hong Kong's most hyped restaurants
Some of Hong Kong's best rated restaurants may be shoo-ins for restaurant guide books and awards lists, but may not be so popular with real diners. As we say in Chinese: "One man's bear paw is another man's arsenic."
That is, good food is a subjective thing. When it comes to restaurants, it's the same principle.
We talked to Hong Kong's prominent food bloggers about their thoughts on the most iconic restaurants in town. The expert panel includes food columnist Michael Lam who is known as "Young God of Gourmet," blogger KC who has written over 6,000 posts on his restaurant review site, chef and cookbook writer Fanny Li, as well as Openrice's 'outstanding member' Evan Li.
Each speaks out for and against the city's favorite eateries.
Lung King Heen
The world's first Chinese restaurant to garner three Michelin stars, Lung King Heen is the most highly regarded contemporary Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong and their executive chef Chan Yan Tak has many fans.
The announcement of its Michelin honors was met with controversy in the local foodie community, which felt that it was an elitist choice made by foreingers unfamiliar with what real Hong Kong people liked to eat. But our foodie expert panel defends the establishment.
KC: "Lung King Heen is Chinese food with Western presentation. For example, crab is served off the shell. This makes is distinct from most other Cantonese restaurants. As a 'three-star restaurant' it is quite affordable. For dinner, it costs about HK$1,100 to 1,200. It is impossible to find such a low price in other Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. The only problem with this place is it's cutlery is not what you would expect for a high-end restaurant."
Evan: "Don't think that just because its a three-star Michelin restaurant it is really expensive. Lunch there is about HK$300 per person, and includes meat and vegetable dishes, the signature fried rice, dessert, and the tea is da hong pao. It's hard to book a table, but the quality of food and service is not bad. On one visit, we really enjoyed the dessert and told the staff so -- the restaurant gave us a free plate to take home."
Michael: "The service and atmosphere is top notch. The dim sum and dessert menus always carry surprises as it is changed frequently to accomodate seasonal ingredients."
Recommendations: Abalone and prawn dishes.
Find Lung King Heen's detailed information at www.fourseasons.com
From a humble dai pai dong to the Wellington Street landmark that it is today, Yung Kee has accompanied Hong Kongers for almost a century.
It's famous roast goose is not just good food, it's practically a trademark of Hong Kong. However, our foodie experts seem to like other dishes on Yung Kee's menu even more than the classic goose.
Michael Lam: I am sentimental about the restaurant. Sure, the roast goose is great, but there are many other dishes on their menu.
Yung Kee only makes 20 bowls of beef briskets each day and I can say it is the best beef brisket in the galaxy. It is really tender but doesn't fall apart. I never share the soup at the end and just gulp it down in one go -- the meaty flavor fills your entire mouth and even seeps into the crevices of your teeth.
It's hard to pick on Yung Kee. It is so good it will be the first restaurant that I will write about in my upcoming book.
KC: A traditional restaurant it is. Been in the business for decades and it started with roast goose. It's stewed beef brisket and smoked chicken are well above standard, so is the Cantonese restaurant itself.
There are two types of roast goose: juicy versus crispy. Yung Kee's rendition is old-school and the geese are large and meaty.
Though it's a Michelin-one-star restaurant, dining there doesn't have to cost much. Dishes range from HK$30 to HK$600. Their stewed beef brisket tastes awfully good. Mind though it may not be served every day, got to call and check. They rather not serve any if there are no good ingredients.
Fanny: Yung Kee roast goose is known for crispy skin, tender meat, bone-deep flavor and rich sauce. Each goose is deliberately selected from Qingyuan or Foshan, weighs not more than 5kg and is served at only specific periods throughout the day. Charcoal-roasted upon order with their family recipe and sauce, delectable! I always start with preserved eggs and pickled ginger as an appetizer, wait for the zesty goose, grab the drumstick and crunch. Hmm… that raw meaty flavor and the layered sensation, it’s just tasty.
Evan: You're safe with Yung Kee's old-school dishes, like sweet and sour pork. The roast goose tastes great, but it isn't a must-try.
And better watch out for greasy dishes. I tried their shrimp rolls before -- pretty greasy.
Recommendations: Roast goose, smoked pork, beef brisket with noodles and wonton noodles.
See Yung Kee's detailed information on CNNGo.
Spring Deer is Tsim Sha Tsui's go-to restaurant for Northern Chinese food. The chefs mostly come from Northen China and many of them escaped during wartime to Hong Kong, bringing with them authentic Beijing cuisine without a trace of pretension.
Michael: Spring Deer is of course known for their roast duck, but my favorite is their Beijing-style roast lamb brisket. It is a fragrant dish without a trace of gaminess. The brisket is marinated then roasted till the skin turns crisp without taking away the succulence of the meat.
One bite and the juice shoots right down your throat. I grew up with this restaurant and every time I walk up the stairs it feels like I am going back in time.
KC: Go with a couple of friends as the servings are huge and prices good. What makes a roast duck well-done has nothing to do with the fowl -- it is in the slicing technique.
Slice it so that patrons taste the skin, fat, and meat all in one bite. Their chefs just nailed it.
Recommendations: Sauteed pig's esophagus, duck in wine lees, Beijing-style roast lamb brisket
Spring Deer Restaurant, 42 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel +852 2366 4012/ 5839
Tasty Congee and Noodle Wantun Shop
We can't help being impressed by how Tasty transforms the humble congee and noodle joint into a glamorous restaurant. It's history reaches back to the 1940s -- the shop owner's father founded the historic noodle eatery Ho Hung Kee.
But is this restaurant really such a big shot for the food obsessed? Hard to tell as reviews are mixed.
Michael: I've got nothing to say. It's not bad, but nothing stands out either.
KC: Though Tasty charges rather high prices, it does very well for a contemporary congee and noodle shop.
Their Chinese crullers stay crisp all day and their crullers wrapped in rice noodles roll are all freshly made. This is really rare. I usually dine there at night, because it is the only place where you can get freshly made crullers at almost any time.
Recommended: Pan-fried noodles with shredded pork, crullers and rice noodle rolls, Chinese crullers
Se Wong Yee
Se Wong Yee is known for their snake soup, a dish that Hong Kongers love to have in the winter and that visitors love to have to boost their street cred. The establishment is loved by its fans for the no-frills setting and down to earth attitude from the staff.
Our foodie expert panel doesn't seem to be fans though.
Michael Lam: Both the snake soup and Cantonese-style barbecue meat are downright awful. I won't dine there.
KC: What stands out isn't the snake soup. A good snake soup is delicate and refined, which isn't the case at Se Wong Yee. Their soup is robust with roughly shredded snake meat, but that is like serving quantity to make up for the quality of the dish.
What should take center stage at Se Wong Yee is their Chinese preserved sausages. The stewed dishes like fish head soup taste good too.
Recommendations: Chinese preserved sausage.
Se Wong Yee, 24 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, tel +852 2831 0163/2832 2977
Tai Wing Wah
Tai Wing Wah serves village cuisine consisting of rustic, hearty dishes unique to Hong Kong's New Territories. The restaurant is run by celebrity chef Hugo Leung and is a regular stop for visitors to Yuen Long.
Michael Lam: People in the New Territories cook with their own produce, so the food appeals to our most basic sense with the freshness of its ingredients. If you want to try village cuisine, this is the place to go. Chef Leung knows his ingredients well and he is also one of the most optimistic and cheerful chefs I know.KC: I don't find village cuisine special. We used to say that restaurants near Yuen Long were more accessible to fresh produce, but it's different now as all eateries get more or less the same stuff. So, I won't go all the way to dine there anymore.
Evan: Been to Tai Wing Wah once. The food is authentic and down to earth. We got this note saying "If dim sum is not served within 20 minutes, talk to the waiters." That is good service.
Recommended: Goose stew, rice with lard and soy, braised pork belly with preserved mustard greens
Tai Wing Wah, 2/F, 2-6 On Ning Road, Yuen Long, tel +852 2476 9888