What I say:
Noryangjin Seafood Market is the “Tsukiji” of Seoul, South Korea, and a great attraction if.. well.. you are into fish. There are many endless rows of fish and shellfish. Some are live; some frozen; others fermented and kimchi-ed.
This is just a ‘sharing’ post and I won’t attempt at reviewing the restaurant. You might probably have heard of Quanjude as THE PLACE for its most seductive, most authentic Peking duck, and if you are a keen traveller to the Far East, you might probably have known that Quanjude has branched out to many locations of Beijing. And, this was the place I visited last year…
What’s so special?
The ducks of Quanjude are roasted in a massive open fire oven and they are also numbered. The server – or rather the chef – who comes to each table to fillet the duck will inform you which number of duck you are having. The highlight of this Peking duck lies in its extremely light and crispy skin, its juicy fat and the tender meat. The serving focuses on the crispy skin, served wrapped in pancakes with sliced cucumber, spring onion and Hoi Sin sauce, and the discard of the actual meat. You can opt to have that discarded meat prepared as a main dish. So, what’s the difference between Quanjude’s duck pancakes and the Aromatic ones in the UK? Say, here in the UK, diners opt for the meat, usually a leg roasted, deep-fried and flaked to form the main part of the pancake filling. Personally, I find the skin-only eating more appealing and not too heavy for an appetiser dish.
The dishes at Quanjude are traditional to its core. There are some rare Chinese treats that I couldn’t just help ordering loads, such as (1) Turtle Shell in Garlic Sauce and (2) Aromatic Camel Hump. The turtle shell has this soft but slightly springy jellyfish-like texture and very clear, fresh and mild flavour. The sauce is oyster-sauce-based with the bulby garlics adding aroma and sweetness. The camel hump is my favourite and quite similar to Crispy Mongolian Lamb. Very spiced and with a hint of chilli, the meat is very thinly sliced and cooked to ultimate dry crispiness. No foul, gamy smell remains.
32 N.3rd Ring Road West
Tel. +86 10 6219 9099
IN a lifetime there is probably a meal that you really want to splash out, use up all your cash and eat as if there would be no tomorrow. At half past 8pm I was in my taxi, having just finished a brilliant pre-dinner meal at Ming Court, heading to this world’s first 3 Michelin star Cantonese restaurant Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel. I was restless, though that was partly due to the paranoa of overspending, or credit card declining. Initially, I wanted to go to LKH for cheaper dim sum lunch but I couldn’t just book a table, hence this late-hour dinner.
9PM – I arrived, checked out the loo and walked into LKH. The restaurant was on the 4th floor of the hotel overlooking the harbour. Stunning! The name Lung King Heen meant something like “View of Dragon” and yes the view is unparallelled. I recalled my view at Le Jule Verne – great view but the family-friendly dining rooms and the tourists downstairs peeping up during our meal were totally underwhelming. LHK’s dining room was spacious and the tables were nicely spread out. It was inclined to being traditional with a bit of modern touch. And, the scene was a real bustle.
Seated at one lonely sofa table. The fact that the seat was well cushioned made up for its being sidelined in the far end of the dining room. This was probably a design genius. I didn’t get the view but I did get luxuriously padded seats. The front of house was very accommodating for a loner like me – and the loner lady close by – I was loaned some magazines, two of which featured articles about Lung King Heen itself. Wasn’t that self advertisement before the meal? You might as well lend me the M guide! That said, the articles did give me an extensive summary of dishes at LKH and the flair of Executive Chef Chan Yan Tak.
The menu – situated itself in the Cantonese tradition. Seafood dishes were the thing at LKH. There were many dim sum dishes on the dinner menu. Never mind that. My eyes grazed through all the pages very carefully, with an occasional pause at the price list. For example, one braised whole 16-headed Yoshiyama abalone in supreme oyster sauce was priced at 3000$ HK. That was, £240 a dish!!! That said, many dishes on the menu were deadly and unthiftily appealing. Lots and lots of premium old-school Chinese imgredients – shark’s fin, abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw goose, fresh duck liver, garoupa. It took me a little longer than usual to make up my mind – because I was calculating the bill in my head, seriously! – and as much as I was NOT hungry I decided to order 4 savoury dishes.
Before that, there was an amuse bouche of deep fried calamari with sweet chilli sauce….
For a restaurant that served up a £240 dish, was this a joke? The calamari was nicely cooked but … you can guess what I want to say. Just don’t want to sound too rude.
DISH 1: Wok Fried Sea Cucumber with Spring Onion
Sea cucumber, for those who do not know, is a kind of seawater leech – animal, not vegetable as its English name suggests. There are big ones, small ones, fresh ones and dehydrated ones. It has this fishy kinda flavour but the texture of very tender gelatin. The big ones are more crunchy. The Chinese do many things with it – pan frying, brasing, stewing (as in soup). I have been having sea cucumber since I was a kid at special occasions. The thing itself is deemed one of the Chinese benchmarks of luxurious food. I really had high expectation of this serving!
The dish was composed of sea cucumber, leeks, ginger, refined oyster sauce and broccoli. The flavours were delicate with a mild note of ginger coming through. The leeks were noteworthy – sautee to the perfection resulting in the no-stringy texture. The sea cucumber was rather plump and absorbed the flavours of the many other things well but without being overpowered by them. This was probably a real 2-or-3-starred dish for me and the one I had much later on at Royal China Club was never in the same league as this.
DISH 2: Braised Superior Shark’s Fin with Crab Cream and Gold Leaf
I know shark’s fin is quite controversial now and I am brave enough to admit I am one of those consuming it. Though there was a moment on Ramsay’s Shark Bait, that made me think twice and I have strayed away from it since. But, to leave out this ridiculously amazing dish out of the post would be a crime (to me at least). The dish of crab cream soup, served with a light drippling of Merlot red wine vinegar instead of the traditional Chinese soy vinegar, was luscious. The cream was rich and its texture akin to that of light custard with crab perfume. The strings of shark’s fin, I must admit, were not necessary. The thing about shark’s fin is that the thing itself doesn’t have a taste – just a kind of bland jelly-like thing. It is whatever the fin is braised and stewed in that gives it very intense flavours. In other words, it absorbs whatever flavours better than any other ingredient in the world and because it doesn’t half taste those flavours remained distinct and enhanced. In this post-molecular gastronomic age, however, I think, one can re-create things that suck in flavours as much as shark’s fin. In this dish, the fin worked to add more flavours to the crab cream. The strings burst something salty and porky. The gold leaf was there as a spectacle – not realling doing anything to the flavour but adding a few extra $ to the bill.
DISH 3: Braised Whole 16-Headed Fresh Yoshihama Abalone in Supreme Oyster Sauce
First question? What is abalone? It’s a type of sea snail but flat in shape. It attaches itself to rocks on and nelow coastal shores. The reason it is so bleepingly pricy can be explained as the demand and supply thing. And, of course, because it tastes so good, a sort of combination of nutty, chicken-y and seafood-like flavours. The texture is that of firmness and chewy-ness depending on the quality and the way it is prepared. What’s with the “head”? Yes, abalone does have a head but the “16-head” tag above indicates the size of the abalone rather than, literally, how many heads it has. Confused? The head count refers to the number of abalone that makes up a “kati” or 600g. Meaning? The bigger an abalone is the fewer there are in one “kati”. In short, the bigger, the better; the bigger, the more tender.
My dish of abalone, then? It was gorgeous. Super meaty but soft. It’s like eating a proper piece of abalone steak. The outside was a little richer in flavour due to minutes it was braised; the inside oozed out very hazelnuty sweetness. Again, the oyster sauce was delicate; the texture well refined and velvety. This was, however, without any twist, just traditianally basic execution at its best.
DISH 4: Braised Duck Liver with Goose Web in Oyster Sauce
I knew I was stupid when the dish arrived. Why on earth did I order things that came with, more or less, a similar kind of sauce!!??? That said, this duck liver – NOT “foie gras” – was very interesting. It had all the flavour of foie gras minus grease. The texture was sort of jelly-like but creamy. I don’t quite know how to explain this but by means of association. I think, it’s quite similar to jellied pork blood but slightly creamier. Hope that association helps, no? For the sauce, there were strings of fragrant dehydrated orange rind, which lifted up the dish tremendously. Still, at the finish line of all my savoury dishes, I felt all these bankrupting Chinese delicacies had this similar gelatin texture and were cooked in a very similarly oyster-saucey way. No offence to the centuries of gastronomic tradition but it bored me a little. Maybe I was, as I said, stupid to have ordered these dishes and too fixated to eat these things I wouldn’t be able to find in the other side of the globe. Never mind, all dishes were solidly great and the quality, say, of the sea cucumber and the abalone did blow me away.
To answer what you had in mind, yes I did have desserts. I was spoiling myself and the process wouldn’t be complete without … two desserts. This explained why I gained so much weight by the end of 2010!!
DESSERT 1: Stewed Walnut Cream with Sago
Vile .. I didn’t even want to attempt to analyse this!
DESSERTS 1/2: Petit Four of Some Cake I Couldn’t Quite Remember and Goji Berry Agar
Well, the thing I couldn’t quite remember was, as I could remember, not bad. Just not memorable. But, again, petit four was hardly memorable. The goji berry jelly was delectable – lightly sweet and with a herbal, Chinese medicinal aroma. The grape-like goji berries inside were quite juicy.
DESSERT 2: Baked Milk Custard Tartlets with Bird’s Nest
This restored my faith in Cantonese cooking! These little bitches were the best of their kind, the most exquisite, the tastiest I’d had in the world. Unlike most egg custard tarts, which were heavy and yolky, this milk based egg custard was ethereal; the puff pastry was so fragile even a little touch from my fingers could bruise it. It invoked some sort of anxiety whether I would drop it from my fingers. The bird’s nest was of premium quality and once I put a piece in my mouth it was a whirlwind of sweetened silk and mild eggy-ness, while the bird’s nest gave a little tickle to the palate. I felt really blessed.
THE BILL – nay, I wouldn’t tell you how much this cost. I feel bad thinking about it now, but as I said earlier on, if there was a meal in my life I’d feel like emptying my wallet, this was it. Brilliantly executed, flawless food with well grounded cooking tradition. There was not much of a vision for the future. It might be fair to say, I was more excited at the ingredients than the cooking, and I wouldn’t probably go back to Lung King Heen for dinner by myself again. The exception would be to take my loved ones to experience what I had just had. But ..
did this meal change my life?
Well, yes, it made me a little poorer…
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
LUNG KING HEEN
4th Flr Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street
Tel. +852 3196 8880
So, I had two bowls of snake soup at Sher Wong Yip and a pot of turtle jelly; I bought some stuff at Cat Street Market and browsed the Dried Seafood Market; but, I actually spent most of my afternoon in the taxi. The HK traffic was more horrific than Bangkok, god forbids! Arriving at my hotel in late afternoon, I was dead hungry. The dilemma was that I booked a table at this much raved about 3-star restaurant at 9pm. F**k, would I last 4 hours without a proper meal!?
No, I wouldn’t. I decided to have a pre-dinner at my hotel, which happened to house a 2-Michelin-star Chinese restaurant Ming Court. Surprise, surprise why I gained weight, yeah?
Seated at Ming Court – a modern Chinese restaurant boasting an elegant dining room with encircling glass walls adorned with mini Chinese vintage pottery and sculptures. The front of house was graceful and courteous and did their best to accommodate me. I told them I had only one hour to eat .. though I didn’t mention that I would be having another meal after this one.
Starter: Chilled Abalone and Jelly Fish
The flavour of the abalone simmered in this very rich jus was so deep and scrumptious, the best I’d ever tasted. Its texture of that of tenderness, which was well coupled with the crunch-worthy jelly fish and the juicy, uber-finely sliced cucumber. There was also a mild aroma of sesame and spring onions. Delightful.
Main Course: Chicken Black Truffle, Pumpkin
This wasn’t just chicken but chicken meat that was minced, re-processed into chicken ball mixture, flattened, cut and pan-fried for the perfect crispy-ness. Then, the pieces were coated with black truffle dressing, which oozed out heavenly aroma and turned quite a few heads in the dining room. There was also another dimension of the aroma: the deep fried shallot rings, which undercut the earthy smell of the truffle with a sweeter kind of fragrance. I was told this was Ming Court signature dish and biting into this bouncy and crispy meat I totally got what Ming Court was capable of. The dish – or rather the style of cooking – reminded me of Hakksan but million miles more refined. The accompanying slices of pan fried pumpkin added sweetness to the well flavoured chicken. They also added a lot of bites, though some westerners might find them to be undercooked.
Side Dish: Ming Court Special Fried Rice
I had my chicken with the special egg fried rice with many things in – ranging from lobster meat, ham, honey roasted pork, spring onions and cucumber. This fried rice was dry and greaseless. It might sounds like an exaggeration but every rice grain was well sautee and all the flavours – not a touch overseasoned – combined came through. That said, I refrained from eating too much; there was another meal waiting for me …
I just bloody hoped the other place would live up to this!
Desserts: Premium Bird’s Nest Soup with Ginger Syrup
Despite the front of house’s recommendation of a two course meal to fit my one hour slot, I couldn’t really bear the thought of leaving a restaurant without having a bird’s nest soup. The three previous dishes were Brilliant with a capitalised “B” so I knew I wouldn’t be unhappy with the bird’s nest on offer.
Was the bowl not too full?
Let’s have a closer look …
Was there anywhere I could put my spoon in?
Pouring the warm ginger syrup in and slurping my first spoonful, I was swallowing – no pun intended – ecstacy! The bird’s nest was of the highest quality. It had this soft half-gelatin, half-agar texture and the mild natural sweetness maximised by the subtly gingery syrup. Really delicate but after half a bowl I knew I was doomed.
So stuffed … though I felt the urge and the guilt not to leave the bowl unfinished.
I looked at the rabbit-shaped coconut marshmallow.
Put it in my mouth — gorgoeooouuusssssss!!!
I wasn’t sure if I could have another dinner in about an hour
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.
The Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghao Street
Tel. +852 3552 3300
Right! This is a post not for the faint hearted or for those with snake phobia. Last December I took a very short trip to Hong Kong to get some Christmas gifts and, well, to savour China’s much lauded meat that is much dreaded by the rest of the world. It is ..
I didn’t actually have much clue where to find this snake soup in Hong Kong. My other bib gave me a tip-off to the area called Shamshuipo in Kowloon and told me to find the Snake Street. Not helping much, and considering I only had less than 24hr to get things done and get my meals eaten, I hailed a cabbie, who, lucky me, could speak fluent English and knew where all the wild things are …
It was a small eatery that had been around for more than 50 years – or so I had heard – called Sher Wong Yip sandwiched between many other shops in Shamshuipo. The difference was, perhaps, the noticeable glass box displayed at the front wherein lay many kinds of living snakes. Walking in, I saw jars of pickled snakes, the towers of wooden boxes where these creepers were encased, and the rather iconic window display of the fight between taxidermic King Cobra and a mighty weasel. The piece was, according to the lady of Sher Wong Yip, imported from Thailand! Ambiance-wise, I’d say, it was relaxed, humble and bustling. There were round wooden tables and plastic stools and diners were encouraged to share. I appeared the youngest among these snake eaters. To be more precise, it was almost a venue for the over 40s. Is the snake eating trend dying in Hong Kong as a result of globalisation?
There was no menu at Sher Wong Yip. Maybe there was but I couldn’t quite master the language to inquire for one. All I needed to know was that they served up the snake soup I was looking for at 50 $HK. Let’s waste no time. Here it was …
What’s in that bowl?
Shredded snake meat, finely sliced cloud’s ears, shitake mushrooms – they were roughly what I could make out of. The soup itself was flavoursome – chicken stock-based and rich with a touch of flour to achieve the similar consistency as, say, a Hot and Sour Soup in London’s Chinatown. That said, the flavours of the soup were that of calmness and deep subtlety. Saltiness was the first flavour in, though I added some soy vinegar available at the table. There was a lot of contrasting texture going it – crunchy, chewy and tender. The hot soup and the nutrients in it did warm me up a lot in such a cold day in Hong Kong!
Now you want to see what the snake meat looks like?
The flavour? And the texture?
The flavour was not much of a departure from chicken but the texture of the snake fillet and the way it flaked was more akin to hard-fleshed fish. According to my taxi driver, there were three different kinds of snakes in this soup, but he couldn’t quite elaborate. Plus, the though of having one was daring enough I didn’t quite fancy thinking of three of them!
I cleaned the bowl.
In fact, I cleaned two bowls. And, I couldn’t ask for anything more befitting for such a time, place and weather! It seemed my enjoyment had been noticed by the ladies at Sher Wong Yip. They posed – actually one of them jumped – at my camera, told me to come back and waved me out of the place. Funny people, tasty and stereotype-defying food that I will go after next time I’m due in Hong Kong.
I recounted my snake-y initiation to my cabbie. He was impressed and suggested something equally exciting. That was, he offered to drive me for some desserts made from turtles!!
This wasn’t as much an independent anti-establishment as Sher Wong Yip but a popular high-street chain called Hoi Tin Tong. The founder Ng Yui Ming studied Chinese medicine and developed the recipe of herbal turtle jelly to help his mum combating cancer. Seeing the result, the guy decided to open the first “turtle jelly” store in 1990 and now there are more than 40 retail shops in Hong Kong and Kowloon, while the jelly and the brand is also exported elsewhere in Asia.
The Jelly? Served either hot or cold, the jelly was very herbal in a Chinese way. Quite bitter and with the same texture as glass jelly. I needed to squeeze a dallop of sweet syrup in to make it palatable.
The verdict? Decent and I was sure it was healthy, but not my ideal kind of desserts. And, for the purpose of turtle tasting, it’d be better off eating the actual ones unprocessed and coming in their shells. Where could you find that? Stay tuned for my other post on Beijing.
Click here for more info on Hoi Tin Tong.
I was off to my last stop for some “cat”. Not on the plate, as my own cat would have found herself into a living nightmare, but to Hong Kong’s renowned vintage art street Cat Street Market, just opposite Man Mo Temple on Hong Kong Island.
What did I buy? Some infamous vintage “cat” porcelain, also known as Chairman Mao, and here they were …
I should have gone to Beijing’s Pan Jia Yuan Flea Market as there would have been more to browse on.
X’mas gifts done! I had some more hours to kill before my 3 Michelin starred dinner in Hong Kong. If you wonder, what’s the best place to time-kill for foodies in Hong Kong? I’d highly recommend a trip to the Dried Seafood Market in Sheng Wan.
My head rating for Sher Wong Yip says, “8 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
SHER WONG YIP
139 Nam Cheong Street
Tel. +852 2728 8675 and +852 2387 1902
You take a bus to Camberwell Road, to this little “boutique” hotel Pasha, and walk down this red-carpetted, dimly lit, narrow corridor. Keep walking and walking, past a Turskish bath, a steam room and sauna, a cosmetic laser surgery room – I am not kidding – a pool table and lots of photos of pretty Mongolian models framed on the walls. Then, you reach the dead end, no? Actually, there is a door, modest and unassuming, at the end of that corridor, with signs that say…
And that is it, the anti-climactic entrance to this Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant. To me, this was, probably, the most random entrance I’d ever come across in the UK.
Opening that door was, surprisingly, more of an experience. My Other Bib had visited the place before and insisted I did the honour – of door-opening. He wanted to see the look on my face, really. And, ah! Bright light hit me in the face. The restaurant itself was a room – maybe two rooms joined together – but there was a sort of warmth to the place: nomade-style, semi-floor seating on one side of the restaurant and tables and chairs – nothing fancy – on the other. Between those two sides was a pond and a small wooden bridge with fish. Live ones ….
No comment on that. I took my seat.
The menu was intriguing as it was a conflation of many nationalities ranging from regular Turkish dishes, more marginal cuisine from Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan. I was there to samble Central Asian food; accordingly we opted for the ones with Russian imprints.
The bread came with a Houmous dip. Not the smoothest one I’d eaten but quite flavoursome. The bread, served cold, was sponge-like and did not have much flavour in itself.
First up were Russian Salad and Pickled Herrings. It couldn’t get any more traditional, could it? The Russian Salad, which was a bowl of many things – chopped eggs, diced potatoes, carrots, pickled gerkins – mixed with mayonaise, was decent enough. The flavours of the root veggies, pickles and eggs came through nicely. It wasn’t special, of course, but decent. The Pickled Herrings dish was a bit more special. Served with boiled potato slices and pickles, the slices of herrings were meaty and of good quality. There was not much sourness going on there, considering it was a pickled dish. We deliberated and thought the one at Goodman tasted better. Still, we mopped all the bits and pieces on the plate down very quickly. We also ordered grilled Halloumi cheese, which was good. Not very Russiian, were we?
Then we had this intermittent bowl of Borsch, a Russian beetroot soup with sour cream. The version at Kyrgyz Kazakh was actually very nice. Aromatic with celery, beetroot, carrot, potatoes, lettuce and beef stewed together with a touch of rosemary and dill. The bowl itself was massive and the amount of ingredients that had gone into it could actually make this a meal in itself.
As far the main – perhaps I should mention that one main costs about £7-8 and they are massive! – we got Besh Barmak and Oromo. The Besh Barmak was, according to the menu, traditional hand made dough topped with beef and onions cooked in broth. That “dough” thing was half way between flat pasta – tagliatelle came to my mind here but less eggy – and Chinese noodle. It was well made and well cooked – soft but retaining some bite – and slithered down my throat very nicely. The topping of beef and onion cooked in broth was direct. The beef flaked nicely on the tongue. However, the dish fell into a trap of being two dimensional with flavours being dominated by the natural sweetness of the onions. I didn’t know what the chef could do to improve the dish, though, and in the end, it was down to the gastronomic tradition of nomadic cooking – the convenience-came-first sort of thing – that would never be as rich and as advanced as, say, Italian or French or Thai or Indian or Chinese or, well, many others. The other main Oromo was less thrilling. It was a roll – made from the same pasta-like dough – of minced meat steamed and served with sour cream and spicy chilli relish. The roll itself was rather bland. I could taste meat, salt and pasta. Not bad, but not to my liking. Personally, I much prefered the Besh Barmak because it had more of contrasting texture going on. The Oromo, look-wise and taste-wise, was more like a snack dish and not very far off from being a rustic Cheng Fun dish.
Last but not least, we had the dessert, the only Kazakh sweet on the menu, called Chak Chak. How could I describe it? Say, fried noodle-like dough, raisin and nuts glued together by a dullop of honey and ground cinnamon and then cut into chunks. It was sweet, crunchy and fragrant. They did achieve the right balance for this one, I must say. The Chak Chak I came across in previous occasions – many were Chinese or Korean variations – were just disgustingly honeyed or soggy.
Overall, this was one decent meal and quite a gastro-experience. Price-wise, it was brilliant and I was told if we came at the weekends for dinner, there’d be live musicians and belly dancers. Looking back to the meal, the Kyrgyz Kazakh food was quite a merging of two cooking traditions: Russian and Chinese, but lacking depth and the wow factor. That said, I quite enjoyed my experience and might try to dig out more of these places wherever, though I didn’t think I’d come across another one with a pond – with fish and a turtle – in the middle of the dining room!!
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
KYRGYZ KAZAKH HOUSE RESTAURANT
158 Camberwell Road
Tel. 020 7277 2228