Continuing my reviews of Chinese restaurants (see previous posts for Dim Sum, Noodles, Western Comfort Food, Food with a View and Kowloon restaurants) here’s my experience of eating on Hong Kong island. Google map here.
A brief index:
Hipster Fusion Buns – Little Bao (Intermediate A).
Chili Crab – Under Bridge Spicy Crab (High Intermediate A).
Cheap Eats – Tung Po (High Elementary B).
Posh Cantonese – The Chairman (Advanced B).
Chiu Chow Cuisine – Leung Hing Restaurant (Intermediate B).
Roast Goose – Yung Kee (Intermediate C).
Little Bao (Intermediate A), 66 Staunton St, Central, www.little-bao.com
I love Little Bao, it’s the kind of place I’d like to open. When I was in town in Autumn 2016 it was the buzz name on everyone’s lips, along with Yardbird, another hipster joint just down the road.
As you can imagine it’s very popular and quite difficult to get in (no reservations allowed). I managed to on the second attempt by arriving early and putting my name on the waiting list. The greeter took my number and called me 40 minutes later when a table was free. Fortunately there are plenty of bars further along the street where you can kill time (see my coming post on Bars).
The restaurant is open plan with diners sitting at an L-shaped bar right in front of the chefs so you can get a birds eye view of all the action. Video here.
Little Bao is actually a fusion joint. It takes the burger concept and gives it a twist by using steamed Chinese baos instead of burger buns. There are three versions; pork belly, Szechuan chicken, fish tempura and vegetarian. I tried the first two (they’re quite small) and loved them both (A+/A).
I had the Truffle Fries as a side; Shiitake tempeh with truffle mayo and pickled daikon, also great (A).
They make decent cocktails too. I had a Punch Sai Gua (gin, watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon and lemon) and Chris’ Lemonade (42 Below Vodka, Chrysanthemum, honey, rhubarb bitters), both scoring B+.
To finish, the LB Ice Cream Bao was delightfully delinquent.
A deep-fried steamed bun sandwiching green tea ice cream and drizzled with condensed milk, which was killer obviously (A+).
The bill came to HK$541 for six items which isn’t too bad. Lots more to try on the menu. Wish I could go back!
Under Bridge Spicy Crab (High Intermediate A), Shop 6-9, G/F, 421-425 Lockhart Road, www.underspicycrab.com
Before the 1990s Hong Kong’s typhoon shelters (protective harbours for boats during rough seas) were home to a large community of fishermen and boat people who over time developed their own distinctive culture and cuisine. Since then these communities have slowly declined, along with the fishing industry, and their descendants have moved onshore, some of them opening food stalls which developed into restaurants like this.
This particular restaurant, under the Canal Road flyover, gets an entry in Where Chefs Eat and a slot on one of Anthony Bourdain’s programmes. They are open till 6am but I went around 9pm and I got a table without any problems, despite it being quite busy.
I kicked off with a big plate of Steamed Clams with Chilli and Black Bean Sauce which were great (A).
The iconic dish of typhoon shelter cuisine is Typhoon Shelter Crab and it’s the signature dish here (on the menu as Under Bridge Spicy Crab). If you order it your victim will be brought to the table for inspection before being dispatched to the kitchen for deep frying.
The house recipe is secret but it certainly contains lots of fried garlic and chilli peppers, which are offered at six levels of spiciness from ‘no spice’ to ‘super spicy’. I went for ‘medium spicy’ although with hindsight I think I could have handled ‘very spicy’. I loved it (A).
Although it was a bit expensive (this varies by season) I really enjoyed the food and would happily go back, preferably in a group. One useful comment on TripAdvisor has these two caveats: “First, if you are in Hong Kong in the fall you may want to consider a hairy crab restaurant [as they’re in season] and second if you plan to visit an outer island or a seafood oriented cooked food centre like Mui Wo the better value and equally delicious meal is a salt and pepper crab. The salt and pepper dish uses smaller crabs, so less meat, but I thought the meat was sweeter and the seasoning a better compliment”.
The restaurant also offers the option of dining on an actual boat, which is what Bourdain did, but it costs around HK$2,000 and you need a minimum of six people.
Tung Po (High Elementary B), 2/F Java Road Municipal Services Building, 99 Java Rd, North Point, Hong Kong
This is one of a few inexpensive, no-frills restaurants in the cooked food centre on the top floor of the market building on Java Road.
It’s very popular and attracts big groups of diners who create quite a raucous atmosphere.
I started with the Deep-Fried Tofu which was pretty average (C).
The Chinese Cabbage with Garlic was okay (B).
Bourdain really liked the Black Squid Ink Spaghetti which he described as “amazing.” I thought it was good (B) but nothing I’d make a TV programme about.
Your beer drinking custom is touted for by beer girls promoting the Carlsberg and Blue Girl brands. Unfortunately I’m a fan of neither (C).
So not the greatest culinary experience but the atmosphere is great, which makes this a good place to come with a gang for a fun, cheap night out.
Sing Kee (Initial B), 9-10 Stanley Street, Central
Another quintiessential experience is eating at a Dai Pai Dong; an outdoor food stall that serves ‘wok hei‘ dishes.
Sing Kee is a famous dai pai dong in central which I stumbled across one night. The food was okay (B) but the atmosphere is what made the experience special (A).
The Chairman (Advanced B), 18 Kau U Fong, Central, www.thechairmangroup.com
This is a high-end place in fashionable NoHo (north of Hollywood Rd) which specialises in local, seasonal Cantonese cuisine. It comes recommended by 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die and Where Chefs Eat. It’s best to reserve; I got in for lunch on the second attempt.
I wanted to have their most famous dish of Steamed Flower Crab but couldn’t justify the expense at the time, so I went for the set ‘Executive Menu’ instead where you can choose three (HK$198) or four (HK$218) dishes from quite a wide selection for each course.
I’m always up for trying new things so I began with Smoked Baby Pigeon with Longjing Tea and Chrysanthemum (B).
I quite enjoyed the Sichuan Style Shredded Pig’s Ear & Tripe Salad with Freshly Sliced Guava (B+).
The Tea Smoked Duck with Tamarind and Dark Sugar was interesting (B).
Finally, Osmanthus & Wolfberry Ice-cream (B+). Osmanthus is a flowering plant with a scent and flavour reminiscent of peach and apricot which is often used in tea. Wolfberry, also known as Goji berry, is similarly used in teas, and many other dishes, primarily for its (fictitious) health qualities.
An interesting experience but not mind-blowing. It would probably be much better if you’re prepared to spend more. This is a good place for business lunches on expense accounts.
Here are some short reviews of good mid-range restaurants I went to in November 2006:
Leung Hing (Intermediate B), 32 Bonham Strand West, Sheung Wan, Open 7.30am-11pm
A very local back street place specialising in Chiu Chow (or Teochew) food, a regional cuisine from the north east of China, known for its shellfish and vegetarian food, and with a reputation for being very healthy. I had the seafood noodles which were excellent and very reasonable. Just wish I’d been hungrier so I could have tried more dishes.
Yung Kee (Intermediate C), 32-40 Wellington St, Central, Open 11am-11.30pm
A famous Cantonese institution known since 1942 for its roast goose (they farm their own) and dim sum (served 2-5pm). We found it difficult to get in and had to wait a while, maybe reserve if you can. Sadly our choices were ill-informed and we didn’t enjoy it very much, but that’s not to say it can’t be good. Next time I will get the goose rather than the thousand-year-eggs!
More far flung Chinese restaurants next!