Friday, August 1, 2014

Pork "Overdose" at Mott 32

I recently made a "rare appearance" in downtown Central in a weekday afternoon to go yum cha at Mott 32, probably one of the most talked-about new restaurant openings of the year so far.

The restaurant - the first Chinese dining outlet by the Maximal Concepts group (which also owns Fish & Meat, Blue Butcher etc) - took up the vast basement space in the Standard Chartered Bank Building in the heart of Central. I don't even know what it was before but the designer certainly transformed this space into a hip and trendy dining area which looks more like a jazz club in New York's Meatpacking District than a traditional restaurant in its namesake district of Chinatown.

As we sipped on the refreshing cocktail made from the bar right behind our table - a virgin version of Mott Street Cooler with Vanilla Syrup, Szechuan Chili, Ginger and Apple Juice - and a nice pot of brewed Tie Guan Yin tea served individually, we began to dig in to the dimsum dishes that were presented to us in order.

The barbecued pork bun - a.k.a. char siu bao - is the signature item of the restaurant. This is actually a modern version, with barbecued pork made with Spanish Teruel pork stuffed inside a sweet bun coated with sugar known locally as the "Mexican bun" (墨西哥包). The bun was freshly baked, soft with the right subtle sweetness, and the pork filling has great flavor with good meat texture, which worked well with the bun with a sweet crusty top.

Siu Mai with Quail Egg is a classic dim sum item rarely seen on dimsum carts nowadays, but this one is a modified version with the half-boiled egg stuffed inside the kurobuta pork dumpling (instead of placed on top as that was done traditionally), and topped with black truffle paste. Well, I think the chef tried to create a runny yolk effect with the quail egg but it might have been overcooked a little bit for that, but it's delicious overall. Dimsum fundamentalists may cry foul for this not looking the same as the ones they had "back in the old days", I personally like the combination of flavor plus the subtle aroma of truffles coming through, while keeping the authenticity in spirit.

A quartet of pork dishes were brought to our table almost at the same time. First up was the sweet and sour pork. Lightly battered strips of kurobuta pork was deep-fried and sauteed in an aged dark vinegar gastrique giving it a perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors, and served with cubes of dragon fruits and bell peppers. It's easy to dismiss this as just another Chinatown dish catered for western palate but this one, cooked in the old-fashioned way but with a modern twist, was excellent.

Way too many times I have heard people raving about the char siu (barbecued pork) here, and after my first bite, I right away knew why that was so. There's never a shortage of restaurants who tried to lay claim to the title of best char siu in town, but Mott 32 definitely made a very strong case for it based on what I tried. The pork was slow roasted with generous brush of honey glaze, giving it a sweet, caramelized "crust" with just the right amount of the charred bits. I quickly grabbed the one piece on the side (which was the most charred and "crusty") and I felt like I was in heaven. The meat was rich and tender as you would expect from Iberico pork, even though I found the part of meat we had - probably the loin (I didn't ask so I could be wrong) - was a bit too lean. I normally prefer the fattier part, but this one is still a winner.

The generous plate of "siu yuk" rounded up the table full of pork dishes. While I like the overall portion, the meat-fat-skin ratio and the crispy skin, I think the chef was probably a little too heavy with salt on this one, so tipping the scale against the dish. (I guess it would be okay if you had that with some rice) It's probably my least favorite dish of the afternoon, even though that didn't stop me from getting more than a fair share of it - the crispy skin was too good to resist.

We weren't quite done yet. The last of the pork dish, which came a bit later as we were finishing up the food from the last round, was the braised pork belly, based on the owner's family recipe of Taiwanese Braised Pork (or in Chinese 花蓮滷肉 - as the menu described) It's somewhat similar to the Shanghainese Dongpo Pork, except this one the meat was firmer, the sauce's sweeter and leaned more towards soy flavor. Once again, the meat-fat-skin ratio was spot-on and I love the garnishes of deep-fried shredded ginger on top.

We did manage to try a few non-pork dishes. The Australian wagyu beef puff was similar to the turnip pastry puff (蘿蔔絲酥餅) dimsum that we normally have elsewhere, but instead of having shredded turnips inside, it's stuffed with diced wagyu beef sauteed in black pepper sauce. I love the combination of the flaky pastry shell outside and the rich sauce inside.

The sauteed wagyu sirloin with mushrooms, potatoes and leeks was another dish that I loved, with super rich flavors and excellent ingredients, tender beef with marbled fat and a combination of shitake and shimeji mushrooms, sauteed with asparagus, deep-fried sliced leeks and a rich sauce with minced black beans and black peppers. The best part was perhaps the potatoes at the bottom - cut in thick strips and deep-fried, absorbing every best bit of the sauce and the beef jus.

By the end of the meal I was so full that I could hardly move, let alone having more food, but I just couldn't resist getting a bite of the house-made lychee sorbet, which was sweet and refreshing, to round up our wonderful lunch at this amazing venue. There are plenty incentives for me to return soon - I had my eyes on the Peking Duck on the menu already.

Thanks Maximal Concepts for hosting me this afternoon.

When? July 23 2014
Where? Mott 32, Basement, Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Barbecue Prime Iberico Pork with Yellow Mountain Honey
Web: www.mott32.com


1 comment :

hklovebites said...

Love this place, their charsiu is insane, and the kao ya's not ba either

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