Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bring Your Own Seafood

Dinner at one of those seafood restaurants in Saikung is our event of choice whenever we got out-of-town friends visiting Hong Kong. I guess there's nothing more iconic to what Hong Kong culture is about with a meal at a restaurant with live seafood picked fresh from the water tanks and cooked any way you want.

I did the same when my long-time friend/ex work colleague R was visiting from Miami, especially when he specifically requested seafood. But this time I wanted to try one restaurant I have never visited instead of those familiar ones by the seaside promenade with the fancy neon light sign and the elaborate display of live seafood in the shop front.

That restaurant is Loaf On, the one located "off the limelight" one block behind the promenade dubbed the "Seafood Street". Many friends who have been have said cooking at Loaf On handily beat any of the other popular seafood restaurants in the hood, and apparently the Michelin Guide inspectors agreed and awarded them one-star since the first edition.

Despite the peak hour traffic, we managed to arrive at Sai Kung town center before 7pm. Unlike the other seafood restaurants around, Loaf On doesn't have those giant water tanks outside with many seafood to choose from, instead they only kept the freshest ones straight from the market or boat, or customers can bring in their own from elsewhere. That's why we went straight to Sai Kung Market just a block away to hunt for the seafood at the stalls before they close for the day. It's not the best time to shop for seafood (many were sold earlier) but we still managed to find a few types we liked and brought them to the restaurant.

Weekdays are definitely a much better time to visit Sai Kung, with more a small town atmosphere and much less people (which means it's easier to get a reservation at the restaurant and shorter wait for the food). The restaurant was not even half-full when we arrived, as compared to having to book months ahead for a table on weekends. It's probably not the Michelin-starred restaurant with the best décor, but I think it's already a class above other similar restaurants around with the spacious dining area over 3 stories with windows overlooking the streets outside. And service was top-notch - definitely way ahead of its competitors, which sometimes could get a bit pushy and eager to sell you the more expensive seafood dishes.

We went with the seafood we picked from the market, plus a couple other dishes from their menu. The restaurant may be famous for its preparation of seafood, but the deep-fried tofu was amazing, with the soft and delicate tofu coated with the perfectly crisp skin outside. It's great when the dish arrived steaming hot and even after a good 20 minutes, it's still amazingly warm and tasty (and crispy).

The Cantonese salt and pepper squid is a common dish found in many local restaurants, but this is one of the best I have tried, with the extra fluffy deep-fried batter with the succulent chunks of squid inside. Definitely beat any calamari dish - cooked in a similar manner in an Italian kitchen - by a mile in terms of the seasonings and preparation techniques.

The fishmonger shop owner recommended the prawns, which he said were caught wild from the sea just hours earlier, so we picked up a small batch (half a catty or 300g). For fresh prawns there's no need for fancy preparation, so we just asked the restaurant to steam and serve with chili soy sauce. They really got excellent flavor - a touch of soy sauce was all it's needed really - and bouncy texture, always a good indication of freshness.

We got more shellfish to come. Next were the razor clams, sautéed with black beans, onions and bell peppers. The clams was of good size with a bite and it's prepared with plenty of "wok hei" and feisty flavor. The short-necked clams are the common species found in local waters all year long - it's almost as big as the fist. They were steamed with chopped garlic and glass noodles for a milder taste. It's quite decent, and represented great value for money.

The salt and pepper abalones are the signature dish at the restaurant and I must say that's extraordinary. It's of the right size with thick meat, and fresh when we picked them off at the stall. It's prepared with the thinnest coating of the batter mixed with salt and pepper and deep-fried, and served with parsley and pepper for a slight spicy kick. I love the texture - soft but with a firm bite - and the taste, with the right touch of salt to bring out the original abalone flavor. It's not a particularly busy day for the restaurant so they paced the serving speed very well and everything came out in perfect condition. No doubt this is the best Sai Kung meal I have had and glad we now have another place we can count on to bring visitors as a showcase of the best of Hong Kong specialty cuisine.

The picture album is here:

When? November 7 2017
Where? Loaf On Chinese Cuisine, 49 See Cheung Street, Sai Kung, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Cantonese Salt and Pepper Abalone
Drinks? The good old Tsing Tao lager in bottles!

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