Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Restaurant Next Door

Ask any food enthusiast what their favorite Chinese restaurants are and you probably won’t hear the name "Sang Kee" mentioned too often, but it’s one of those neighborhood, hole-in-the-wall places that delivered excellent family-style dishes night in and night out for as long as one could remember (some 40 years, to be exact)

We have been coming here every now and then since when they were in their old location a few blocks away from their current venue, especially when we were in the area and wanted something simple. And I was here again a few weeks ago when my work colleagues suggested to come here for our year-end dinner gathering of sorts.  The restaurant was just as what it has always been since they moved here, with simple, down-to-earth décor that was typical of any casual Chinese restaurant in town, and packed with customers as always no matter what time of the evening it was. The menu probably didn’t change much all these years either, with a long list of tried-and-true Cantonese dishes and some seasonal items, or any fresh seafood happened to be available from the market.

We went for something simple this time, including a couple of dishes that we had to pre-order in advance. The deep-fried squid with salt and pepper was always a crowd-pleaser and the version here was done with a thick and crispy batter, served hot immediately straight from the kitchen. So was the pan-fried meat patty with salted fish. The steamed version of the dish was the usual choice but I always like this shaped like a medallion and done on a frying pan instead for the crispy crust and the  umami flavor from the dried salted fish fillet.

We saw the description “World’s Best Chili Pepper” (天下第一椒) on the menu and were curious enough to order it to try. Turned out it’s the traditional green chili pepper stuffed with minced meat. Probably a bit exaggerated to be called the world’s best, but I like the balance of taste with a bit of heat from the chili pepper. The baked eggs and fish intestine is one of those traditional dishes that’s not as commonly seen these days, and I did like the texture of this one with additional bits of char siu (barbecued pork) added in the baked egg along with the slightly bouncy carp fish intestines.

I felt a bit cheated that our salt-baked chicken, one of our pre-ordered items, didn’t come with the offals. That could be an indication that they used pre-chilled chicken to prepare the dish as opposed to the fresh, live chicken. The cooking was fine – the meat was tender and juicy with the crispy skin, but still I felt something was missing without the liver and the heart and the kidney which I love. Other dishes we tried were all decent, especially the sauteed choi sum (Chinese mustard greens) with preserved vegetables and fried noodles with soy sauce. Nothing fancy but with solid execution.

We finished with congee with rabbitfish and pork meatballs served in a large stainless steel pot brought to our table. Rabbitfish (known locally as lai mang 泥鯭) is a common species found along the Hong Kong coastline and was considered as poor men's seafood with its unique earthy flavor and flaky meat. It's often steamed with dried mandarin peel (to get rid of the eathiness) and served whole, or carefully de-boned and cooked with congee. You probably won’t find this in the finest restaurants, but I thought the bowl of congee was hearty and delicious with bits of the fish meat mixed in, especially the meatballs which were well-marinated and gave a good bouncy bite.

Surprised they didn’t have the traditional Chinese sweet soup available as dessert, but instead we were served a plate of “white sugar cake”, the bouncy sponge cake like dessert made with glutinous rice flour which again has a humble background being a common food item traditionally sold by the street vendors. It’s good for nostalgia’s sake.

We spent most time chatting and gossiping so went light on wines – just a single bottle of champagne I pulled from my wine cabinet to toast our eventful year and one dramatic work chapter to an end. Sang Kee is never a restaurant that will wow, but there’s a good reason why they managed to be around for decades with good consistency. Not getting the vote for my favorite restaurant either, but I am happy to be back to eat here any time.

When? December 13 2017
Where? Sang Kee Restaurant, 2-3/F, 107-115 Hennessy Road, Wanchai
Menu Highlights? Baked Eggs with Fish Intestine
Drinks? Champagne Bruno & Christiane Olivier Reserve Brut NV
Web: www.sangkee.com.hk

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