Saturday, September 17, 2016

At a Hokkien Private Kitchen

When the maitre d’ knew exactly whom our table was booked under and showed me to the room upstairs without me saying a word, it’s almost like they were already expecting us as we walked in to this “random” restaurant in North Point, a private kitchen of sort specializing in Hokkien/Fujian cuisine. Later we came to realize that this restaurant only had 3 tables in private room setting and we were the only group of customers for the evening – that explained why.

Among different branches of Chinese cuisine, Hokkien food (閩菜) was surprisingly under-represented in the local dining scene despite having a large population with connection to the coastal province of Fujian, or Hokkien in their local dialect. Most of us have never heard of this restaurant in this quiet neighborhood in North Point before our foodie friend CXB suggested that we came to check it out for dinner. He also sorted out the menu for us beforehand with some specialty Hokkien dishes which need to be reserved in advance, plus a last-minute order of a pair of moray eel dishes using the live moray eel our chef/restauranteur friend D brought along – yes, there is such a thing as BYOS, or Bring-your-own-seafood. (You can find the live fish in my Flickr album - didn't post it here in case some found it disturbing - let's just say moray eel is not the most beautiful creature in the sea)

We began with a few appetizer dishes, all of which were very pleasant. I especially enjoyed the pork intestine cut in bite-sized chunks and served cold with a soy marinate sauce – I wasn’t a fan of pork intestines, but this one didn’t have the "funny" taste I always associated it with and had good texture and fat in the middle.

Most of the dishes were meat-oriented and based on traditional Hokkien cooking. The braised “Quattro-stuffed Duck” (四套鴨) was almost like a Turducken done Chinese style, with a deboned duck stuffed with a deboned chicken stuffed with a deboned pigeon and then abalone, braised with a thick gravy-like sauce. The meat was juicy and well-infused with flavors, from inside and out. It was followed by another braised chicken dish, this one a lighter version with the whole chicken deboned and slow-cooked with lotus seeds and pork stomach (蓮子豬肚煨雞). We had an excellent lotus seeds dish a couple of weeks before, and this one was equally impressive, with the mild nutty and clean taste from the lotus seeds matching well with the slightly earthy flavor from the pork stomach.

The oyster omelette (閩南煎蠔仔) was similar to the Chiuchow version but done without eggs. The batter has good gluey texture (from the potato starch used) and a slight crust on the outside, having pan-fried with a generous layer of oil, with plenty of chopped baby oysters inside giving the dish outstanding umami flavors. Dishes sautéed with mild rice wine lees (紅糟) were one of the specialty dishes in Hokkien cuisine, and traditionally cooked with thick slices of whelk. But when they told us since they ran out of whelks they made ours with fresh abalones instead, we certainly wouldn’t complain - the abalones had a bouncy rather than crunchy texture like whelk, but worked just as good. And the dish has a beautiful hue of red (from the wine lees) matching well with the green vegetables for the presentation and a mild fermented sweet taste.

We were a bit perplexed at our next course called “Lychee Pork” (福州荔枝肉) because we thought they made a mistake of serving us Longan instead of Lychees. Later all was cleared as the restaurant manager explained to us that Lychee Pork referred to the shape of the deep-fried pork that resembles the famous tropical fruit than the actual use of it. We later had another dish made with Longan, this time with steamed mud crab – while I thought the combination of the sweet fruits with the rich crab roes was interesting, the crab meat was a bit mushy and lacked flavor. That turned out was the only disappointment of the evening.

D told us the moray eel he got from the fishmonger just in the morning was a rarer type with better flavor, and he asked the chef to split this creature which weighted 3-4 catty (around 2 kg) and served two ways. And both methods of the steaming with black bean sauce and braising with siitake mushrooms, leeks and pork yielded great results. I liked the firm, meaty slice of the steamed eels, and the slightly crispy skin of the braised ones (which were deep-fried briefly before braising in a strong sauce with shiitake mushroom, leeks and pork) We finished with the traditional savory pancake (a Hokkien burrito, so to speak) with a dozen or so finely-chopped ingredients (meat, seafood and vegetables) and finely-grinded peanuts wrapped inside a thin crepe, plus a bowl of  sweet peanut soup with dumplings as our dessert.

Many of us brought wines to share, and though we didn’t exactly coordinate what each were going to bring, turned out we had a good variety of bottles. The junmai daiginjo from our favorite sake brewer never disappoint, especially this limited summer edition brought in by our friend, working well with the lighter dishes, and the Quintarelli bianco secco in magnum was the unusual one, with a rich floral aroma and tasted almost like a honey at first sip with minerals that came right after. Worried about the quality of my old Barolo which had quite a bit of visible seepage problem, I brought along another bottle (a more recent vintage of Barbaresco from a different producer) just in case, but turned out the old wine is still drinkable though it's obviously over the top, but I thought it was fine with the earthy moray eel.

More photos on Flickr: and read the review by my friend Susan who went to the restaurant on a separate occasion earlier.

When? September 9 2016
Where? Sun Fook Kee, First Floor, Circle Court, 3-5 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Braised Quattro-stuffed Duck (失傳四套鴨), Braised Moray Eel (京燒海油𩺬)
Drinks? (not listed in serving order)
2011 Alysian "Rochioli Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
2014 Giuseppe Quintarelli Bianco Secco Veneto IGT (Magnum)
2002 Champagne Bollinger RD Extra Brut
2004 Champagne Bollinger La Grande Annee Brut
Isojiman Daiginjo Junmai 48 Hasegawa edition 磯自慢 大吟醸純米 48 (はせがわ酒店 限定)
2012 Argyle "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
1982 Damilano Barolo DOCG
2014 Von Winning Riesling Trocken Grainhubel Grosses Gewachs, Pfalz

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