Saturday, February 3, 2018

Snake Soup at Another Private Kitchen

I just realized it’s been more than a decade since I last ate at Ngor Je’s Private Kitchen… not since she moved to its current location in Sai Ying Pun as far as I remembered. Until a friend of ours organized a snake soup dinner there recently and asked us to join on a Sunday evening.

Chef Catherine Lai, or Ngor Je (Auntie Ngor) as most people affectionately call her, is one of the pioneers in the once-buzzing Hong Kong Private Kitchen scene, inheriting the family catering business with the dining venue (called Kam Moon Jong) set up inside commercial building, first in Jervois Street near Sheung Wan since the late 90’s, then to the current, more spacious venue towards Sai Ying Pun more than 10 years ago. She only serves a maximum of two dining parties each night inside the two private rooms, each decorated in traditional Chinese style with lacquered wood furniture and Asian art on the wall, and often there’s a waiting list of a few months long of people trying to get one of those tables for dinner.

Everything must be pre-ordered as Chef Ngor Je picked the fresh ingredients at the market right prior to each dinner booking. And this time we mainly stuck with some of her signature dishes. We began with our first course of pigeon egg served with a side of salad – the egg was dipped in a light batter and deep-fried with slightly crispy crust and soft texture.

Of the next three courses of hot dishes, my favorite was definitely the shrimp toast, with each of us having two long slices of deep-fried toast with sautéed shrimp on top. They were crispy and filled with flavor – all that was needed was just a pinch of smoked salt on top. The braised pomelo skin with shrimp roes was another signature dish of the chef and that one didn’t disappoint either, with the pomelo skin, a Cantonese delicacy, braised soft and infused with the gravy sauce and the tiny shrimp roes on top. I was so tempted to have a bowl of rice to mob all the sauce up. (on the other hand, the third dish, the scrambled egg with fake fins, was just average – good flavor but not fluffy enough).

Our next course was served in a different order with our poultry dish came before the soup (instead of the other way round). That problem aside, the roast baby pigeon was excellent. Not those type with the crispiest skin but it’s well marinated and tasty from the skin down to the bone – it’s finger-licking good and I felt I would never have enough of that. Just as we finished our pigeon (we were given half the bird each) the snake soup arrived at our table, bubbling hot inside a big soup pot, and it was then served in a smaller bowl in individual portion with the usual condiments of fried crackers, cilantro, chrysanthemum petals and kaffir lime leaves.

I always enjoy a hearty bowl of snake soup, especially in the middle of the cold winter, and I think this bowl was pretty decent. It’s hard to beat the best we have had, but I love the rich soup base of this one, simmered with chicken, ham and snake bones along with abalones, sea cucumbers, woodear mushroom, bamboo shoots and snake meat all in thin shreds. And just as we finished our first pot of soup, the second pot arrived, so everyone has its more than fair share of the soup which was said to be good for keeping your body warm and helped with blood circulation.

The strong aroma of Chinese herbs filled the room when our next dish of steamed eel was brought in, with thick slices of eel steamed with scores of Chinese herbs. It’s comforting and I love the delicate texture of the deboned eel slices and the sweet goji berries mixed in. The “golden crab” was a popular Cantonese dish, with chunks of Chinese flower crab dipped in a batter mixed with butter and salted egg and deep-fried. I thought the crabs were bit small tonight and didn’t yield a lot of meat, but the batter was fine with the addictive salted egg flavor.

And we finished with a bowl of sticky rice with Chinese sausages, and the dessert of sweet soup of ginger and red dates with rice dumplings. Both were especially comforting under such weather. Went for 2 vintage Bordeaux after the champagne, and I like the 2000 Bahans de Haut Brion more this evening – well matured with a soft fruity nose, great, ripe red fruits on the palate and smooth tannins to finish.

Not a bad way to end the weekend with – meeting new friends, chit-chatting about politics and other random stuff (not suitable for posting), while enjoying the solidly-executed home-style Cantonese dishes. We heard Auntie Ngor is planning for her retirement in one year’s time, so I think we should make the effort of going back there at least once before the place became history.

When? January 14 2018
Where? Ngor Je's Private Kitchen, 3/F Des Voeux Building, 19-25 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan
Menu Highlights? Snake Soup with Abalones and Sea Cucumbers
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV
2000 Chateau Bahans Haut Brion
1998 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

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