Thursday, September 13, 2018

First visit to an old restaurant

I got "frowned upon" when I confided to some foodie friends that I have never been to Hoi King Heen at Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hotel before. Well in my defense TST East is not exactly the area we visit often so it never came to my mind to check it out even after hearing so many good things about the restaurant. But then the other day we were figuring about what to eat when we met our friends C and A on the Kowloon side, I thought "hey, let’s just try somewhere all of us have never been!" and booked a table for our dinner there.

For Chinese speakers, the restaurant name of “Hoi King Heen” could be misleading, as the name – which literally meant Sea-view House – would imply the view of the harbor from the restaurant at the hotel sitting right by the promenade. But instead it’s located in the basement with no window, let alone a view of anything – I wasn’t bothered by it at all but just found this fact interesting. (well, the restaurant was so named because of the Chinese name of the hotel and the hotel does have a harbor view, in case you wanna dig deeper into why)

Anyway, the restaurant sat right across from the Italian restaurant which I visited a couple of times since their recent makeover, and both places were packed in the Saturday evening we were there. But despite the full dining area and the low ceiling down in the basement, I found the restaurant relaxing and comfortable (and quieter than I thought) as we settled at our round table near the back of the restaurant.

The menu was huge with a few set-course meals and a la carte options covering pretty much all bases from banquet-style delicacy to some more home-style, everyday dishes. The majority of dishes were based on classic Cantonese cuisine, but as with many hotel Chinese restaurants, there’s a good selection of dishes from other part of China, like the Peking Duck of course.  Chef Fai-hung Leung of the restaurant has a reputation of being able to combine old-school Cantonese cooking with contemporary techniques and presentations, and it clearly showed in many of the unique dishes listed on the menu.

Wish we could try them all on one night but with just the four of us, we only managed a few. We began with the daily soup with pork, beef brisket, corn and carrots. Nothing fancy but just good old home-style Cantonese done right with plenty of good ingredients thrown in and the right seasoning. Next were a pair of appetizers. The “vegetarian goose” was listed as one of their signature items and it’s done slightly different than the traditional version, with rolled tofu sheet wrapped with julienne carrots and celery. The simpler set of ingredients meant a simpler, cleaner taste (mainly of the tofu with the rest more for the crunchy texture), but then it was smoked with tea leaves before serving to give it a brown crust and some additional flavor. Of course, the quality of the barbecue dishes set the benchmark of any Cantonese restaurant, and I love the Char Siu, or barbecued pork here, with well-balanced fatty texture of the meat (shoulder cut using local pork), a slight brush of soy-maltose glaze and roasted with a slightly burnt crust. It’s slightly on the sweet side but it was delicious and served with very generous portion – you have no idea how many times we ordered this somewhere else only to get a handful of thin slices served.

We moved on to a few main course dishes. Our verdict on the braised abalone with steamed bean curd was a bit mixed – the presentation was simple but superb, with a row of bean curd slabs each topped with a small braised abalones and served with the dark gravy sauce made with reduced superior broth. The abalones were great – well-seasoned, tender but with a bite just as they should be – but we thought overall the taste wasn’t as rich as we expected, probably because the tofu was unproportionally big compared to the abalones. I thought perhaps some shiitake mushrooms or even just more green vegetables would have helped with a better balance.

The braised water melon stuffed with pork and water chestnut was the unanimous choice as our favorite of the evening. Again, one can’t fault the presentation – styled just like the traditional dongpo pork belly dish but instead of a giant cube of pork belly served with a thick sauce, it’s the seasonal winter melon with meat stuffed in the middle, presented like a gift box with green scallions as “ribbon”. On top and on the side were some peas, mushrooms, dried Yunnan ham and goji berries as garnishes. Winter melon was a common ingredient found at this time of the year, but to make it well was tricky, and I thought Chef Leung did a brilliant job in this creation. It’s soft yet held its shape, with flavor from the gravy sauce well-infused, with the pork gave it the meaty taste and water chestnut some crunchy textures. Some people who are turned off by the fatty dongpo pork dish but still want that rich flavor will definitely see this as a perfect substitute.

A few chicken dishes were available and they were equally enticing. At the end we went for the poached chicken in superior chicken broth because this is the dish we hardly found anywhere else. Presentation was straight forward, just as it’s described, with half a chicken poached in chicken broth cut into chunks and arranged on a plate, with a couple spoonful of the chicken broth. But the chicken was of great quality and perfectly cooked – tender and juicy with just the taste of the chicken with minimal seasonings. Made us regret not to order the whole chicken instead of the half portion we chose.

We went for the fried vermicelli with braised seafood and egg white as our last savory course. This is an old-school dish that is making a slow comeback lately to many Cantonese restaurant menus. While I thought I could live with a crunchier crust in the vermicelli (probably a bit too rushed on the last part of pan-frying the noodles) and a tad bit more salt on it, the sauce was excellent with scores of ingredients mixed in, from bits of fish grouper to prawns and scallops, tomatoes and chopped mustard greens and finished with a clear crystal gravy.

Among us we shared four different type of desserts. Love both the black sesame and coconut “cake” and deep-fried egg custard with toast served as dim-sum style sweet snacks and also the bowl of sweet almond and egg white soup which was another Chef Leung’s signature – I often see pictures of him preparing this dish table-side for larger groups showing up on my social media feed. Ours were prepared in the kitchen and it was tasty with rich almond flavor and the right sweetness as I like (these days too many times chefs were tempted to cut down on sweetness on Chinese dessert but then I was like, what’s the point of having dessert then)

Overall, good experience and it delivered what others have said about the restaurant. Service has been great, and the full house at the restaurant said a lot too. There were too many other dishes that I would love to try next time, perhaps with more people so we can share, or perhaps come back for their dim-sum lunches on one of the weekends.

When? August 11 2018
Where? Hoi King Heen at Intercontinental Grand Stanford, B2, 70 Mody Road, Tsimshatsui East, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Braised Winter Melon Stuffed with Pork and Water Chestnuts 冬坡扣釀肉

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