Monday, April 26, 2021

Spreading His Wing

It took a bit of guts to open a new restaurant in this time of uncertainty; more so for someone without formal Chinese cuisine training to start one focusing on Chinese fine dining, in the city where there’s no lack of top-notch culinary talents. But that’s the hill chef Vicky intended to climb with his new venture Wing being the first step of that quest. 

We heard about this new place when we visited his other restaurant VEA about a month ago, and was excited to be able to check it out a week into its soft opening a week or so ago. Wing, which in Chinese means “eternal” and came from one of the characters of Chef Vicky’s Chinese name, took up the space formerly served as the lounge for VEA at the floor below its main dining area. The restaurant was cozy compared to many other Chinese restaurants, with just a handful of tables in the main room plus two inter-connecting private rooms with a total cover of around 20 or so. Despite the tight space, the interior was very pleasant – I feel like it’s a luxury home with a mix of Victorian design style with bits of traditional Chinese elements with city view from high floor from the window. 

A single tasting menu was presented for the two of us, which we were told altered on daily basis and even at different tables in the same service depending on the seasonal ingredients the team could find in local markets. Chef Vicky also explained to us that later on he planned to introduce a short a la carte menu as an option for repeat guests. The serving order followed that of the traditional Chinese banquet style but a bit longer than usual, with appetizers, a few hot meat and seafood courses, soup, vegetables and rice as the final savory courses followed by desserts. Some were in sharing portion and some served individually. 

While at VEA where Chef Vicky showed off his unique take of western cooking using Chinese ingredients, at Wing It’s almost like the other way round – at its core is traditional Chinese cooking drawing inspiration from old-school recipes from all over the country; but the multi-cultural influence was evident throughout its menu, whether that be the style of plating, the preparation of sauces, or the combination of flavors. We have seen bits and pieces of those innovative dishes from Chef Vicky before, either at a few pop-up events he hosted or sometimes as “special courses” served during our meal at VEA, but it’s good to see those dishes further evolved into a proper tasting menu. 

This evening we started with a few chilled appetizers served all at once for sharing. I love the super tender texture of the South African abalone, slow-cooked to take up the flavors from the poaching superior broth, with pickled Yunnan chilies and crunchy bull kelp garnishes on top. The julienned celtuce wrapped in lamb belly was the richest of the four “mini-courses”, stacked up nicely on a small plate and dressed with the house-made Sichuan mala sauce. 

End of April marked the end of spring fishing season in the area and when the catch was plentiful so we were lucky to have a few more seafood courses came our way. The wild yellow croaker was butterflied, deboned and fried until crisp, and served with a generous basting of truffle honey on top. The sweet glaze with enticing aroma was a touch of magic, bringing the dish to the next level. The fish looked straight forward enough but took tremendous skills to make sure it’s crisped without getting too crunchy – with hot oil poured over repeatedly rather than dipping the whole fish into the oil. 

I always love a bowl of well-cooked fish soup for that was my ultimate comfort food, and the one at Wing was one of the most memorable ones I have tried. The broth was in perfect milky color, and I love the hint of sweetness/intense umami but not a trace of the “fishy” flavor that sometimes came with the rich soup. I was told it took a lot of trial and error to identify the right portions and types of seafood to put in and the right cooking time. Inside the bowl was the dried velvet prawn (赤米蝦) sourced from the Tai O fishing village, and a piece of Japanese amaebi (sweet prawn) which was cooked by the broth that’s poured into the bowl in front of us. The piece of threadfin (ma yau) was of the perfect size and came from the belly part and it’s served with the traditional black bean sauce and aged mandarin peel. I love the fatty and firm fish meat paired with the rich sauce with a hint of earthy and mineral taste. 

Seafood congee was next – congee was not haute cuisine per se but it’s served with much fanfare here, with the tableside service on a cooking cart with the various ingredients – the soft congee base (prepared with rice and seafood broth), scallions and picked crab meat put into the earthenware casserole in order and bring to a bowl on top of the stove. It’s served in individual bowls with pickled vegetables, chicken oil and scallions as garnishes, and top up with a piece of king crab leg grilled on charcoal fire. It’s much enjoyable with the hearty and rich umami flavor.

The smoked baby pigeon was an alternative version to the one served at VEA. The bird was dry-aged in the specialty storage chamber before it’s deep-fried like the traditional Cantonese crispy chicken and smoked using the sugar cane pulp, giving it a smoky but sweet taste. Love the dark bronze color of the skin and it’s crispy and tasty. The meat was tender though I personally would have preferred a more grown pigeon with more fat. 

“You guys eat chicken giblets, right?” When we told the chef we are more than happy to eat anything presented to us, Vicky brought us an extra course not on the menu, which was the medley of chicken giblets served in a sizzling casseroles. All the different ingredients required different cooking time but they were all perfectly cooked by the time the dish reached our table. 

After the seasonal vegetables served with more of the house-cured pork belly, the final savory course was the fish maw and rice. The fish maw was done in traditional Sichuan style with the chopped pickled chilies and steamed rice underneath. I love the punchy flavor, though I thought the dish was a tad bit too spicy for me. Perhaps a touch of more acidity might neutralize that a little. After the hot and spicy course came the chilled dessert with sugarcane sorbet served with snow gum and Osmanthus syrup, then it’s the seasonal fruit platter and a pair of mignardises. (the red date donuts were very delicious, by the way)

Went with a mix of tea and wine pairing prepared by the team at the restaurant. The Taiwanese oolong tea from the mountainous region near Taichung has much depth with hint of vanilla and mineral on the palate and mild floral note on the nose. I like the selection of wines with some unusual choices – among them I enjoyed the both glasses of champagne, one served in the beginning and one served at the end, with the Extra Brut and full-bodied one with good floral nose and brioche taste working well with the abalone, and the last one which was off-dry with good acidity as balance paired perfectly with the spicy fish maw and rice course right at the end.

It’s often said it’s going to take 3-6 months for the new restaurant team to get up to speed, so we could only expect even greater things to come with this bold but well-timed venture by a visionary chef, who decided to spread his wing to a new territory. Even sky may not be his limit, I reckon, and he already won us over with this very first meal. 

When? April 20 2021
Where? Wing Restaurant, 29/F The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Chicken Oil King Crab Congee
Champagne Charles Dufour Bulles de Comtroir #8 “Stilleben” Extra Brut NV (Disgorged 2017)
2016 Josmeyer Riesling “Le Dragon”, Alsace, France
2014 Gramona Font Jui Xarel.lo, Penedes, Spain
2017 Domaine Laurent Ponsot Bourgogne “Cuvee du Perce-Neige”
2015 Weingut Martin Wassmer Schlatter Maltesergarten Spatburgunder Trocken, Germany
Champagne Georges Laval Garennes Doux NV (Disgorged 2017)

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