Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nostalgic Celebration

I felt like nothing at Luk Yu Tea House has changed since the last time we were here – it must have been years ago. That included the guard at the front door, the long stairs on the side that go into the second floor, and the old-school Canton teahouse décor that has become a rarity. Friend C was celebrating her “18th birthday” at the restaurant recently and we were happy to come along – we would take any excuse to eat and drink with the gang. 

The restaurant is known for its exquisite dimsum dishes during the day, and some of the most traditional, timeless Cantonese dishes, many of which were hard to find elsewhere these days. We began with exactly that. The porridge with minced partridge and chicken differed from the classic Cantonese congee in which it’s prepared without rice grain, with the soft, “starchy” texture coming from a combination of partridge and chicken meat slow-cooked and minced and then mixed with the broth cooked with the poultry bones and ham. I loved its comforting taste and the amazing texture. 

Pigeon Egg with Braised Bird’s Nest and Bamboo Pith was another old dish typically served in banquets. The flavor of both the bird’s nest and bamboo pith was mild and mainly came from the crystal gravy sauce put in just before serving, but that contrasted well with the pigeon eggs which were slightly bigger than regular hen’s eggs and richer in taste. Prawn Toast always tasted good when it’s served straight from the kitchen whilst still hot from the wok, and I like the sweet and sour sauce served on the side as well. 

Twice in a week we had a stir-fried “offal” dish with ginger and scallion, but this time it’s pig’s offal rather than chicken giblets. Not as good as the chicken ones we had at Wing a few days ago, but this one probably took longer to prepare and harder to perfect, with pig offals often came with the gamey flavor which is of an acquired taste. The key to a perfect Cantonese deep-fried garoupa fillet was not the fish itself but the creamed corn sauce served on the side, and this one passed with flying colors, rich and creamy using the superior broth base with braised sweet corns and finished with whisked eggs. 

Sweet and Sour Pork has long been the signature dish here, with the perfect balance of sweetness (from pineapples) and acidity (from vinegar and pickled young ginger root). The tender pork was cut into marble size and coated with a light layer of batter, before sauteing with the other ingredients and finished with a thick gravy sauce with vinegar. 

In Cantonese cuisine, “lor mai gai” (sticky rice chicken) often refers to the dish with chicken (among other ingredients) stuffed inside a layer of cooked sticky rice and steamed in a lotus leaf wrapper, but here, it’s actually done the other way round, with sticky rice plus other ingredients stuffed inside the chicken cavity then roasted. So the chicken was done with the super crispy skin, and the rice stuffing took up all the flavor of the meat jus. It was delicious. 

The braised egg noodles with beef brisket and tendons stew was the last savory dish on the menu – not the usual dish one would pick to end the meal with, but it was great. Each of us brought a bottle or two to share so we found ourselves out of food but still got a few bottles untouched. So we asked the kitchen to get us a few more dishes as encore. We ended up with three. The deep-fried squids and sauteed choi sum were both good but then we didn’t expect less, but the pigeon with mushrooms and ham was just mind-blowing. It’s done in the most traditional style, with the pigeon meat sauteed with straw mushrooms, ginger and bell peppers and served with deep-fried Yunnan ham slices on the side of the plate. How the kitchen team managed to deliver this a la minute late in the evening was simply beyond me. And then we also had the birthday cake and the traditional steamed sponge cakes as desserts. 

I got a little tipsy towards the end and apparently we had 11 bottles altogether – at least that’s according to the picture I took. Three champagnes (one of which contributed by us), two Italian (Amarone and Barbaresco), one Burgundy, one Pomerol, and a vertical flight of La Chapelle d’Ausone in four different vintages. The 2000 vintage may not be the one with the most expressive palate of the evening (that award went to the 2003 vintage), but I enjoyed the secondary flavor of earthiness, sweet peppers and the mild black fruit notes. The 2003 and 2005 were more similar – fuller body with more of fruity characters (figs, plums and black fruits) with a grippy tannin – but among the two I gave the 2003 a slight edge. In comparison, the 2007 perhaps needed more time to open up. 

Where? Luk Yu Tea House, 24-26 Stanley Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Porridge with minced partridge and chicken
2009 Maison Mumm RSRV Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut
Champagne Devaux Cuvee D Brut NV
2016 Bruno Giacosa "Rabaja" Barbaresco DOCG (x2)
2000 La Chapelle de Ausone St Emilion Grand Cru
2003 La Chapelle de Ausone St Emilion Grand Cru
2005 La Chapelle de Ausone St Emilion Grand Cru
2007 La Chapelle de Ausone St Emilion Grand Cru
1998 Speri Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG
2014 Georges Lignier Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
2010 Chateau Gazin Pomerol

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