Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Sichuan-Canto Dinner

Have heard so much about Mian, the new restaurant located on the site at The Murray at Mid-Levels, from many friends who have eaten there in the last few months with a unique combination of Cantonese and Sichuan dishes by Chef Siu. I was excited to have given it a try myself finally, courtesy of the restaurant with a bespoke menu with some of the signature dishes. 

The restaurant took up the space in the annex building right next to The Murray hotel and formerly occupied by another restaurant, with essentially the same layout with the main dining area (plus a few private rooms) up the stairs on the second floor, with the decor similar to just about any other high-end places in town. While our table by the window didn't have much of a view facing the hotel building across, it's quiet and comfortable despite the dining area was almost full. 

I was daunted by the length of the menu at first, with a dozen or so dishes to be shared just among the 3 of us, but at the end they did adjust the portion slightly so we had just the right amount of food. We started with a few cold appetizers. The stir-fried pigeon tartlets reminded me more of those fancy amuse-bouche bites presented in a western restaurant, with the mix of diced pigeon meat, liver sausages and rice crispies served in a thin tartlet shell. The chicken and fowl was another well-presented starter fish, with breast meat from both birds poached, cut into small cubes and served in a Sichuan Dan-dan sauce with sesame, peanut and chili flavors. Both were delicious and I love their punchy flavor. 

It's not usual for a restaurant to do equally well in Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine, but Chef Siu with his family and training managed to excel in both. We continued with another Sichuan classic of boiled fish in chili broth but with a twist. Fillets of Tiger Grouper were used rather than the freshwater fish in the more traditional version, and despite the bright red color of the broth and with the sight of chilies filling the whole casserole, the soup base was much mellow with a hint of the tingling Sichuan pepper and a kick from the chilies. I also like the firm and bouncy texture of the fish, which went well altogether with the broth and vegetables served in the bowl. 

One fish led to another and this time it's the steamed whole threadfin fish with chicken oil. The seasonal catch came in decent size - around 1 catty and change (around 700g) I think - and it was butterflied and steamed with a splash of chicken oil, huadiao yellow wine, soy sauce and chopped spring onions on top, for the soft texture and rich flavor. Ordering the Cantonese steamed fish is always tricky at a restaurant as timing is everything but this one was masterfully done. 

Another masterpiece came in the form of the soup, with the "Chrysanthemum Tofu", the silky tofu cut into hairline-thin and formed into a flower-like shape floating on the bowl of clear chicken consomme. That required excellent knife skills and patience - it's often said to involve 1000 cuts for each piece with no room for error. Presentation aside, it was delicious with the delicate soup matched well with the mild tofu flavor. 

A second tofu dish was served right after and in a totally different style. A twist to the classic Sichuan Mapo Tofu with the tofu cut into cubes and santeed with Sichuan soy bean paste, but instead of the usual topping of pork, it's served with sauteed lobsters and served with the lobster shells as plate decorations. I love the contrast in texture between the bouncy lobster meat and the soft tofu with just the right amount of Sichuan seasonings. 

Next were the two classic Cantonese dishes - the Tai Yeh chicken with the whole chicken slow-braised in soy sauce and finish with tea-smoke, and then the sweet and sour pork. The latter was the more interesting one, served with the pieces of pineapples freeze-dried and crumbled, figs and ribbon of bitter gourd, with less of the sweetness and more of the complex flavor and textures, though I preferred more of the traditional version with the juicy pineapple chunks instead. 

After the braised bitter gourd "noodles" in broth (another interesting dish with nice presentation), we finished with the fried rice with seafood and egg with a mix of wild rice and flying fish roes for the crunchy texture and the premium Tai Ma-brand soy sauce for the deep nutty flavor from one of my favorite local soy sauce factories. Desserts were special too - with the sweet crispy glutinous rice cake tasted a bit like the Japanese daifuku but with a softer texture with mashed mugwort herb mixed in for the slightly aromatic flavor, and then the traditional hawthorn jelly rolls with the unmistakable red color and mild herbal but sweet flavor.  

Champagne works with everything and good for every occasion, and particularly so for Chinese dishes with strong flavor like those of Sichuan cuisine. Refreshing, good acidity, hint of citrus and some brioche on the palate in this bottle made this a good match to the spicy dishes and an icing to the cake for this lovely dinner. 

When? May 17 2021
Where? Mian, Pavillion, The Murray, 22 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Sichuan-Style Boiled Tiger Grouper in assorted Chilies
Drink? Duval Leroy Champagne Brut NV

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