Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Shang Palace (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel
Lower Level 1, 64 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2721 2111
http://www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/kowloonshangrila/dining/restaurants/shang-palace/

On my final night in Hong Kong, my siblings wanted to have McDonalds for dinner. Now, there is nothing wrong with the odd late-night Maccas run but when you’re staying in Tsim Sha Tsui and you’re surrounded by a plethora of amazing dining options, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WANT MCDONALDS?

Regardless, I went with them to have McDonalds (I didn’t eat anything though). But as soon as we got back to our hotel, I quickly went downstairs to Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel’s own chain of Chinese restaurants. The Hong Kong branch, in particular, holds two Michelin stars.

Now, I wasn’t originally planning on visiting a super-fancy restaurant in Hong Kong. But given that I still had Hong Kong dollars to burn and given that this restaurant just so happened to be at the basement of our hotel, I thought to myself, ‘Why the hell not?’

The others had no interest in accompanying me so I had to admit that I felt a bit nervous walking into the restaurant’s front desk to ask if they had a table for a loner like me. However, I didn’t have to worry about feeling self-conscious eating solo at a fine-dining establishment for they were lovely throughout the whole meal.

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Shang Palace is all about creating an experience that ‘evokes the grandeur of traditional China.’ They do so by using top quality ingredients in their dishes with a backdrop of ornate décor and attentive service – think Flower Drum. The restaurant also credits chef Mok Kit Keung for its two Michelin stars – not only has the guy won heaps of awards, he has also prepared meals for King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Vladimir Putin (booo).

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As soon as I sat down, I was given some welcome tea. I was also given an extensive menu with bling-bling teas (um hello, vintage pu er teas from 1998?) but all I wanted was a simple cup of jasmine tea – which the waitress actually gave to me on the house. Nice.

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I was also given some condiments as well as nuts to nibble on. I thought that I was getting pretty good service as it is, so imagine my surprise when they asked me if I would like a newspaper to read while I waited for my food. Now, I’m someone who likes to read at the dinner table (something my mum often chides me for) so naturally, I said yes.

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For my amuse bouche, I received some pickles and peaches served on a shiso leaf. Given how rich my food was going to be, I thought they were perfect.

Crispy lobster with oatmeal (HKD$168 per person (AUD$24.71))

Crispy lobster with oatmeal (HKD$168 per person (AUD$24.71))

One of Shang Palace’s signature dishes is the crispy lobster with oatmeal. The dish itself is basically a piece of tender lobster is fried before being covered with crushed up ‘oatmeal’ from Singapore before being arranged prettily in a rice paper net.

Only a genius like Mok would have come up with something so simple yet strange, yet the flavours and textures worked so well together. Chemistry, baby, chemistry…

Sautéed sliced fresh abalone and scallops with black truffle paste (HKD$320/AUD$47)

Sautéed sliced fresh abalone and scallops with black truffle paste (HKD$320/AUD$47)

Unfortunately, my main dish wasn’t as mind-blowing. Sure, it wasn’t bad – I mean, who can complain about abalone and scallops – but it was just one of those dishes that you got sick of eating after several mouthfuls. Plus, the vegies kind of hung in there awkwardly.

In hindsight, I should have went for the braised pumpkin cream with bird’s nest and Alaskan crab meat dish (another highlight apparently). However, I had already consumed bird’s nest soup the night before so I wanted to try something different.

By this stage, I was pretty full but I wasn’t going to leave without having dessert. Now, I’m not a huge dessert fan but Shang Palace has a pretty neat dessert menu with plenty of light fruit-based options so the least I could do was glance at the menu! I placed my order to the waiter who then said that he had a small palate cleanser for me…

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… by ‘small palate cleanser,’ he meant this beast of a dessert tower that had enough sweets to feed three people!

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Obviously I couldn’t eat everything but I did try my best. My favourite were the almond cookies – they were so light and nutty.

Chilled mango juice with pomelo and sago (HKD$48/AUD$7)

Chilled mango juice with pomelo and sago (HKD$48/AUD$7)

Given that my main was just under AUD$50, I was somewhat surprised to see that my dessert was only AUD$7. And it was a bloody fantastic dessert either. Think mango sago pudding at a Melbourne yum cha restaurant, but less sugar and more mango. It was divine.

Overall, I paid just under HKD$700 (AUD$95ish) for three courses. This included the compulsory 10% service charge too. It’s not a cheap meal but given the wonderful service I received and given the quality of ingredients and execution of the dishes, I’d say that it was worth it. And while I didn’t like my main dish so much, I’d say that it was more my fault for ordering the wrong thing rather than the kitchen’s fault. For all we know, the vegies were not awkwardly placed and I was just being a hater.

I’ll be going back to Hong Kong in seven months. I don’t see myself going to Shang Palace on this next trip, not because I don’t want to but because I won’t be staying in Kowloon. Plus, I still have a whole list of eateries to navigate. If I ever go back a third or fourth (or whatever) time though and if we happen to stay at the Shangri-La again, there is no doubt that I’ll be back for the lobster and oatmeal dish.

Review: Pierre Hermé (Central, Hong Kong)

Shop 1019C, Podium Level 1
International Finance Centre
Harbour View Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2833 5700

Even though the macaron fad has come and gone, I have to admit that I’m still a sucker for those pastel-coloured buttons of cuteness and sucrose. So when we ended up at the IFC mall one afternoon, I knew I had to make a stop at Pierre Hermé.

I wish I took photos of the little store (which took forever to find, mind you) but Pierre Hermé has a ‘no photos’ policy. I even tried to be discreet with my iPhone but the ladies were sharp as a fox and told me off before I could even access the camera app on my phone. Oh well.

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So I got a box of seven macarons (HKD$210/AUD$30.21). I had a hard time trying to choose flavours but I think I managed to get a good mix of floral and fruity flavours, though I surprisingly managed to stay away from the chocolate ones even though there were quite of a few of them on display.

These are the flavours I got (from top to bottom):
1. Infiniment vanille: vanilla varieties from Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar.
2. Infiniment caramel: salted butter caramel.
3. Envie: vanilla, violet and blackcurrant.
4. Médélice: lemon and flaky hazelnut praline.
5. Jardin merveilleux: mandarin & orange olive oil and cucumber water.
6. Ispahan: rose, litchi and raspberry.
7. Infiniment rose: rose and rose petal.

Each macaron worked out to be AUD$4.30 – that’s almost double the amount you’d pay for a decent macaron in Melbourne! So was it worth it?

Well, yes. I think.

Each macaron was intensely flavoured, yet delicately textured and best of all, there was none of that sugar overload. The salted butter caramel macaron was definitely one of the best I’ve tasted (and trust me, I’ve had HEAPS of salted caramel macarons in my lifetime) but my favourite would have to be lemon and flaky hazelnut praline one – who would have thought that those two flavours would work so well together?

The hefty price tag for a box of macarons at Pierre Hermé means that I won’t be buying a box every time I go to Hong Kong (why, when there are heaps of tea houses and yum cha restaurants to explore?). That said, I like them enough that I’ll probably end up buying a box or two at one of the Tokyo stores in November to bring back to Melbourne – not for me, but for others to enjoy (ahem).

Review: Mido Café (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

63 Temple Street
Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Hong Kong
+852 2384 6402

One can’t go very far in Hong Kong without coming across a cha chaan teng (or tea house). These eateries are famous for their inexpensive Asian-clash-Western dishes that would raise a few epicureans’ (not to mention dieticians’) eyebrows – think cheesy rice with fried chicken or condensed milk on buttered toast. And lots of cheap milk tea.

And while I’m blessed to live 10 minutes from Box Hill, home to many of Melbourne’s cha chaan teng restaurants, one of the reasons why I came to Hong Kong was to experience an authentic cha chaan teng experience. And you can’t get more legit than Mido Café, a cha chaan teng that’s been around since the 1950s.

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Forgoing an all day shopping expedition at Harbour City, my brother Ken and I decided to hit the Hong Kong History Museum before heading to Mongkok to find some Russian army surplus gear (don’t ask). And although we left the Sino Centre and markets empty-handed, we did work up an appetite so we decided to walk over to Mido Café on infamous Temple Street.

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I’ve heard that this place is popular with Hong Kong directors and actors, and I can certainly see why. Mido has that lovely 1960s retro touch and for a second, I could almost pretend I was an actress in a Wong Kar Wai movie. I guess this is where people like Edison Chen go when they want to relive their glory acting days, hah.

Milk tea (HKD$15/AUD$2.14)

Milk tea (HKD$15/AUD$2.14)

I was in the mood for some milk tea so we ordered two of those. They were starchy, though they did not come with pre-stirred sugar. I normally tend to have my caffeinated drinks without sugar but Hong Kong milk tea is one of those drinks where you absolutely need to enjoy with sugar.

Fried noodles with mixed vegies (HKD$48/AUD$6.86)

Fried noodles with mixed vegies (HKD$48/AUD$6.86)

Mido’s signature dish is the baked rice with spare ribs but Ken and I are very much noodles>rice people so we both went for fried noodle dishes. He went for the mixed vegie noodles while I went for the one topped with roast pork.

Fried noodles with roast pork (HKD$50/AUD$7.14)

Fried noodles with roast pork (HKD$50/AUD$7.14)

I didn’t get to try Ken’s noodles but I would imagine that they wouldn’t be far too different from mine. My noodles were wonderfully crispy and the pork was amazingly tender. A lovely gravy-like sauce held everything together, along with bits of kai lan. It was delicious to the last bite and let’s be honest here, I can’t imagine the baked rice tasting any better than this beautiful plate of noodles…

Cheese and tomato sandwich (HKD$18/AUD$2.57)

Cheese and tomato sandwich (HKD$18/AUD$2.57)

As far as Hong Kong portion sizes go, the noodles were pretty generous – but that didn’t stop us from ordering snacks on the side. Ken ordered the cheese and tomato sandwich which, in hindsight, was a big mistake.

For AUD$2.57, one shouldn’t expect rustic sourdough bread with heirloom tomato and organic Milawa cheese slices. We were okay with the slightly toasted white bread but the cheese was horrible – like worse than Maccas cheese horrible – and that pretty much ruined the sandwich. Folks, you’re better off sticking to the condensed milk toasts (or anything sweet) if you’re going to do bread at Mido Café.

Pineapple bun with butter (HKD$12/AUD$1.71)

Pineapple bun with butter (HKD$12/AUD$1.71)

My pineapple bun was much better. The bun itself was fluffy and buttery – and there were lashes of fresh butter in the middle if you thought you weren’t getting enough butter. Ooh yeah. I would have preferred more pineapple though.

If you had to go to only one cha chaan teng in Hong Kong, I’d recommend Mido Café. While the food isn’t any different (or better) from what you get at the newer CCT restaurant such as Tsui Wah, you’re here for the retro atmosphere that you can’t really get elsewhere in a continually modernising Hong Kong.

Review: Tim Ho Wan (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

G/F 9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 278 81226

Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, was always going to be on my ‘must go to or else’ list when I was in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I wasted so much precious eating time going from shopping centre to shopping centre that I couldn’t even squeeze in time for lunch at supposedly one of the best yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong, if not the world. So what did I do?

I went there for breakfast instead.

There are several Tim Ho Wan restaurants all over Hong Kong, the most famous one being the Mongkok branch which sadly had to close due to space limitations. I ended up going to the Sham Shui Po restaurant as it had the earliest opening time of 8:00am.

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I was surprised to find that I didn’t have to wait for a table. I know it was very early in the day (I rocked up just after 8) but I was expecting some sort of queue. After all, this was THE famous Tim Ho Wan restaurant! Not that I was complaining; I saw an empty seat at a table filled with several Cantonese woman so I grabbed it and started filling out the order sheet. No trolley service at this yum cha joint (or most yum cha restaurant in Hong Kong, for that matter).

Baked BBQ pork buns (HKD$18 (AUD$2.73))

Baked BBQ pork buns (HKD$18 (AUD$2.73))

My food came out as quick as my friend Nick’s rabbit, Bruno. Even though I wanted to sample as many dim sum dishes as I could, I knew I could not skip Tim Ho Wan’s famous baked BBQ pork buns even though they were going to be super filling. To me, skipping those was just rocking up to a Crowded House concert and leaving the venue just before Neil and co start playing ‘Mean To Me.’

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The buns were blow-me-away amazing. The super crunchy exteriors gave way to an incredibly soft and slightly chewy dough. The best bit of the bun, however, was the pork filling. Sweet, but not one dimensional.

Steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (har gow) (HKD$25(AUD$3.79))

Steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (har gow) (HKD$25(AUD$3.79))

I rarely visit a yum cha restaurant without sampling my favourite dim sum of them all, the har gow. These babies were covered in skins that were thicker than what I’m used to – but I love thick skins so I was happy. The filling was also pretty fantastic, it was obvious that they used super fresh prawns and that made all the difference.

I was in and out in less than 20 minutes, which meant that I was back in my hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui East even before the others had woken up. That’s how good the service was. Okay, I may not have seen a single waitress smile but who cares when the service is THAT efficient? The bill came to HKD$45(AUD$6.82) including tea, which made this meal excellent value. Hell, next time I’d be happy to line up for hours if I knew I was going to get quality Michelin-starred food like this for less than a tenner.

Review: Lei Garden Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

B-2 Houston Centre
63 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 1636
http://www.leigarden.hk/english/

Upon our return from Macau, we weren’t actually that hungry. While my folks went wandering around town, my siblings and I went back to our hotel room to piss fart around on the internet. It was clear who the party animals in the family were.

At 10pm, however, we started to get hungry so we decided to head out for a late dinner. There just so happened to be a Michelin-stared restaurant across the road from where we were staying so of course, I wanted to check the place out – Lei Garden. Okay fine, it wasn’t the actual restaurant that got handed the lauded star but a whole bunch of restaurants in the Lei Garden franchise. In fact, the branch we went to (Tsim Sha Tsui branch) had not received a star since 2012. But whatever, I still wanted to go.

Lei Garden is a mid-to-high end Chinese restaurant that supposedly does excellent yum cha lunches. Their dinner menu is Cantonese a la carte fare – but not the sort of Cantonese you find in Box Hill. Oh sure, there were noodles on the menu (which weren’t available on the night we went) but fellow diners were happily munching on more unusual dishes such as double-boiled snow frogs and crocodile meat with sea coconut. If I wasn’t with such fussy company, I would have been keen to try those dishes too.

BBQ Peking Duck (HKD$178 (AUD$26.97) for half a duck)

BBQ Peking Duck (HKD$178 (AUD$26.97) for half a duck)

Instead we went for the much safer option of half a Peking Duck (which apparently wasn’t safe enough for my super-fussy brother). I loved how they cut up the spring onions, curled the ends and then tied them neatly in a bundle with a sliced chilli ring.

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The Peking Duck was excellent. Each piece had the right amount of fat to sate me, and also my health-conscious sister who is very much ‘ew yuck fat’ these days. The best bit, however, was the sinfully crispy skin that graced each piece of tender duck.

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The rest of the duck was chopped into pieces and sautéed with a light soy sauce – also delicious.

Braised birds nest soup with fresh crab meat and minced chicken (HKD$218 (AUD$33))

Braised birds nest soup with fresh crab meat and minced chicken (HKD$218 (AUD$33))

Birds nest soup costs a fortune in Melbourne (something like AUD$150+ for a small bowl) so when I saw that they were selling it for only AUD$33, I ordered a bowl straight away. My siblings refused to try any (how on earth are we related?!) which suited me just fine. The soup was amazing and each spoonful was a textural orgasm containing slippery strands of birds nest, fleshy crab meat and chicken. I enjoyed every bit of it.

My siblings baulked at the AUD$60 bill (it also included Chinese and a 10% service charge) but I thought it was a reasonable price to pay for good quality food. Plus, I was pretty full too. I’d like to go back to Lei Garden for yum cha if I can squeeze it in on my next trip to Hong Kong. If not, then I’d be happy to settle for a late night birds nest soup supper again.

Review: Tai Lei Loi Kei (Macau)

Rua Direita Carlos Eugenio
Taipa, Macau
+853 2882 7150

I may have only spent one day in Macau, but that was enough for me to conclude that it’s one of the most interesting places in Asia. Macau isn’t a very big place so you can see beautiful centuries-old Catholic churches fight for real estate space with casinos that are oh-so-Brutalist on the outside, but opulent on the inside.

You can also see lots of brightly-painted apartments and cobblestone footpaths; they will make you think, just for a second, that you’re in Europe or South America.

And you can also see hundreds of potted bright red and orange impatiens every few metres – speaking of which, who is responsible for looking after these flowers? Why are there so many of them and why are they in such perfect condition? Is there a Ministry of Potted Plants or something?

Anyway, other things you’ll see a lot of in Macau are pork buns, egg tarts and peanut cookie stores. And tourists carrying bags of peanut cookies from said peanut cookie store (including ourselves).

By the time we were done with shopping, cathedral-hopping and fortress-climbing, it was 3pm – and we realised that we had not eaten since departing Hong Kong. This was perfect because it meant that I could go to Tai Lei Loi Kei to try their famous pork chop buns which are only available after 3pm.

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TLLK have a few branches all over the island (and some in Malaysia and Hong Kong) but we visited the one in Taipa Village, just a street away from the foot of the Ruins of St Paul. I’ve been told that TLLK is usually pretty packed so we were lucky to find that there were only a few people lining up when we rocked up.

Pork chop bun (MOP$30 (AUD$4.50))

Pork chop bun (MOP$30 (AUD$4.50))

TLLK has a few things on their menu but let’s face it, everyone’s just here for the buns. The bread is soft on the inside, and slightly crunch on the outside – think banh mi bread roll but not as crunchy and perhaps a little bit sweeter.

The star of the show, however, had to be the pork. Here, they use pork from Brazil (gotta be all Portuguese, yo!) which is apparently one of the most expensive pork in the world. I found the meat, which was marinaded in a herb-y and slightly spicy mixture, very tender despite it being very lean. Oh, and it was juicy too. Like, wow.

I’m not a big pork lover (but I go nuts over dumplings, go figure) but I’m glad that I chose to have this humble pork chop bun as my only meal in Macau. Who would have thought that such a simple thing (bread and pork, no trimmings) could bring so much joy? If my pork-hating dad wasn’t so stubborn, I dare say that even he would like it more than accompanying my mother on yet another jewellery-shopping expedition in Taipa Village.

Review: Tai Cheong Bakery (Central, Hong Kong)

35 Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2544 3475

I ate so many egg tarts during my trip that it’ll be a while before I can even think about touching another one. In fact, I’m starting to hate them as much as I hate dawdlers and shopping. However, there was a brief moment during my trip where I actually loved them. Yep, I loved them like I love an Enrique or Usher song for the first two minutes before Pitbull barges in. And Pitbull was Macau, where I ate the majority of the egg tarts in a single day. Yes, a DAY. Serves me right, hey.

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So this is Tai Cheong Bakery, home of Hong Kong’s best egg tarts. I first heard about it from Daisy, the self-proclaimed Queen of Sweets and expert on all things Hong Kong. Then a few of my other friends started talking about this place. Before I knew it, I was dodging half a dozen swerving fruit trucks in Central Hong Kong, walking up Lyndhurst Terrace and into the painted green shop.

Egg tarts (HKD$6 (AUD$0.91) each)

Egg tarts (HKD$6 (AUD$0.91) each)

Rocking up early will give you the best chance of scoring these beauties while they’re still hot – and I happen to be strange in that I’m an early riser when I’m NOT in Melbourne so I was here at 8am. While they still taste good when they’re cool, they’re 10 billion times better when they’re still fresh from the oven.

Are these really Hong Kong’s best egg tarts? Well, they’re certainly a worthy contender. While I prefer the flaky pastry of the Portuguese egg tart kind, Tai Cheong Bakery uses shortcrust pastry instead – and that’s what a lot of people didn’t like about the egg tarts here. But the filling! Oh my, the filling. It was so creamy, so buttery and so wonderfully soft. Hands down, the finest egg tart filling I’ve ever had. If only flaky pastry was used, then we’d have a winner of Seattle Seahawks-like proportion.

Review: Lin Heung Tea House (Hong Kong)

160-164 Wellington Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2544 4556

One cannot go to Hong Kong without sitting down for yum cha at least once (in my case, it was three times). In Melbourne, we are pretty spoilt when it comes to good yum cha restaurants but I wanted to taste the real thing for myself. Unfortunately, my family’s Hong Kong schedule meant shopping, shopping and more shopping so the only way I could fit yum cha in was to have it for breakfast while the others were still either asleep or slowly getting ready.

We were staying in Tsim Sha Tsui which, surprisingly enough, does not have a lot of places that open early for breakfast (and if they do, they’re not within walking distance of the Shangri-La). Consequently, I had to take the train into central for my first yum cha adventure.

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Upon my friend’s Aaron’s recommendation, I decided to go to Lin Heung Tea House because they opened bright and early (at 6am!). Lin Heung is a bit of a Hong Kong institution as it’s been around since 1926, making it older than the ancient PC I use at work. Also on a work-related note, while I’m all for keeping up with the times by changing processes and what not, I have to admit that I like the fact that Lin Heung still party it up like it’s 1926.

Unlike most yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong, Lin Heung still have trolley services. They also have bird cages hanging from the ceiling (the real birds, of course, are no longer there). And apart from some very minor renovation, the place still looks the same like it did 80 years ago.

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Additionally, this place gets packed like crazy. Yep, even at 8am in the morning. You’re expected to share a table with strangers so if you see a spare spot or two, just sit down and a waiter will come by to pour you some tea and dump an order sheet in front of you.

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No English is spoken so it’s pretty much all pointing and hand-signalling from this moment on (thankfully I managed to learn a few handy Cantonese phrases after dating a Cantonese guy for four years).

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My table mates were these bros here. Old guys reading newspapers are a common sight at Lin Heung (and Hong Kong in general).

Apparently this place gets so hectic at lunchtime that diners resort to getting up from their table as soon as they see a trolley arrive and grabbing items off the trolley while shoving order sheets at the poor trolley ladies’ faces. Thankfully, breakfast is a more dignified affair and the trolleys cruise casually through what little space there was between the tables.

Scallop and prawn dumplings

Scallop and prawn dumplings

These were the first dim sum I saw so I immediately grabbed them. Each thick-skinned parcel was filled with fresh scallops and prawns with a sprinkling of chives and lots of flavour from the pork fat. While the skins were thicker than what I was used to, I loved them nevertheless.

Lo mai gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf)

Lo mai gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf)

I then ordered a lo mai gai.

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Lin Heung’s version was pretty good – it had both pork and chicken in it, with bits of liver sneakily thrown in. I’m not a fan of cooked liver but I found that it added a bit of oomph to what was already a flavoursome dish. Two thumbs up.

Because of the lo mai gai, I was too full to even try some rice noodle rolls or Lin Heung’s famous steamed sponge cakes. It also didn’t help that I went on my own too. Oh well, next time. The bill came to AUD$6 or thereabouts – that would have got me one yum cha dish back in Melbourne. Not bad. In a busy modern metropolis like Hong Kong, it’s good to know that old school places like Lin Heung still exist. I’ll be back on my next trip.

Review: Yunnan (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Shop B, G/F Oriental Centre
67-71 Chatham Road South
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
+852 3525 1055

My first morning in Hong Kong involved me walking around Tsim Sha Tsui East not knowing where I was going. I knew I wanted breakfast but I didn’t know where to get it and to my surprise, most of the outlets around my hotel were still closed at 7am. Surprised, because everyone I knew who had been to Hong Kong told me that there are plenty of places that open at the crack of dawn – I later found out that those so-called places were nowhere near where I was staying and in order to get a decent feed, I had to venture out.

Never mind.

Luckily there was a place that was open on Chatham Road South, two blocks from my hotel. Simply called Yunnan, this joint specialises in Yunnan-style hot noodles for lunch and dinner. For breakfast though, they offer a small cha chaan teng menu.

Condensed milk toast and coffee (HKD$18 (AUD$2.72))

Condensed milk toast and coffee (HKD$18 (AUD$2.72))

I was craving sweet toast, something that I never have when I’m back home, so I ordered a condensed milk toast and a white coffee. Coffee here costs HKD$10 but apparently it’s free if you order food. Score.

While the coffee wasn’t fantastic (it was like a frothier cup of Nescafe), it did the job – and boy, I certainly needed it for I was to later spend 12 hours shopping around Hong Kong and Lantau Islands with the family (not as fun as you think, trust me). The bread may not have had much nutritional value but like the coffee, it hit the spot. Loved the combination of salty butter and warm condensed milk on plain ol’ white bread – yum.

This place may not specialise in CCT cuisine but surprisingly, there were a lot of occupied tables that morning. I’m sure they do alright in the Yunnan-style food as well and I guess I’ll return if I ever feel like Yunnan cuisine in Hong Kong.

Review: Tsui Wah (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Tsim Sha Tsui East Branch
Ground Floor, no. 60-66 Harbour Crystal Centre
100 Granville Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
+852 2722 6600
http://www.tsuiwah.com/en/

The highlight of my trip has definitely been Hong Kong (that, and the time when my dad’s cousin’s little girl called my mother ‘oma’ and got my mum upset – hah!). Speed and efficiency is the norm in Hong Kong and to a Type A crazy person like myself, I definitely felt at home. As for the food… oh man, where do I start? Suffice to say that if Hong Kong was a person, I’d do all sorts of unspeakable things to it… and more.

I’m already planning my second trip there later this year to do all the things I didn’t get to do the first time around, not to mention the stuff I didn’t get to eat. For now though, the next best thing is to reminisce about all the wonderful things I was lucky enough to eat during my not-long-enough four-night stay there, starting with our late dinner at Tsui Wah.

Tsui Wah is a cha chaan teng restaurant, a common eatery found all over Hong Kong. They are famous for churning out cheap pan-Asian and Western fusion-type meals to the masses, with some of the dishes being a bit on the WTF side (instant noodle soup with spam, anyone?). Having spent many afternoons at Box Hill after school, I’ve grown up eating at CCTs regularly so I kinda knew what to expect. But how did the Box Hill CCTs fare to the original ones back in Hong Kong? There was only one way to find out.

I visited three CCTs in Hong Kong (okay fine, two – the third one doesn’t count because it was a Yunnan noodle restaurant that decided to serve CCT fare for breakfast). Tsui Wah is actually a franchise with heaps of branches all over Hong Kong. Unlike traditional CCT restaurants, Tsui Wah restaurants are brightly-lit and sparkly – they look more like American diners than old school CCT tea houses.

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There was a Tsui Wah near our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui so we decided to give it a shot. It was something like 9pm on a Monday night when we walked in but the restaurant was still quite full. We still managed to get a table for seven though.

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One can’t go to a CCT without ordering a Hong Kong-style milk tea. And even though I’m trying to limit my caffeine intake, I have a weakness for these sweet and slightly starchy teas so I had one. Delicious.

Fish ball noodle soups (between HKD$33-38 (AUD$5-$5.75))

Fish ball noodle soups (between HKD$33-38 (AUD$5-$5.75))

Tsui Wah specialises in fish ball noodle soups. You can also add stuff like wontons or fishcakes to your soups too. Both my cousin Jess and aunty Emy ordered the soups, though they were disappointed that the restaurant ran out of flat rice noodles. Never mind, they thought, we’ll get vermicelli. However, their version of vermicelli was just as thick as a strand of rice noodle anyway?

Regardless, we all thought the fish ball soups were beautiful. We loved the miky and fishy broth and the balls themselves were flavoursome. Jess did say that she did get a bit bored halfway through eating her soup though – as nice as the soup was, it started to taste a bit one dimensional to her.

Crispy fried noodles

Crispy fried noodles

My brother (Ken) and sister (Janice) both had crispy fried egg noodles – Ken had his with vegies while Janice had hers with seafood. Servings were generous (can’t remember how much they were but they wouldn’t have been more than AUD$10) and the noodles still remained beautifully crispy despite being drenched in sauce.

King prawns in XO sauce with tossed noodles (HKD$51 (AUD$7.72))

King prawns in XO sauce with tossed noodles (HKD$51 (AUD$7.72))

I had the king prawns with noodles because the words ‘XO sauce’ drew me in. While the fish ball noodles were excellent, I have to say that I liked this dish better. The noodles were springy and the prawns were super-fresh. I also liked that they had the XO sauce on the side so diners can decide how much they wanted in the dish (me? I chucked the whole lot in, of course).

None of us got to try the Western dishes that night but I’ll definitely come back to give them a go next time. The best thing about Tsui Wah is that a lot of their branches are open 24 hours a day so you can quickly duck in at 4am after a heavy karaoke sessions. And while the Tsim Sha Tsui East Branch isn’t a 24-hour branch, they still close pretty late – 2am during the week and 3am on weekends. To a bumpkin Melburnian like myself, I reckon that’s pretty damn good.