Living in Hong Kong can make a foodie out of even the most food-averse of souls. There are restaurants everywhere; in commercial areas, malls, office buildings, markets, quiet residential streets, a nunnery, temple, up the mountain, by the beach. Name the location, and HK is sure to have an eatery or food store around the corner. Food just assaults the senses, from the moment one steps off the plane, boat or bus. You can find almost all kinds of cuisine the world has to offer if you are resourceful enough. You can eat out every single day for every meal and not repeat a restaurant for a year. This is what makes HK so exciting for me. I cannot adequately describe the awe I feel at eating at a place older than I am, the delight at being lucky enough to eat at Michelin-starred temples of food, the adrenalin rush that comes with planning a food sojourn somewhere out-of-the-way, the anticipation in trying out a new restaurant, the pure joy that courses through me when I pop something innovative and truly well made in my mouth.
For the past month I've been fortunate enough to be able to try three out of four new places with the people I enjoy being with the most: my 2 boys. Hubby and son are creatures of comfort and they have their favorites, as do most people, so we tend to gravitate towards the tried and tested. When I'm alone or with adventurous friends we try new places, even hyped-up ones (I am admittedly a sucker for hype).
With Franco from one of my favorite Manila food blogs tableforthreeplease I ate at the Shanghainese private kitchen Gong Guan. This was to kick start the weekend habit of trying out new places. Last Father's Day we gobbled up Fu Sing's yummy dimsum. Tonight we ate refined and delicate Cantonese cuisine at Island Tang. Tomorrow brunch is at the Press Room, a New-York style eatery with an interesting brunch menu.
Island Tang is an oasis of calm in the middle of the rush hour pathway that is Queen's Road Central. They say it's quite crowded and noisy at lunch so dinner is the way to go. The place is decorated in the 1940's style, with comfortable chairs spaced reasonably apart, so unlike most Cantonese restaurants that try to squeeze tables in every imaginable space. There are ceiling fans, chandeliers, mirrored private rooms, and a beautiful condiment tray bearing cut glass bottles of soya sauce, Chinese vinegar, salt, pepper, chili paste and chili oil. The service is unobtrusive yet attentive, and we were given tiny servings of a bean curd skin roll with crunchy (bamboo shoots? this is my guess, I forgot to ask) salad mixed with mayonnaise to start with. Our server then proceeded to take our order and recommend dishes. He noticed me studying the chopsticks and explained that they were made of buffalo bone, which explains the color variation.
After a pleasant interlude our dimsum appetizers came. We ordered the steamed crab and egg white dumpling and puff pastry wrapped wagyu beef and mushroom, both highly recommended by our knowledgeable server. The dumpling skin was very thin and soft, and held a juicy interior with the most delicate of flavor, as opposed to blandness. There was nothing overwhelming about this dish, yet its simplicity made it all the more attractive. The wagyu was the perfect partner, then. It was rich and redolent of fatty beef flavor coupled with the sensuousness of slippery mushrooms. Not very Chinese, this dish, but very haute cuisine and definitely a winner.
Some notable dishes include the kale (choi sum) with ginger and rice wine, nice and crunchy yet soft, and the cha siu which was melt in your mouth tender, and without the sweetness of Fu Sing's sauce (so hubby likes this more because he's not a fan of sweet food).
Not all restaurants are perfect though, and I have to say the peking duck 2-ways did not elicit moans and groans around the table. Though not disappointing; in fact the pancake wrapper was a nice discreet size, almost paper-thin and a joy to chew; the flesh wasn't as tender or tasty, the skin not as crispy or fatty as that of Peking Garden. The lettuce with minced duck meat was cut with scalloped scissors to a perfect bowl shape, definitely eye candy, but lacking in ooomph, flavor-wise. A fried noodle dish with chicken and satay was forgettable.
We missed out on a lot of the other dishes on the menu, since we were only 5, but my eyes were drawn to the seafood in hot and sour soup (and all the other soups, for that matter), the roasted pork belly which they ran out of, deep-fried frog's legs, all the seafood choices, traditional braised duck with eight treasure (my mom makes a mean braised duck), roasted crispy pigeon, stewed wagyu beef cheek, and spare ribs with sweet and sour strawberry sauce. Good thing we live in HK so there's always a next time!
Island Tang can be found at shop 222, The Galleria, 9 Queen's Road Central.
+852 2526 8798. It's by Shanghai Tang founder David Tang, and is reminiscent of China Club, which is also a favorite, but since it's for members only and I'm not one, I'll settle for Island Tang. :)