Hong Kong is a city of foodie dreams. Flying into Hong Kong from Shanghai is always a thrill.
The skyscrapers seem to be getting taller and closer together. And, while there seems to be no more room, Hong Kong continues to grow. Some things will hopefully never change. One is that some of the finest, freshest cuisine in the world can be found in Hong Kong.
A waiter is speed-walking through a large crowded restaurant, carrying a plastic bag filled with water and a large, angry fish. This is the “show and tell” of a fish restaurant. A customer nods and agrees that this is the fish he wants, whereupon it is rushed back to the kitchen, weighed and priced, steamed with black bean sauce, garlic and green onion and devoured. There are other classic Hong Kong traditions. Yung Kee, one of the oldest restaurants still serves its specialty, roast goose, and raises a breed of black goose on their own farm. The noble bird arrives, glistening like polished mahogany and with a taste and texture all its own.
Another tradition is dim sum lunch on a Sunday. Since I have planned to do some shopping in the famous street markets of the city, we’ve come early, before the crowds, to Golden Bauhinia (named a local flower) across from Victoria Harbour. The chrysanthemum tea is warming and relaxing and, in this white tablecloth restaurant, the Cantonese specialty of steamed fish with broccoli, carrot and mushrooms is a soothing and satisfying meal. At the lovely Langham Hotel, where the signature colour is pink, the lounge is popular for afternoon tea and late nightcaps. But it is the classic Chinese restaurant, Tang Court, which draws the ladies-who-lunch in their a la minute designer frocks. They sip wines from Australia and New Zealand, relish braised shark fin soup and nibble on abalone and sautéed prawns that are tender as a lover’s kiss. No matter what country we’re in, petit fours, jasmine tea and gossip takes us into the late afternoon.
At dusk, just as the lights begin to twinkle across the harbour, I board the Star Ferry for a six-minute ride to the new International Finance Center. It’s a privilege to have dinner at Lung King Heen—View of the Dragon—at the Four Seasons Hotel. Silver and glass accents—including an undulating silver-leaf ceiling—reflect Hong Kong’s glittering skyline and harbour lights. Lung King Heen is the only restaurant in Hong Kong to receive three Michelin stars. Executive Chef Chan Yan Tak is the only Chinese chef ever to receive this prestigious accolade. More than his finesse with food, it is his unique presentation of dishes like shark fin and lobster, flecked with gold leaf, awaiting a pour of heated broth, King prawn and lobster sauce in sherry is memorable, and succulent morel mushrooms are in a happy marriage with wagyu beef. Every table is tended to by a relaxed professional. There is an obvious lack of tension and rushing that is so common in many local restaurants.
Dessert? I’d like my favourite, coffee and cookies. In keeping with what-the-diner-wants, he-gets, Tony, the obliging maitre ‘d has run down to the lobby bar to get me a plate of cookies. This mundane item is not on the menu here. Back on the street in the food market, I note that organics are catching on slowly here. Since they are three times the expense, and not as pretty, organics are rarely on restaurant menus.
When we step outside for a taxi, it is almost a surprise to find that we are in Wanchai and not in Italy. Another outstanding dining experience is Hutong, a two-star Michelin restaurant. We take the elevator to the 28th floor of an office building and step out into a splendid environment. The décor is shabby-chic-Chinese and yet extremely modern and trendy, and we are lucky to sit right at one of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Victoria Harbour. Across the Harbour, the skyscrapers with neon-lit names like Sony, Panasonic, LG, the I.M. Pei building are outlined with blazing lights. They are not saving on electricity here. At 8:00 every evening, music begins, and a laser light show plays along the buildings and shoots its green arrows into the night sky.
The food here is unlike any other Chinese cuisine. The drama of the service and the top notes of exotic spices is thrilling to any foodie. Consider a starter of drunken raw crab, and then on to Szechwan prawns with dried chili and shallots, and the very tasty, slow-cooked lamb’s ribs. The wine list is as international as they come. Since the Hong Kong government has removed all taxes on wine, the cost is about the same as bottled water in Toronto. But why drink wine when I can drink glorious ginger lemongrass tea, sweetened with honey and afloat with slices of ginger, at the delightfully chic Vietnamese/Thai restaurant Lian in the International Financial Center. We’re at a communal table that wraps around a lily pond, nibbling on savory pomelo salad. Ah, if I could import Lian and every delicious detail in it to Toronto, I would make many foodies happy.
Hong Kong never sleeps—the wheels of commerce grind-on 24/7. Night markets, silk markets, pearl markets, ladies markets, wherever the eye falls, there is something pretty that we really need to buy. And, as usual, before we leave Hong Kong, one of our purchases is another suitcase.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.