Saturday, 24 November 2012

Hong Kong - The High End

I had previously alluded to an impending break in VeganVember. The 30 days would potentially be split in half by 5 days, and this was because I was invited by the Hong Kong Tourist Board to go to Hong Kong. It was confirmed, and the itinerary was packed full of eating. In a city that celebrates pork in all its forms, veganism just wouldn't be possible. Saying no to said trip would also have been a bridge too far for me; Hong Kong is my birth place, where I grew up and any opportunity to go I just can't turn down. You would do the same, right? Good. So I was at day 14 when I departed for Hong Kong, and thank god really. Veganism was beginning to make me really miserable. You have to think about everything. No popping out for casual meals. Never be without a spare banana / packet of nuts in your bag, lest you lash at out anyone passing by with a Maccy D's. Savoury desk-breakfasts are almost impossible and don't get me started on the difficulties of hangovers without pork products. Without this trip to Hong Kong I probably would have had a meltdown. 

We flew with BA and a top tip I picked up is to select a 'special' meal when you're booking. Since we were on a night flight I was still technically to be eating vegan. I got my meal about half an hour before everyone else and I happily chowed down on roasted vegetables and cous cous before drifting off to sleep while everyone eyed up the passing trollies. You won't be guaranteed a breakfast though, as my 'spinach, hash brown and mushrooms' label actually lied and it was an eggy thing. They had nothing to replace it on board, though the flight attendant was very apologetic and sweet about it. 

Once landed, we arrived at our hotel (more about that later) to freshen up and we were straight out again. Nanhai No. 1 is 30 floors up and has one Michelin star. So named after a ship the theme is nautical and it was somewhat incongruous on the first night in this city to see the serving staff dressed in Breton-style blue stripes. It's all darkness inside, strategic spotlights to illuminate your dishes. A wall of glass overlooks the Hong Kong harbour, and we were treated to the 'Symphony of Lights' laser show that the harbour-front buildings put on every night at 8pm. It was a bit lost on me, perhaps because of the lack of music, perhaps the 12 hour flight taking its toll. It just looked like a bunch of lasers flashing around

To break my veganism, strips of scallop were sweet and barely cooked, dressed in sesame oil and tangled with greens for a little crunch. This was a clean and reviving dish, to contrast the crispy shredded yam that had been deep fried and doused in sweetness. Hot and sour seafood soup was a little too on the sour side for my taste, but it was packed with sweet baby scallops and tiny prawns. Minced pork was cooked in a black bean sauce with vegetables, and served in a lettuce cup it was refreshing and light, albeit a bit messy. Best of all was a giant prawn cooked in a spicy coconut gravy, the flesh being sweet and delicate against that punchy sauce. A fried mantou (steamed bun) was deployed eagerly to mop up that delicious sauce.    

Asparagus were stir-fried in garlic with 'chicken leg mushrooms', so called as the mushroom resembles chicken meat. A dish of crispy noodles was about to be placed on the lazy susan before our host asked the server to split it out to individual portions; a shame, as I love wheeling that lazy susan around but that's not to say it detracted from the dish. An ending of enormous hollow sesame balls, snipped in half in front of us rounded off the meal sweetly. Osmanthus jelly squares with wolf berries were regarded by the group of journalists warily, but in reality they were slightly herbal, a bit sweet and altogether inoffensive. It was a very classically Cantonese meal, each dish balanced with another contrasting one, executed well and with refinement. 

Nanhai No.1
30/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: 2487 3688

Another night, and another bolt up an elevator, ears popping, brought us to the stomach-clenching 101st floor of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon. Dragon Seal is the highest restaurant in Hong Kong and it certainly gave us an amazing view which neither my iPhone nor my camera could capture well. 

The menu was selected already for us, and a platter of starters set before each person.  This is atypical to how the Chinese usually dine; usually, dishes are placed on the lazy susan to revolve around each diner to select a bit of each and indeed the families and groups of businessmen dining there did so. As we were having a set menu pre-organised we were served individually and our lazy susan remained redundant.

Pork belly cubes were served with mustard and had a crackling that was thin, crisp and salty - basically perfect. Lobster and black truffle soup was a creamy concoction and was served in a bowl perched atop a tea light in a box. Cute in execution but I hurried to eat my lobster pieces that were bobbing around lest they become over-cooked. 

Mantis shrimp steamed and served on top of soft tofu with a light soy and spring onion glaze was my pick of the bunch. The flesh was only just cooked, still slightly translucent and with a firmness that made your teeth slightly crunch through it. I've made that sound awful but really it was delicious, both texturally and in flavour. 

 Another highlight was this pork and hairy crab siu long bao (soup dumpling). It takes immense skill to make the dumpling skin thin enough so as not to be stodgy, yet sturdy enough to hold the hot broth that lurks within. Although the flavour of the hairy crab was undetectable, this was still a fine example of a siu long bao. 

We finished up with lobster rice soup. Brought to the table in a steaming cauldron, crispy puffed rice was added to the soup with a sizzle before it was taken away again to be portioned. It was much like the lobster soup we had previously, though made more substantial with the addition of rice and more texturally interesting with the puffed grains. Sweetness came in the form of a mango jelly with tapioca that was palate cleansing and light on our over-stuffed stomachs.

It was a stunning setting for the evening, and somewhere I imagine would also be during the day when they serve dim sum. The food was, again, classically Cantonese with some twists such as the addition of black truffle. It set us up for a night on the beers in Lan Kwai Fong that involved in jelly shots and dancing to Gangnam Style. I'm not proud.

Dragon Seal 
Shop C, 101/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West,

Tel: 2568 9886


Make Do Style said...

Ah Honkers oh to be there & at high end restaurants

J@feasttotheworld said...

Scallops?!! What a perfect way to temporary break your veganism. That pork belly just look amazing...I'm drooling just looking at it.

And just for you information, dancing to gangham-style is nothing to be ashamed of. There's a video of me doing just that in the kitchen lurking on the social media somewhere.....*Proudface*

Kavey said...

Were those giant sesame balls a posh version of jin dui (excuse spelling, am going by memory, ought to google really)? Did they have a little pellet of sweet paste inside or were they completely empty? They look beautiful.

Actually, it all sounds and looks fantastic.

Mr Noodles said...

Methinks you have to tag on more than five days in December to make up for your break from veganism! Although it was a laudable effort to stay vegan in international airspace!

Kavey - I had the same thought, the sesame things do look like jin dui. My gran used to make them when I was little. Sometimes filled with black sesame paste, red bean paste or lotus seed paste. But I actually preferred the offcuts that she deep-fried without any filling.

PlumLeaf 李葉 said...

Amazing food!
Hope you enjoyed being back 'home' and the meals :)
(Must be great to break the Veganism with a crunch of pork skin ;) )

Gillian Ripley said...

That dumpling looks awesome!

Ed said...


Sarah said...

Oh, airline food. As I'm pescetarian I usually order the lacto-ovo veg meal, but it almost never comes with dairy (sometimes a small square of cheese, but always margarine instead of butter with my roll, and awful vegan cookies). And getting my meal half an hour before everyone else usually leads to the person in front of me reclining their seat halfway through my meal.

rej said...

ah you're living my dream - I've always yearned to go to HK on an eating trip....will be sure to hit some of these places up if I ever make it. Well deserved after all those rice cakes and bananas!

catty said...

Hahaha you know.. Panu orders a special meal on flights so he can get his meal early. Seriously!! I see how it can be good, but then you dont get an option. Anyhoos. YAY for the vegan break, you've been doing superbly and as far as I know, you haven't killed anyone yet right? And who the hell would turn down a trip to Honkers!!!

Lizzie Mabbott said...

MakeDo - it was excellent.

J - Yes, the scallops was a very fitting way indeed. I think you must be a better Gangnam dancer than I am!

Kavey - They were completely hollow. It was an excellent trip.

Mr Noodles - Oh don't you worry I'm sticking to my 30 days of Veganism, I'm carrying it into December so it ends on December 5th.

Plumleaf - thanks! I LOVED being home ;)

Gillian - it was amazing. More on them later.

Ed - soz

Sarah - Ah well, be sure that no one is really having a great meal on the plane now are they.

Rej - you should definitely go, it's the dream!