Ming Court is the 2 Michelin starred restaurant that was in our hotel, Langham Place. The room is ornately furnished in sleek dark woods; large tables have lazy susans and my heels sank into the plush carpet as we walked through the several different areas of the restaurant. We were there to meet Chef Wong and we headed out round the corner so that he could give us a tour of a traditional wet market.
We looked pretty incongruous, Chef Wong in his immaculate whites and us a group of tourists wielding cameras, as the generation our parents' age bustled past us trying to buy their groceries for the evening. Chef Wong told us that the younger generation shun the wet markets now for a cleaner and more sterile environment of the supermarkets. Shame really, as the market is an assault of the senses. Fish flap around in pools of water, and people step forward to grapple with the produce, selecting the freshest of the lot. It's a far cry from the farmers markets we get in London - instead, it is smelly, noisy and hectic. Perhaps it does have one thing in common with Borough Market then.
I remember going to a wet market with my grandmother. She told me to look away as she selected a chicken still alive - it was swiftly despatched and being the disobedient little brat I was, all I could remember that night over dinner was the squirt of blood hitting the wall as the chicken's head was detached from its body. They don't have such livestock these days, save for the still-live fish gasping for air.
Stalls are piled high with vegetables and tofu, while more permanent establishments sell meat. They don't shop at wet markets at Ming Court as the quality and consistency can't be assured, but it cheered me to learn that Chef Wong still does for his personal consumption.
Back at Ming Court, we were taken on a tour of the kitchens. With around 30 chefs, they often cater weddings as well as dinner and dim sum during the day. No easy feat, with wedding banquets famously intricate and multi coursed, and dim sum isn't exactly simple either. Suckling pigs hung from spits, and geese from hooks attached to the ceiling. A ferociously hot room had an enormous charcoal burner within, and men sat on stools painstakingly turning the pigs on spits over the fire, scrubbing the skin with oil, and repeat.
These guys are hugely skilled at this, not only withstanding the heat but knowing when to turn the suckling pigs and when to scrub with oil to get that prized glass-thin crisp crackling. The whole room filled with the smell of the suckling pigs. I MIGHT have commented several hundred times about how delicious they smelled. I might have passive-aggressively bullied them into giving us this.
And holy moly, it was glorious. Still warm, the skin was delicate but crunchy, not even a hint of chew but a layer of fat glistening beneath and some tender, thinly sliced, intensely porky meat below. I was still absolutely stuffed from the eating we'd done that day, but when there were a square left and everyone insisted I ate it, there was no hesitation. With an hour until our dinner there, I retreated to my room for a lie down. An hour later I knew that lying down doesn't make you hungry again and with a sense of foreboding, I trudged back downstairs to dinner. Have you ever eaten so much you were, uhm, sick? I have. I knew what I potentially had to face.
I needn't have worried though, as the first course of Japanese silken tofu, sandwiching black truffle paste flavoured with Chinese vinegar was an instantaneous palate cleanser. Clean and vibrant flavours, this soothed my over-stuffed belly.
Fried rice made with a fragrant Shaoxing wine had studs of black silkie chicken, gamier and more flavoursome than its white cousins, and wolf berries. Herbal and fragrant, it was a surprisingly light end to our savoury courses.
The show stopper was our desserts, served on a box billowing with dry ice. Traditional in the execution of the desserts, I particularly enjoyed the mango jelly. Tofu pudding with swirls of black sesame was dauntingly large, and I was defeated by it.
We ended our meal with a sip of Moutai. Ming Court employs a 'wine guy' rather than a sommelier; wine is becoming hugely popular in Hong Kong, but they found the 'sommelier' title to be too French, too unapproachable. Our wine guy explained to us that moutai is often drank at business dinners. At 51%, almost savoury it was so intense, it blew my face off. How on earth anyone manages to remember what business deals they'd made after a night on this stuff I have no idea. I hiccuped my way to a comfortable sleep that night.
Ming Court was refined luxury. Unlike many Michelin starred gaffs in London, it has an air of casualness about it; large tables chatted happily, and the atmosphere in the room was one of fun, rather than hushed reverence you can sometimes get. I'm unsure as to how much our dinner cost as we were guests of Hong Kong Tourist Board but from a glimpse at the menu the prices seem certainly reasonable (unless of course you have an abalone binge), with the degustation at around £65.
555 Shanghai Street