January 27, 2015

Hell week day 2: the starving dragon

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I've never really cared for Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  While the restaurant has always prided itself in being the first Chinese restaurant to earn the coveted three stars from Michelin, I was never enamored with the place.  My first visit was pretty underwhelming, and the second try yielded a pretty good dim sum tasting.  My final visit - almost 4 years ago - was as part of a dinner where the organizer was perhaps trying to maximize price performance... so it wasn't surprising that I still felt the restaurant was unworthy of its three stars.

Since then I've never had the desire to revisit, because there are plenty of other places in town delivering better food.  The fact that it's perennially booked out by guests staying at the Four Seasons Hotel as well as visiting foodies gourmands - making it necessary to book weeks in advance for what may be a casual lunch or dinner - meant I no longer thought about this place as an option.  Let others who want it badly enough eat there... since I obviously ain't that desperate.

But late last year I went through a period when I wanted to revisit some of the places that's dropped off my radar screen, and this was clearly one of them.  So I called up the restaurant and tried to book something for a gathering... only to be told that there was nothing available for the rest of December.  I promptly hung up the phone.

The itch remained, however... and needed to be scratched.  So in the last days of 2014 I picked up the phone once again, and tried to book two meals here - a lunch and a dinner.  I wanted to see if their dim sum was still as good as I remembered, and I wanted to give them another shot at dinner - but without price constraints this time.  I was told that the first available tables were 4 to 5 weeks out, but this time I didn't hang up on them.  I took those tables and waited patiently.

My dinner which was originally scheduled for last week had to be scrapped, because Tigger had invited me to the opening of Feeding Hong Kong's new digs.  I am a rather passive but nevertheless fervent supporter of the cause, so anything else that was a scheduling conflict was bound to lose.

I finally got the chance to walk into Lung King Heen again today.  I had booked for an early slot but my friends were a little late.  No matter.  The sunshine was coming through the windows and I was enjoying my time flipping through the menu.  A sommelier who recognized me came up to chat, bringing with him a bottle of wine from a winery in Beijing - a discovered treasure.  I was still recovering from last night's antics so I politely declined his offer to taste.  Another day, perhaps.

I ordered five different items of dim sum, and asked them to change the quantity from three to four pieces per dish so that we wouldn't have to fight over anything.  As it turned out, though, one of us was stuck in the office...

The good thing about this restaurant is the service, but maybe it's because the staff has been tipped off by the sommelier.  Anyway, unlike many other Chinese restaurants, here they time the service of the dishes so that you don't get all of them at once.  It's one of my biggest pet peeves, and I'm glad they're maintaining that high standard of service.

Steamed shrimp and crab meat dumplings with lettuce (萵苣鮮蝦蟹肉餃) - once the lids were taken off the steamers, I knew these were goners...  Leaving aside that there is clearly a hole in one of the dumplings, these have definitely been over-steamed.  Sure enough, I had real trouble picking mine up with chopsticks... and one end kept getting stuck to the sides, to the point where I tore it open while trying to wiggle it free.

This is another one of my pet peeves, and I really don't like dumplings that fall apart before I've even taken a bite.  Having said that, I liked the flavors from the crab meat, and the crunch from the lettuce stems.

Steamed zucchini dumplings with celery and mushroom (荷芹雜菌翠瓜餃) - also over-steamed.  Loved the combination of flavors from this veg dumpling.

Crispy spring rolls with silverfish and shrimp (銀魚鮮蝦脆春卷) - very, very good.  Crispy wrapper, wonderful flavors coming from both the shrimp and especially the silverfish.  A little pungent but not quite to the level of shrimp sauce.  Nice little unexpected kick.  I'd inhale a few of these...

Pan-fried pork dumplings with preserved vegetables (泡菜鮮肉煎鍋貼) - very, very delish thanks to the kimchi inside.  Yes, I think we've got a little "lost in translation" going on here... Why couldn't the English version simply said "kimchi" instead of "preserved vegetables"?  I would imagine that most people - especially visiting tourists - know immediately what kimchi is but wouldn't have a clue picturing preserved vegetables.

Baked barbecued pork buns with pine nuts (崧子叉燒菠蘿包) - a little smaller than I expected, but very delish.  The pine nuts were a nice touch.

Well, I was gonna order a veg dish or something when everyone got here, but seeing that we ate a little more dim sum than expected, and I've got a hellish feeding schedule and all, we decided to stop here.

But I did want to try out at least one dessert, so I ordered the chilled coffee jelly (千層咖啡糕).  Pretty good, actually.

We also got some petit fours - sesame cookies (芝麻餅) and some mung bean and coconut jelly (綠豆椰汁糕).

OK, it's pretty tough to judge a restaurant based on a handful of dim sum items, especially since dim sum is typically made by different chefs from those who deliver the "regular" dishes, but I gotta say that the flavors of all the items were pretty good.  As is often the case the steamed items suffer from over-steaming, but once this problem is fixed the dim sum here would be pretty hard to beat.  Now I really gotta find time to come back for dinner... but I guess that will have to be a month or two out, at least.

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