July 20, 2008

Fragrant chicken from the heavens

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Last night I returned to Tien Heung Lau (天香樓) as a bunch of us went out for dinner with JS and her parents, who were in town from Korea. We wanted to introduce them to something Chinese, but not the typical Cantonese one finds in HK.

We started with a pitcher of their aged Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) - actually Huadiao (花雕) - but this time at room temperature without heating it up. In retrospect perhaps we should have drunk it warm, as heating would help hide the defects and impurities of the wine. Served cold, there was a distinct vegetal nose, and a bit moldy. I can imagine that the wine sat in ceramic jars for years, aging and the top of the wine acquiring its layer of mold (the Spaniards would call it flor).

In terms of food, we had three starters. The vegetarian goose (素鵝) was good. Malantou (馬蘭頭) - a dish prepared by finely chopping the shoots of Indian aster (馬蘭) and mixing with finely chopped tofu - was as good as it gets. Our Korean guests took a liking to this. Finally we had drunken pigeon (醉鴿) - a dish that I prefer over the soy-marinated duck (醬鴨) that I had last time. The balance was just right between the alcohol and the saltiness of the meat.

I ordered the freshwater shrimps stir-fried with Longjing tea leaves (龍井蝦仁) again, hoping that the restaurant would improve on its poor performance from my last visit. Nope. There is still too much salt and I still can't detect the subtle taste of the tea. I guess this will be the last time I order this...

We have a reprise of the deep-fried freshwater eel (爆鱔背) with garlic brown sauce. We traded a few jokes about the ubiquitous "garlic brown sauce" that one finds in American Chinese food, but the eel was just as good as last time.

I would never dream of not ordering the smoked yellow croaker (煙薰黃魚) while I am here, but the waiter decided that a medium-sized fish would be enough for the 7 of us. Does he not know how much I love this fish, and can probably take down half of it on my own?! Anyway... the fish arrived and the smokiness filled the air immediately. Our guests find that they, too, enjoy this fish in Korea. The flesh was moist and tender, and the taste delicate. In fact, I thought the skin could have used a tad more flavoring to achieve perfection. But this was good enough for me!

I pre-ordered the beggar's chicken (叫化雞/富貴雞) a few days ago, but when the restaurant called me to confirm my reservation, they found no record of this and told me that I would have to do without the chicken. I kick up a fuss, and end up talking to someone who apologized and promised me that I would have my precious chicken. Anyway, the waiter lays the large pot on the floor next to our table, and proceeds to remove the chicken from its lotus leaf wrapping. The fragrance hits us immediately, even before the chicken is laid out on the table before us. The meat is soft and moist, full of the fragrance from the spices and the lotus leaves. This is truly wonderful stuff, and I'm glad I ordered it.

The veggie with salted pork (鹹肉塌窩菜) is served out of order, but receives a warm welcome. Unfortunately for the pork it doesn't see much lovin' today. The Dong Po Pork (東坡肉) comes in its small ceramic jar, and is much smaller than I expected. I guess all the pictures on Open Rice are taken with wide angle lenses so the size is exaggerated. I am not impressed by the dish. There have been many detractors on the net, and I tend to agree with them. I can find a number of restaurants that do a better job on this one.

We finish up with the stir-fried hairy crab roe with noodles (蟹粉撈麵). Absolutely no complaints here, and after drenching my bowl with vinegar mixed with finely chopped ginger, I wolf down the entire bowl as I was unable to stop myself...it was soooo delicious. It was a heavy dish, and I find myself with a very packed stomach.

As usual the restaurant served us the complimentary glutinous rice balls in fruity fermented rice soup (什果酒釀丸子). This is a good way to end the dinner.

During dinner we did enjoy 2 bottles of the 1999 Chateau Musar. It's so curious that I would have friends bring bottles of this wine twice over the last 3 weeks, since I probably haven't had the Musar red in about 3 years! The wine was wonderful, with a big nose of minerals, sweet red fruit and even a hint of caramel towards the end. I was so happy to have the opportunity to drink this.

What a wonderful dinner! I never thought I'd return to this restaurant so soon, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to dine here again.


Changunnie said...

You didn't mention about the search for the famous Korean "i-e zee cakee" after dinner!

Anonymous said...

Sounds really good....
Is it possible to have the weblink of this restaurant? or phone number? Thanks. (Will visit HK end of this year.)

Peech said...

Be prepared for sticker shock...easily HKD 1,000/head


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