June 11, 2011

Gamey birds

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I headed out to unfamiliar territory today, venturing into the New Territories to check out Sha Tin 18 at the Hyatt Regency Shatin.  I had missed a gathering here a couple of years ago, but heard that the Peking duck is delish.  I was glad to finally have the opportunity to check it out.

I asked Big Master to come along, and he very kindly gave me a ride to the boonies.  After getting totally lost for a while - and going in circles around the neighborhood, we finally arrived at the hotel for our appointment.  We were both starving by the time we sat down.

I had pre-ordered a whole traditional Peking duck (傳統北京烤填鴨), and I decided to have it 2 ways and to skip the duck soup.  The chef came over for the tableside carving of the duck, and soon there were thin slices of duck on our table...

Duck skin - I was pretty impressed.  Slicing at an angle delivers a certain thickness that allows the diner to experience a range of textures.  The skin was clearly crispy and dry on the outside, and the layer below contained plenty of fat that had melted but subsequently congealed, as the duck was no longer hot.  Very light in flavor, and some might even consider this a little bland.

Duck breast - very thin slices here, but surprisingly juicy and flavorful.

Duck leg - naturally, dark meat had a lot more flavor than white meat.  The combination of skin, flat and meat made for a pretty tasty combination, especially where the skin was a little burnt.

The condiments were laid out in front of us, with separate bamboo steamers for Big Master and I - a nice touch.  In addition to the usual sugar and plum sauce, there was also a separate sauce made with raw garlic which adds a nice kick.

Second course: wok-fried minced duck, iceberg lettuce (生菜片鴨崧) - an interesting take on the traditional, with lots of finely diced bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, Chinese celery, chili and of course duck.

After we were done with our duck, the other dishes arrived in quick succession.  In fact, all 5 arrived within 3 minutes of each other!  I find that totally unacceptable, especially for a 5-star hotel.  How do they expect us to be able to eat the food while it's still hot?!  And true enough, some of the dishes have gotten cold by the time I got to them.

Houjie pan-fried fish cake, Chinese dried sausage (厚街臘味煎魚餅) - one of the restaurant's signature dishes just happens to be something I don't really care for.

I've never liked mud carp/dace fish balls (鯪魚球) because for some reason, there is always little bits of fish bone inside.  Guess what?  No exceptions today.  Check out this little thing I dug out of one of these cakes...

The taste was pretty standard, and honestly... while it looks like there may be some bits of Chinese preserved sausage inside, I didn't really taste much other than the fish and preserved orange rind (陳皮).  The texture, though, seems to be a winner.  The cakes are very soft yet springy, and Big Master was having fun dropping chunks of it onto the plate - and they actually bounced a little...

Steamed pork ribs, garlic, chen chuan rice noodles (欖角排骨陳村粉) - my favorite dish of the meal.  Nice and juicy chunks of pork ribs, accompanied not by the ordinary black bean, but by black olives.  The rice flour noodles have soaked up the flavors from both the pork and the olives, making them very tasty indeed.

Crispy baby pigeon (沙田炸乳鴿) - 25-day old baby pigeons are marinated, air-dried and then deep-fried.  This was another surprise on the upside...  Unlike pigeons elsewhere, this was seasoned with spice salt but the flavors were mild and delicate.  Very fragrant, and almost milky/creamy.  Nicely done.

Stir-fried prawns, pumpkin, salted egg yolk (咸蛋黃南瓜蝦球) - an interesting twist on the usual.  The traditional salty flavors of the yolk are somewhat neutralized by the sweetness from the pumpkin, which I realized isn't to everyone's liking.  I did think that the prawns could have been a little fresher with more springy bite...

Dongguan vegetable stew, water chestnuts, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, lotus root, horned water chestnuts (東莞炒泮塘五秀) - an unusual mix of vegetables for Cantonese cuisine but a welcome change from the normal stuff.

This was a lot of food for two people, and we were simply too full to try out the desserts.

2009 Hunter's Pinot Noir Marlborough - body was lighter and more Burgundian than I expected, with nose of mint and black cherries.  Spicy finish.

I asked for a recommendation on wine and was pleasantly surprised to be directed to the Pinot as we were having duck.  While I was presented with a decent-sized Riedel Vinum Bordeaux glass, it came covered with so much lint and dust that I almost wanted to return it.  The pour was very generous, but the captain subsequently placed the bottle on the counter - just next to the steaming station for dim sum items.  I feel sorry for the next diner who orders a glass of this wine...

For the slightly more "concise" version published on AsiaTatler Dining, please visit here.

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