March 3, 2013

Why a restaurant deserves losing its Michelin star, part 2

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Some friends are visiting from out of town and wanted to meet up for lunch.  They had visited ZEN yesterday and found that the quality of the food has dropped significantly compared to 20 years ago.  After I laughed off the suggestions of dim sum at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) - Sunday lunch on 1-day notice?! - and Da Domenico (I thought, mistakenly, surely they wouldn't open on Sundays?!), I was left with the task of coming up with a venue for dim sum on the Kowloon side.  I briefly toyed with the idea of taking them to Sun Tung Lok (新同樂) or the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), having never been to the latter, but settled on something different.

Nanhai No.1 (南海一號) was chosen because it's a place I haven't been before.  It sits on the 30th floor of iSquare, giving it a pretty decent view of Hong Kong - even though the Peninsula Hotel is kinda smack in the middle between it and the harbor.  The place also used to have a macaron in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Rubberman guide, until this was taken away in the current edition.  A macaron?!  Surely that must count for something, right?

After settling in, I passed around the order sheet for dim sum so that the visitors could pick what they wanted to eat.  When the sheet came back around, I noticed something a little unusual on the menu.  It's not exactly an ingredient that I would recommend to anyone, but... what the hell do I know, right?

Curiously for a Cantonese restaurant, deep-fried prawn crackers (炸蝦餅) are served as snacks.  Pretty yummy.

My friends wanted to have some Cantonese-style double-boiled soup, so I asked the manager what the daily soup was.  He didn't know, and went away to check.  Hello?!  If anyone in the front of house should know what the daily specials are, wouldn't it be you, sir?!

He came back a minute later, and told me (in Cantonese) it was octopus and lotus root soup (章魚蓮藕湯) with pork shank (豬蹍).   Assuming (incorrectly again) that my guests aren't fluent in Cantonese, I elaborated and said "Oh, octopus! 八爪魚!"  At this point the manager decided to correct me and said: "既係魷魚" (translation: "it's actually squid")  HUH?! 章魚(octopus) and 魷魚 (squid) are two entirely different things!  If you cannot tell the difference between the two, you have no business working at a restaurant, much less being the "manager"...

The soup itself was actually delicious.  The sweetness of the lotus roots played center stage, while the flavors of the dried squid (or was it cuttlefish? I saw small tentacles so it definitely wasn't a big octopus...) added a different yet complementary layer.

Not surprisingly for a Cantonese restaurant, all nine dim sum items we ordered arrived within about 2 minutes of each other.  Unlike some other restaurants with excellent service, no one bothered to ask that, since most dim sum items came in baskets of three and there were four of us, would we like to make sure that there were four items in each basket.  What's worse, after all the items had already arrived, when I inquired with the other manager whether it would be possible for us to add one more piece for each item, the answer that came was negative.  "Oh, we don't do that here... but you can always get an extra order to have more food."

I was ready to slap someone.

Rice rolls with shrimps (韮王鮮蝦腸粉) - this was OK.

Black truffle and crab dumplings (松露蟹餃) - this was OK, too... I did taste the little bits of black truffle shavings, but... didn't do much for me.  And I thought these were a little over-steamed, and the skin stuck to my chopsticks and eventually tore as I was handling them.

Xiao long bao (上海小籠包) - pretty good, actually.  The skin was very thin (and didn't break), and there was plenty of jus inside.

Pan-fried radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - a tad on the soft side, but pretty tasty.

Crispy cod samosa (葡汁雪魚酥) - pretty interesting.

Chicken feet with XO chili sauce (祕製XO醬鳳爪) - the chicken feet were so-so, but I liked the addition of the XO sauce.

Rice rolls with shredded radish (脆皮蘿蔔絲腸粉) - this was definitely yum!  A cross between a 炸兩 and 蘿蔔絲餅, the crunchy bits inside I think were deep-fried rice vermicelli (炸米粉).

Barbecued pork and jack fruit pastry (大樹菠蘿叉燒酥) - being from Southeast Asia, the visitors wanted to see how jack fruit would be incorporated into this item.  I thought it was OK, and the strong and pungent flavors of jack fruit were unmistakable.

Grouper with vegetable dumpling (海棠斑肉餃) - did they fry the grouper before stuffing? Texture was interesting.  Also had coriander inside.  Steaming was not overdone.

Pan-fried oyster cake (南海煎蠔餅) - the visitors were curious, and I thought there was a slight Chiuchow bent to this place and figured it would be the classic Chiuchow style.  Sure enough, a big one arrived, having soaked up plenty of oil in the wok.  Pretty yummy, I must say... but definitely very filling at the end of the meal.

Well, I think I succeeded in bringing my visitors to a place where the food was better than ZEN (but that's a pretty low bar to set, innit?)  Honestly, I thought the food was decent, but with the kind of service I got today... why bother?!

P.S. for another example of why I thought a restaurant deserved losing its Michelin star, see this post from 3 years ago...


Anonymous said...

Glad the food was good. Service is always hit or miss in Chinese restaurants.

johannes said...

The classic combination for this Cantonese soup would be lotus root & dried octopus (八爪魚 or 章魚), DEFINITELY NOT SQUID (魷魚).
Does the manager know anything?!?


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