April 9, 2015

Deep-fried nobodies

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Another month, and another review for the South China Morning Post.  Interestingly, when I received the list of suggested restaurants for me to check out, there was something from my hood.  Since very few of the other restaurants looked interesting, and the chance of reviewing something else in my hood in the future is likely to be slim, I jumped on this rare opportunity.  I also roped in my neighbor e_ting, who had just returned from a prolonged absence from our hood.

Jin Cuisine (晉薈) in the Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong Kowloon East (that's a real mouthful!) isn't exactly a new restaurant, but it qualifies for a new review as it changed from serving Shanghainese to Cantonese cuisine.  So off we went!

Not wanting to monopolize things, I asked e_ting to share the ordering duties with me.  Many of us tend to order very specific items when visiting restaurants for the first time, which we use as "litmus tests" to gauge whether a kitchen can deliver on the basics.  I got to see what her tests were.

Sweet and sour pork (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - yes, boys and girls, your eyes aren't deceiving you.  Two Chinese people, who aren't gweilos, walked into a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong and voluntarily ordered sweet and sour pork.  This is her test, and to be honest, it's a pretty good one.

To be honest, this was better than I expected.  While someone complained about the presentation, the execution was pretty decent.  No, they didn't use hawthorn (山楂) for the sauce... it was still ketchup-based.  But the batter was relatively thin, and stayed crunchy even after a long time.  The pork was just fatty enough to be tender and juicy.  All in all, not bad at all.

Sautéed fresh prawns with salted egg yolk paste (黃金海中蝦) - an increasingly common dish nowadays.  We had a difference of opinion on this one.  I agreed with her that the shells could have been a little more crunchy - and we both ate all the shells, by the way... although I left parts of the heads and the tails on my plate.  But while I was happy that this seemed to be a "lighter and healthier" version with less salted egg yolk coating the prawns, e_ting's take was that it's already gonna be a cholesterol buster, so why only go half way?  Nevertheless, I thought these were tasty and didn't complain too much.

Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - my only experience with lotus root cake had been versions that I'd tasted at high-end places like Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) and Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  Those versions had diced cubes of lotus root encased in minced pork patties.

So imagine my surprise when this showed up...  Two thin layers of lotus root sandwiching a little bit of minced pork, battered and deep-fried.  Very tasty, actually... because the lotus root was thin and therefore crunchy.  We did think the batter had soaked up a little too much oil, though...

Stir-fried mushrooms with ginkgo nuts and asparagus (野菌銀杏炒蘆筍) - more veg for our daily quota, but nothing to write home about.  If anything, this came covered with a little too much cooking oil... so that everything glistened under the lights.

Deep-fried Chinese fritters with syrup (金絲脆麻花) - this has always been one of my favorite desserts... when it's done right.  This wasn't bad, but just a little too thin... and not gratifying enough when you bite into it.  We wondered why the color was so orange, but figured it was just some coloring the kitchen added.

All in all, food was pretty decent and there were no fails.  Price was reasonable, too, for a hotel restaurant - albeit some distance from city center.  But the service left much to be desired...

Let's face it.  We're nobodies, and we certainly don't expect to go to a restaurant we've never been to and get pampered by the staff.  It wasn't surprising that the staff were fawning over the TV and movie star in the private room next door.  It's also understandable that the staff would pay more attention to regular customers, but was it really necessary for four of them to greet the two regulars coming to sit at the neighboring table?

At the end of dinner, the question was raised whether anyone had poured tea for us during dinner.  The reality was that other than coming to bring the 5 dishes and 1 bowl of rice that we ordered, we probably had two changes of plates - the second in preparation for dessert.  Otherwise I don't think the staff paid any attention to us.  Again, we don't expect special service or attention, but we did feel a little ignored neglected.

Oh well, it's not like we would make this our regular hangout, anyway...

The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here (may require subscription).

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