March 8, 2016

HK Chowmeet 2016: Redemption, 6 years on

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This was the second self-imposed exile that I decided to give up in as many weeks... except this particular exile only lasted about six years instead of eight.  I must be feeling pretty magnanimous lately...

My one and only previous visit to Ming Court (明閣) came six years ago, after the restaurant's first promotion to 2 stars.  The dinner ended in disaster, and most - if not all - of the attendees have never set foot in the restaurant since then.  In fact, we collectively snorted with disdain at the mere mention of the name of the restaurant.

But a friend was visiting from halfway across the globe, and we haven't seen him in a few years.  After multiple rounds of discussions, one of our friend's friend - who works for Cordis Hotels - finally stepped up and offered to get us a table here.  Since we know our visitor had pretty good experiences with this place in prior years, the Great One and I bit our tongues and joined the party.

As the friend from Cordis was dining with us, we were set up in a private room and had quite a few staff fawning over us.  Obviously a very different experience from 6 years ago, when we were left fuming over the service.  The menu was also designed to showcase a few of Chef Mango Tsang's special creations - and those the previous chef, who happened to be his younger brother.

We started with some snacks while waiting for everyone to arrive.  These deep-fried crispy wafers of lotus root were really delicious, although I would have preferred them with slightly less salt.  The candied walnuts with sesame were nice, too.

Ming Court amuse bouche : silk tofu, gold leaf, plum sauce, chilled (明閣前菜 : 銀稔醬金箔豆腐) - this may look like an ordinary stack of sliced tofu (OK, with some silly gold foil on top...) but the hidden secret lies in the sauce, which is made from 銀稔 - a type of mangosteen - along with white vinegar, ginger, sugar, and chili.  It was a little sharp and pungent, almost like mustard.  I don't recall ever having tasted this sauce before, but it's a classic ingredient used in some old school Cantonese dishes.

Ming Court appetizer duet : suckling pig, roasted (明閣兩小碟 : 化皮乳豬件) - what's not to like about suckling pig with crispy crackling and a layer of fat underneath?

Cod fillet cube, Chinese vinegar, fried (江西老陳醋鱈魚粒) - the sauce made with aged Zhenjiang vinegar had a lot of sugar, so it was very viscous and sticky... almost like honey.  Unfortunately this didn't work with the cod, whose fishy flavors were unusually strong and seemed to be drawn out by the vinegar.

Tea pot chicken consommé, matsutake, bamboo pith (茶壺松茸竹笙清湯) - nice presentation.

The fragrance of matsutake mushroom (松茸) was obvious, and it was very comforting.  The bamboo piths (竹笙) were chopped into little bits so they could pass through the spout and be drunk.  Very nice.

Cod fillet wrapped in minced shrimp, spiced shrimp, fried (龍皇披金甲) - this is something that the Great One and I had during our disastrous dinner last time.  Thankfully, the fish wasn't muddy this time, although it might be due to the substitution of cod for garoupa.  The cod with shrimp paste was decent, the shrimp was OK, and I guess the potato mash was just to fix the two parts of the shrimp to the plate... because it was completely bland.  Not really sure why the big segments of spring onions were there...

Conpoy, scrambled egg, bean sprout, stir-fried (桂花炒瑤柱) - very old school.  Stir-fried at high heat, wonderful wok hei (鑊氣). The egg had that bouncy texture.  Absolutely delicious.

And you know what?  To do it this fine really takes skillz!  I didn't see the chef make the dish, but I've watched another chef do this using a pair of chopsticks instead of a spatula, and it was mesmerizing.  I have no doubt that Chef Mango can do the same.

Australian wagyu beef, black truffle paste, pan-seared (松露和牛禮物盒) - this was a pretty big chunk of food sitting on my plate...

Cutting this open showed the stuffing inside.  Not sure why they needed to have so much stuff inside, since this became pretty filling - especially at this stage of the meal.  The beef was also overcooked.  Not a fan.

Duo of vegetables : Chinese cabbage, Yunnan ham, superior broth, simmered (玲瓏雙蔬 : 上湯雲南火腿浸津白) - good 'nuff for me...

Kale, ginger, stir-fried (薑汁芥藍) - lots of ginger here.

Fried rice sizzler, Silkie chicken, Shao Xing wine-scented, crispy conpoy, wolfberry, pine nut (窩燒滋補竹絲雞炒飯) - another dish that was stir-fried at high heat.  So delicious, especially with some rice crispies.  The black bits are actually the Silkie chicken, which have black skin black/grey flesh.

Almond cream, egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - interesting that the egg whites came in such big chunks, leading to a more solid texture compared to the fluffy "egg drops" that is normally seen.

Osmanthus, wolfberry curd (杞子桂花糕) - this was much, much better than 6 years ago, since this wasn't solid blocks of hard jelly.  But why this is called "curd" on the menu?!

Honeyed egg pastry twist, sesame crunch (麻香蛋散) - very nice and fluffy.

Custard bun, steamed (奶黃流沙包) - very hot, very molten filling.  Yum.

We brought along a few bottles since corkage was waived...

2006 Cloudy Bay Te Koko - green apple, flinty and savory mineral, polyurethane notes.  Later on nose turned really ripe.

2008 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne - toasty nose, with lovely lemon citrus.  A little ripe on the palate but still got the acidity.

2006 Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets - overripe and caramelized nose, with honey and Chinese licorice notes.  A little ripe marmalade on the palate.

1994 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Auslese 45 - classic petrol and white flowers.  Surprisingly not very sweet for an auslese, with nice acidity.

It was great to be able to catch up with our friends tonight, as we've kept in touch over the years while sharing our common love of food, but seldom manage to see each other.  I'm also grateful for the opportunity to try Ming Court again, as I probably would not have gone back willingly on my own.  Food does seem better this time around (after they were re-promoted to 2-star status), and with the special arrangements tonight, of course service was impeccable - with big discounts to boot!  A happy and very filling evening.

P.S. what's with the English translation of the menu?!  They seem to have taken after Man Wah (文華廳)'s penchant for listing out the main ingredients and separating them with commas, but here they've decided to leave the cooking method last... Kinda reminds me of the way Yoda talks... Totally weird and unnatural.

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