December 28, 2016

A winter's feast for foodies

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The year end holiday season brings with it lots of visitors from around the world, and among them foodies who come to see what Hong Kong has to offer in the way of dining options.  As I had done last year, I decided to meet up with a group of them - actually two separate groups that we combined together - and arranged a dinner together.  I also invited a couple of local foodie friends in town to join us.

Now, it's rare that we can get such a big group of visitors in town at the same time, so I figured I'd pull out all the stops by letting them experience the very old school, high-end Cantonese cooking at my favorite private dining facility.  Half the visitors are of Chinese (and in fact Cantonese) ancestry, so I figured they'd have some exposure and would have a better appreciation of the dishes.  The other half was coming in from Sweden, and although I had assumed they were well-travelled, I was still a little apprehensive...

Given my limited knowledge about classic Cantonese food, I was very thankful to have had KC with us tonight.  Even though I had been here many times and have had all of the dishes on multiple occasions, there was still a lot of background info that KC would be better placed to deliver to the visitors.

When I received a copy of the menu from the chef about a week ago, I was ecstatic.  It was pretty much a collection of my favorite dishes, and featured two of the most special items in the chef's repertoire...

Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - this is so classic that everyone needs to try this at least once... And it's always impressive when a whole plate of these show up on the table.

The skill that goes into "peeling" the prawns, and the preparation which ensures the proper color and texture of the prawns, before they go into the deep-fryer for a quick round... This was very, very good.  Got the right crunchy without feeling too "artificial", and none of that awful baking powder aftertaste.  Just a little bit of ham broth to season it.

Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - made with tips of the pig's stomach, and cut into diamond-shape along with Chinese celery, red capsicum, pickles, coriander, yellowed chives, and Indian almonds (欖仁).  Tonight I found it a little too wet and soggy, but our waiter explained that the chef had to reheat the dish because we started dinner a little late.

Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - the first of the pièce de résistance (yes, there were two of them tonight...)  Very old school, and very luxe.  The chef knows me so well nowadays that when he came up with the menu, he automatically excluded shark's fin from this dish.

Everyone gets a plate with an abalone, a goose web, a piece of sea cucumber, fish maw, some pork belly, pork tendons, and bamboo shoots.

As delicious as everything is, the best part of the dish is always the sauce.  The sauce that has all the collagen coming from the tendon, fish maw, sea cucumber, and goose web.  Of course we need to take it all with rice!

Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the other pièce de résistance.  The season for snake soup is short - from sometime after Mid-Autumn Festival to Lunar New Year - so every year lovers of this specialty will maximize their intake during these few months.  And this, so far, is the best version I have ever had among all the high-end establishments serving it.

Yes, there really are five different types of snakes in the soup.  Plus fish maw (which adds collagen), and shiitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, and wood ear, and aged tangerine peel that adds its distinctive fragrance.  The base of the soup is made not with chicken powder, nor ham, but with snake bones.  It is packed with lots of flavor, but is neither salty nor heavy.  This is old school, and is just fucking good.  I don't even need to add the traditional condiments of chrysanthemum petals, coriander, kaffir lime leaf chiffonade, or the crispy wonton skin.

Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - we got two of these, and as usual the chef turned them upside down to show us the bellies - and the fact that these were wild-caught and not farmed.  Execution on the steaming here is hit-and-miss, but thankfully I thought the back of the fish wasn't overcooked tonight.  The wings were as delicious and full of collagen as ever.

Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - this was pretty good, and definitely not something from the "chicken Fridays" (whatever that is) in Sweden.  The only let down is that the giblets were missing... thanks to the recent discovery of new avian flu cases in certain farms.

Stir-fried pea shoots with liver sausage (膶腸炒豆苗) - yes, boys and girls, this would be our veggie dish.  Except, of course, that it comes covered in meat.  Not just any meat, but the Cantonese liver sausage made with the fragrant Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) - which is generally best in winter.  And the pea shoots were so tender as they're right in season.  Just awesome.

Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - another winter-only special.  While the flavors were as tasty as ever - with the combination of Cantonese preserved sausage as well as liver sausage - the execution was a little off tonight.  The rice grains weren't dry and chewy enough, and ended up a little soft but not quite soggy.  Oh well.

Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - a very good way to finish, with the fragrance of almonds along with egg whites and lotus seeds which had been cooked until soft.

This being the holiday season and all, I decided to bring out some wines to share with the gang.

2007 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series - toasty oak, buttery, and ripe on the palate.

2001 Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese No. 9 Zwischen den Seen, from half-bottle - lots of honey, orange marmalade, really sweet, really grapey.

2003 Kongsgaard Syrah - for some reason I didn't get much out of my glass...

2004 Kongsgaard Chardonnay - nice and mature on the palate.  Sweet on the nose, with marmalade, toasty oak, and butter corn.

2002 Ojai Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard - more metallic on the nose, still plenty of fruit here.

Well, I hope that our visiting foodies enjoyed dinner tonight... I know that they were appreciative of the opportunity to try out this place, but dunno what they thought of the food.  Well, I'm glad my local foodie friends enjoyed it, at least...

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