May 3, 2021

First Man: Wah!

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Ninja's back in town and finally out of quarantine, so we arranged to meet up over a Cantonese meal.  I have been curious about Man Wah (文華廳) after their much-ballyhooed renovation, and since none of us had visited the restaurant in its new incarnation, I figured we could go scratch that itch.

I normally don't pay too much attention to the decor of the restaurant, but I must agree with Ninja that the new ambience is very laowai (老外)... i.e. what a Caucasian would imagine Chinese decor should be.  Locals would take one look at the blue and think of 死人藍, but hey... when it comes to interior design, I know iron bar meh?

I informed our server upfront that I had zero interest in any of the tasting menus put together by the restaurant, as these are rarely interesting to me while dining at Cantonese restaurants.  As we were getting together for our visitor, it was only right that she pick out a few dishes that she wanted to try.  I had never really properly tried the cuisine of Chef Wong Wing-Keung (黃永強), although he seems quite beloved by the local foodie community.

I was pretty hungry, so these candied walnuts came in pretty handy.

Deep-fried matsutake mushroom pudding (松茸戈渣) - we started with a dish that's been all over social media.  I love these old school deep-fried custards, and wouldn't dream of passing up the chance to taste them.

Unfortunately, these were incredibly disappointing.  Sure, the flavors of the matsutake (松茸) were pretty strong, but why was this so greasy?!  Almost all of the versions I've had in the past - whether at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), Seventh Son (家全七福), or even at my favorite casual joint Lu Sang (呂桑食堂) in Taipei - had dry, slightly crunchy shells.  Of course the batter would have absorbed a lot of oil during the deep-frying process, but the other versions didn't taste greasy.  This one did, and there was a trail of oil in the plate.

Classic barbecued duck feet with barbecued pork, pork belly, chicken liver, taro wrapped by duck intestine (懷舊功夫鴨腳包) - another dish that was all over social media, and apparently something that the chef has been doing for quite some time.  I love me some old school dishes, so I didn't hesitate when the restaurant staff asked whether I wanted to pre-order it while confirming my booking.  The presentation is certainly very pretty.

Wrapped within the duck intestine were bits of pork belly, char siu (叉燒), chicken liver, and taro.  Definitely up my alley, and pretty tasty.  The surprise came in the form of winter melon balls that had been soaked in osmanthus marinade, where the fruity acidity helped balance out the meats.

Barbecued Iberico pork loin, longan honey (蜜味西班牙黑豚肉叉燒) - it would seem that nowadays every high end Canto restaurant worth their macaron uses Spanish pork for their char siu.  Not being a char siu expert, I wondered whether this was more "old school", too.  The meat was tender, but I didn't feel any "wow factor".  While I do like honey glaze on my char siu, I think there was a wee bit too much here.

Baked green crab meat, yuzu sauce, Chin Kiang vinegar jelly (柚子汁焗釀蟹蓋伴香醋啫喱) - the stuffed crab shell here has traditionally been about giving you as much crab meat as possible, with some cheese in the gratin.  And it was no different tonight.  For people like my friend Tigger who cares about the amount of crab meat he gets, this would be the best in town.  I prefer other versions where shredded onions or other ingredients are added to the mix for a more interesting texture.

The vinegar was delivered in jelly form, and once the little cubes were placed on the hot piles of crab meat, the vinegar melted and got absorbed.  Pretty neat.  

Braised bean curd, morel mushroom, abalone sauce (鮑汁羊肚菌紅燒豆腐) - the ladies wanted vegetarian dishes, so this was an obvious choice.

Leafy amaranth with salted eggs and century eggs (上湯金銀蛋莧菜) - a seasonal dish, and there was nothing to complain about.

Fried rice vermicelli, crab meat, egg (桂花蟹肉炒米粉) - the Taiwanese in us got all excited at the mention of this dish, and it did look pretty damn good when it arrived.  I do remember it being well-executed with lots of wok hei (鑊氣) when I last had it a few years ago.

Unfortunately, this looked better than it tasted.  The wok hei wasn't quite there.  And the kitchen was pretty heavy-handed when it came to seasoning, but somehow the flavors were kinda lacking  A couple of us ended up adding X.O. sauce, which really did help.

Chilled fig cream, seaweed sago (雲裳無花果甘露) - I chuckled that serving desserts in glass bowls with dry ice is "so 70s", and it is!  I definitely remember that when I was a kid.  This was OK, and slightly unusual with the use of figs instead of mango and pomelo.

Petits fours - baked lotus seed pastry (蓮蓉酥) and coconut milk jelly (椰汁糕).

I brought a couple of bottles of wine to dinner, but it turned out that there were only two of us drinking...

2014 Le Petit Cheval Blanc - nose of muscat grape, a hint of green apple, and flint. Lean with good acidity.

1997 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon To-Kalon Vineyard - served almost 1 hour after decanting. Smoky, a bit earthy, minty. Less ripe and fruity than expected. Woodsy and fragrant 30 minutes after first serving.

This was somewhat disappointing in terms of the food. I was really hoping for some "WOW", but there weren't any. Granted, we did order a couple of simple veg dishes, but everything else was marked as a signature dish by the restaurant. I can't really tell how the cuisine has improved in the last few years after Chef Wong took over, and with the expensive renovation it certainly wasn't gonna get cheaper...

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