Te Quick Pasta & Herb

This place sits with its big windows glowing on the second floor of a building next to the Mid-Levels escalator and I’d noticed it many times when passing by on my way up. It advertises itself as offering quick pasta and drinks in a cafe style setting. The other night around 7pm, I wanted a quick bite before heading on somewhere else and thought that this might be exactly what I was looking for.

I clambered up the stairs into the large interior, all white and brightly lit by clinical white lighting. The place was eerily empty. Two ladies sat behind the counter in an open kitchen area, staring down at the phones with their headphones in. I kind of awkward disturbing them to ask if the place was even open. They gave me looks that really seemed to grudge my intrusion on whatever they were doing. They didn’t speak much English and just sort of pointed over at another lady who was looking at her macbook behind a counter in the corner. I went over to her and she pointed at the big board with different, appetizing pictures of the pasta dishes.

I chose the carbonara, which was one of the cheapest pastas on offer at HK$60. Then I went and sat down in the spookily silent restaurant, bathed in the bright glow. As I passed the kitchen area, I did see one of the ladies putting some cream in a frying pan, suggesting that at least the sauce was freshly made. I wanted to use the wifi (they advertise it as being free) but couldn’t find anyway to do this and after the less than friendly reception I didn’t really want to ask.

After about ten minutes, they brought the pasta over to me. The portion was pretty small for the price, and looked even smaller because it was served on a large flat plate. The sauce spread out across this from the small heap of pasta in the middle. This sauce was pretty watery and had a very bland taste. It seemed like watered down cream, without any strong Parmesan or cheese flavour to it at all. Because the spaghetti used was the really slippery pale kind, this light sauce just slid off it so it was really hard to eat the two together. Instead of bits of pancetta, the pasta had big flat squares of fried ham in it that really didn’t work. The dish also needed a lot more pepper, preferably of a much coarser grind. Overall it tasted like a cha chaan teng attempt at Carbonara, a long way from anything authentic.

Te strikes me as a really nice idea. A casual, reasonably priced pasta place would be a great addition to Soho or even other parts of HK. But in Te’s case it seems like the idea is poorly executed. Based on the dish I had, it seems like they are cost cutting on the pasta to the extend where the quality and size just aren’t good enough. That’s perhaps why it was empty at a peak dining time.


1/F, Cheung Hing Commercial Building, 37 Cochrane Street, Central


Over the Easter weekend, I made a trip to Changsha in Hunan Province. I found it a really fantastic city with a very laid-back approach to life. Above all, the food there is amazing. There are a wealth of restaurants cooking up really distinctive Hunan dishes, and then almost every street abounds in stalls offering a really wide range of different snacks. Below is an overview of some of the places I visited – then I’ll also include links to more extensive descriptions of each one.

D-Watch Restaurant
This restaurant has a clean and super-modern interior, all cheap wood and plastic. Even the dishes the food is served on are made of plastic. But don’t let this chain cafe appearance fool you, it serves up really authentic and traditionally cooked local food that could have come from a little home style restaurant and tastes amazing. Locals pack out its many tables for this reason.

The Fifth Grandma Fermented Tofu Stall
This little tiny stall is squeezed down a small alley that dives of the western side of Huangxing South Road (a little further south than the southern end of the pedestrianised part of the street). Known as The Fifth Grandma stall, they have passed their special recipe for making the tofu down from generation to generation. The result are delicious pieces of ashy grey tofu that have a chewy outer skin and an spongy inside which oozes juices. Despite the tofo’s appearance, the flavour is quite subtle, a vinegary and smoky pungence that’s really distinctive. Also in this alley is a stall selling small snails – their springy meat soaked in a salty and spicy tasting juice.

Outdoor restaurant on corner of Xihu Rd and Huangxing South Rd
With just a few outdoor counters for a kitchen, this restaurant fries up a wide range of incredible dishes, from Hunan style frog to fried crab. One of their specialties is Kou Wei Xia (Strange Taste Fried Shrimp). Large shrimp are fried in their shells with slices of fresh red chili giving their white flesh a wonderfully sweet and spicy taste that is really special. It’s great to sit outside at one of their tables and eat this with a cold bottle of beer.

Noodle Restaurant on Pozi St
This noodle restaurant at number 132 on the well-known snack street of Pozi Jie has minimalist no-fuss decor, just plenty of big tables to accommodate the continual flow of diners who come to eat here. It does really good bowls of Hunan style niuroufen (beef with rice noodles). The strips of meat are nice and tender, the broth has a strong meaty and earthy flavour, and each bowl is scattered with lots of fresh parsley and pieces of celery which really add to the taste of the soup.

Fire Palace,  127 Pozi Street, Tianxin, Changsha
This restaurant is famous because Chairman Mao used to come here to eat their wide variety of delicious local snacks. The restaurant is huge, with several floors of large dining halls where the tables are all crowded with people. It’s bustling atmosphere reminded me a bit of the large dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. As many of those used to, people here come round with trolleys from which you can pick up little dishes and baskets of snacks. There is a huge variety of things on offer – from changsha style donuts with spring onion and savory fried dough, to larger dishes like laziji and dan dan noodles.

 Yang Yanjing 杨眼镜
This restaurant is called Yang’s Glasses, supposedly because it does food so spicy that somebody called Yang lost his glasses or something. Whatever the name means, it does excellent versions of different Hunanese dishes. I had the Xiang Xi La Rou (湘西腊肉)which was wonderful, with no real sauce but great flavours and textures given by simple ingredients. Long strips of radish had a real crunchy bite to them, contrasting nicely with the soft, fatty slices of smoke meat between them . I also had 野山牛肉 (Wild Mountain Beef) which was equally good, with little tender and flavorful straggles of beef amongst some fresh red chilies giving sweet spice and some pale green pickled peppers giving a more sour pungent spice.

This restaurant is not all that easy to find. Go to the big roundabout where Lao Dong Xi Lu and South Huangxing road meet. Then walk north along the right hand side of South Huangxing road. After about 20m a small alley dives off to the right and Yang Yanjing is about half way down here. The entrance has some wooden panels and some posters of a chef frying things and is much more elaborate than the other restaurants around.

Kowloon City Thai Food

The other day I walked over to Kowloon City in search of some spicy Thai food for a story I was working on. I had hoped for something like Khao phat nam phrik narok, which translates as the evocative “rice fried with chilli paste from hell”, but it seems like none of the Thai restaurants in Hong Kong offer any of the special spicy dishes because none of their customers want them. Instead we ended up at a small cafe-style restaurant called Thai Hot, where the chatty owner promised to make us some really spicy versions of more regular dishes insisting that this would be just as hot. The papaya salad we got was really fiendishly fiery, with bits of chilli scattered through it that made my tongue burn brutally. When the waitress came over to check if it was hot enough, I was busily gulping down all the liquids on the table and could barely speak.




Jun Yakitori


There are surprisingly few proper yakitori restaurants in Hong Kong. Places like Sapporo Ramen and Watami offer it as well as other things, and others do full on barbecue, but there’s not many dedicated to the little barbecued skewers. Which is why I was so eager to try Jun Yakitori when I read it was one of the best yakitori restaurants in the city.

The restaurant feels like one of those hidden backstreet restaurants you get in Tokyo. Entering through swinging wooden doors, you step into a slightly gloomy, tavern-like interior. There are small wooden tables and writing scrawled over the lumpy clay walls. To one side is a bar counter behind which a woman busily tends to skewers on the hissing grill, sending smoky smells wafting through the room.

The slightly confusing menu has a wide selection of meat, fish and vegetable skewers to be grilled, costing from about HK$20 upward. We started with a few chicken skewers. The ‘Chicken With Long Onion’ turned out to be small pieces of meat interspersed with pieces of leek. These were nicely cooked so the leek was just lightly charred and still had a freshness and crispness, while the meat was well grilled to leave it with a smoky and succulent taste. Unlike many satay skewers, which have very chewy and fibrous bits of chicken, these were pleasingly soft. A few pieces were perhaps a little too salty, but it was a promising start.

Next came skewers of Chicken skin that looked depressingly small and shrivelled on the plate, but made up for their size with the flavour they had – indulgently fatty and juicy. Following these where a couple of chicken heart skewers which had wonderfully soft and smooth texture and had been done in a way that really brought out meat’s potent flavours.

The dried mushroom skewers were somewhat disappointing. While they had the nice woody flavour typical of these big brown mushrooms, the grilling had dried them out and they really could have done with a bit more moisture – their lack of juiciness contrasting with all the pieces of meat. Quail egg skewers were better though, coming garnished with strands of seaweed that contrasted nicely with the smooth creamy white of the eggs.

Then came the highlight – a wonderfully cooked piece of grilled saba (mackarel). The fish’s skin was beautifully charred and blistered by the grill, leaving it tasting really moreishly salty and smoky. Its crispness contrasted perfectly with the soft white fish flesh inside, the flakes of which were all infused with a subtle smoky flavour. I felt like I could easitilyorgo the rest and come here just to eat this dish.

To finish off, we had a roasted rice ball with cod-roe inside. This was also really excellent.The big plump grains of pearl rice round the outside a nice golden colour and deliciously cirspy, while the rice around the roe stayed soft and perfectly cooked.

The portion sizes of a lot of the dishes here are admittedly quite small. But this is made up for, in my opinion, by the quality of the cooking and ingredients. This is definitely a good place to come to have yakitori.


33A Hillwood Road, Tsim Shah Tsui, Hong Kong
+852 2311 9291

Hunan Garden Restaurant

The large dining room of Hunan Gardens looks impressively grand and historical, with wood paneled walls bearing large oil paintings, white pillars, and big chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling above. It’s all fake, of course. The restaurant’s actually high up in the anonymous, modern sleekness of one of Times Square’s towers. But once sat at one of the elegantly laid tables, it’s not too hard to suspend disbelief and feel you are actually in a magnificent colonial mansion.

The menu is equally decadent, with a good twenty pages worth of Hunanese, Sichaunese and other Chinese dishes including exotic items like frog and shark’s fin and numerous others bearing large price tags.

Our Hong Shao Rou (Red Braised Pork Belly) had meat that was nice and tender with flesh that showed none of the dryness or stringiness it can still have at some places. The large top pieces fat were juicy and slightly sweet tasting. But the pieces of meat didn’t really have that rich and potent flavour that slow cooking can given them. They lacked the fragrant notes of the chinese rice wine they are braised in and didn’t have even the slightest tingle from the chilies, which I felt could almost have been added to the dish at the end here. I also thought that the sauce was just a tiny bit on the thick side, not so much as to make it really gloopy, but still a little heavy. Overall, though, the delight of eating such luxuriantly soft, fatty pork won through these slight limitations in its taste.

The Rice Crackers And Shrimp In Tomato Sauce used fresh, whole tomatoes and the sauce still had some only partially broken down pieces in it. This made it wonderfully fresh tasting. The puffed rice crackers soaked up this bright, healthy feeling sauce. The crackers had a crispness to them with contrasted with the soft smooth texture of the shrimp in a really satisfying way. This combination of ingredients in this dish, with cool fresh vegetables and light tasting seafood, felt very different to most Chinese dishes I have had in the past. In my opinion, it was something that worked really well.

We also had Chicken With Walnuts In A Broad Bean Sauce. This presented a really satisfying contrast of textures, between the spongey pieces of chicken breast and the crisp pieces of knobbled walnut. It was a combination that worked brilliantly. That said, I agreed with one of my companions who felt that the ratio of walnuts to chicken leant too much towards the former. The nuts tended to clump together because of the sticky sauce, forming big clusters that were less pleasing to eat. The sauce itself was good however. Often I have found that the pungent taste of broad bean sauces is a bit overpowering, but here it was nicely restrained, with just a little bit coating the meat and nuts and helping to sort of lubricate the dish.

The Sei Gwai Dáu (Green Beans With Minced Pork) were also very good. The beans were cooked nicely al dente, so that they still had a crisp bite to them which added to their fresh taste. They were just lightly scatter with flavourful pieces of mince pork, unlike in some restaurants where there is a huge heap of very bland meat.

Overall, I feel that Hunan Garden offers above average food which just about matches its mid-range prices. While some of the dishes fall down in certain aspects, and are not as good as those you would get in a higher end place or a private kitchen, they all show some real care in their cooking and exhibit some really interesting tastes and textures. Hunan Gardens is a good place to try a wide range of different Hunanese and Sichuan food and feel confident you are getting close to the real thing.


13F Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay

Chung Gye Chon

The graffiti strewn back walls that line the start of Kimberly Street, a small lane parallel to Kimberly Road in TST, didn’t seem to promise much in the way of eating here. But moving further along the street revealed a hidden cluster of Korean restaurants and food stores.

In the middle of these was the glowing orange sign of Chung Gye Chon, one of two restaurants on the street offering proper ‘at the table’ Korean barbecue. Inside the restaurant was full, and more people were lining up out the front. We waited about twenty minutes and then were given a table.

Chung Gye Chon’s menu has an impressive range of different meat, seafood, and vegetables for barbequing and a decent variety of other dishes. I wouldn’t say it is quite as extensive as Sorabol (Hong Kong’s more famous Korean restaurant) but there was still plenty to choose from.

Our pork ribs came smothered in a red paste, much thicker than the meat marinades that I’ve seen in a lot of places. This marinade clearly had a very carefully considered blend of spice and other ingredients, giving it a very distinctive pungent and spicy flavour. As the pieces of meat were laid out to hiss on the metal, the paste’s flavours seeped into the flesh so that it was subtly tinged by them. Bits of the paste stayed on the outside, going a deep red and becoming slightly charred, so each piece ended up with a great-tasting smoky, spicy skin. The marinade also meant the cooked pieces were also amazingly soft and loaded with a gentle, but tasty spicy flavour.

The bibimbap (stone pot rice) was also an excellent version of the dish. Just the right amount of the pungent-tasting red gochujang sauce was added to coat everything but not completely overwhelm with its flavour – so that the freshness of the vegetables could still come through. All these vegetables were prepared really well, chopped into quite delicate pieces so none of their textures or tastes seemed overly weighty.

Thin green strands of spinach added a bit of earthiness and twisted through the rice to give a complimenting texture. Mushrooms with a strong flavour were finely sliced to moderate this impact. There was also the really nice addition of some thin fibrous brown strands which I think were mushrooms of some kind and had a really nutty, woody taste. It was great to scoop up a ball of soft plump rice and fresh bits of vegetable, all infused with the pungent and spicy sauce.

The dish kept hissing and cooking for a long time at the table, so that all the vegetables and rice warmed, softened and combined nicely – adding to their hearty comforting feeling. And then when you turned the rice over from the bottom of the pot it had fried a light golden colour and turned into crisped pieces that were equally impressive.

The beef sirloin steak for the barbeque was less stunning. The piece of steak looked very high quality, with little seams of fat cutting through it. The waiter cooked it for a long time on both sides, so that it was heavily browned on the outside and the meat was cooked right through to the centre. I would have preferred it a bit less well done. This long cooking time meant that while the meat had a good flavour it was a touch tougher than I would have hoped for. It also tasted a little bland when placed alongside the marinaded pork.

We also had a kim chi pancake. This was really very doughy, like a heavy omelette and quite hearty tasting, but a bit stodgy, as a result. The batter was stained a deep red colour. It tasted strongly of the pungency and spice of kim chi. But unlike the cabbage dish, where the tastes can be quite sharp, here they were nicely balanced by the softer tones of the egg and dough.

As is fairly standard for Korean food, the main dishes came with a staggering array of side dishes that crowded over the table. All of these tasted very fresh and made a nice compliment to the main items. There were fairly standard things like bean sprouts and the spicy pickled cabbage of kim chi, along with some more exotic items like a chestnut jelly that had a cool and savoury flavour.

Based on the excellent bibimbap and barbecued pork ribs, I would definitely recommend visiting Chung Gye Chon for authentic and well cooked Korean food. It is a good, and probably slightly cheaper, alternative to a trip to Sorabol or one of the other better known Korean restaurants scattered across Hong Kong.


Shop A and B, 1J Kimberly Street, Tsim Sha Tsui


+8542 2367 8895