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

Hing Kee

Last night we went to Hing Kee, a much praised restaurant doing Bo Jai Faan or claypot rice that’s tucked in a grimy backstreet behind the tourist thronged Temple Street Market. The restaurant’s popularity, and the ongoing buzz about it on openrice, meant that as usual there was a long line of people waiting outside. They have a lot of tables in different shops round the area, though, so the queue moved pretty quickly.

But does Hing Kee’s food actually live up to all the hype it gets? Bo Jai Fan’s combination of rice and meat cooked in a clay pot is fairly simple, unpretentious, and hearty in style. So there’s not much a restaurant can really do to distinguish itself in terms of fancy cooking techniques or ingredients. But Hing Kee sets itself apart from other Bo Jai Fan restaurants by getting this basic combination absolutely spot on.

Our beef clay pot came with a big pile of succulent strips of beef laid on top of the rice, contrasting with a lot of restaurants which are really miserly with their meat. We broke an egg over the dish and the white soaked down into the rice, cooking as we mixed it and covering the grains with a fluffy eggy tasting coating that made the rice really hearty and heavy. This savoury egg coated rice combined well with the more juicy strips of beef mixed in with it.

Our second pot was chicken and Chinese mushrooms laid over rice. The small pieces of on the bone chicken were impressively juicy – the method of cooking perhaps allowing them to keep a lot of moisture so that they hadn’t dried out at all. The meat’s soft creaminess went well with the more earthy and fibrous texture of the dark Chinese mushrooms used.

The smoked fish and pork pot also had a nice balance of different flavours. Big pieces of silver skinned fish were laid on top of the rice. The dry, coarse flesh of this had a really striking and powerful flavour – salty and fishy and smoky all at once. Its intenseness was nicely softened, though, when eaten with a soft slice of the pork or some of the rice. Strips of ginger also added a really nice sweetness.

With all Bo Jai Fan, the rice at the bottom goes a crispy brown as it cooks against the side of the pot. It can be really nice to scrape up pieces of this crisped browned rice, that have a great crunchy taste. Here we did get some perfectly crisped rice, although some of it had also turned a little bit too black to be edible. For the clay pots to be absolutely perfect, it would be good if they weren’t burnt on the bottom at all, but that might be asking a bit too much.

Along with the clay pots we also had ho beng, or deep fried oyster omelette. This was perfect. In some restaurant’s the omelette is too thick and just the outside is fried and crispy, leaving a stodgy mess of uncooked egg and oyster inside. But here the tangled strands of egg were all nicely crisp and brown with just a thin layer of soft egg in the middle. Often I also find places use too many oysters, so these completely overpower things, but here they were nicely restrained, with just a few of the juicy oyster held in the crispy casing and plenty of spring onion mixed in too. Added to this, the omelette was really dry and crisp, with none of the soggy oiliness that some can have. It had clearly just been made and tasted fantastic.

So overall, I would say that Hing Kee definitely lives up to the praise it’s been given and is well worth the half hour or so you’ll have to wait. While other restaurants around do also serve fairly decent bo jai fan, many of them slip up on a few elements of the dish, while here you can enjoy clay pots that are almost exactly the way they should be.


Chicken and mash

I have recently moved back to Hong Kong, so expect some nice posts on the wealth of great Asian food that you can get in this city soon. I’ve already started exploring some of the new restaurants that have sprung up while I was back in the UK. But because I’ve also just moved into a new place, with a nice shiny new kitchen, I thought I’d see how easy it’d be to reproduce a Nigel Slater classic that I’ve cooked many times before in this foreign location.

Take two chicken thighs (Wellcome in Hong Kong has these for HK$20). Rub some olive oil into their skin and then season them with a fair bit of salt and pepper. Heat up a pool of oil in a large pan and drop in a big chunk of butter. Wait until the butter and oil start to bubble, then throw in the chicken – let it brown on both sides and then turn down the head. Take a few meaty cloves of garlic, press them down with a knife side until they split and throw them into the pot with the skin still on. Leave the chicken so it is just hissing slightly in the pan. Cook like this for a good forty minutes or so.

Then take the chicken and the garlic out of the pan and keep it warm. Pour some wine into the pan (the recipe really says you should use white wine, but I had some red left over from a past meal and it seemed to work well too). The wine will de-glaze the pan, taking up all the fat that is stuck to the bottom and absorbing all the bits left over from the chicken. Simmer it for a while to boil off the alcohol and reduce this gravy. Throw in some herbs – time if you can get it, or rosemary in my case.

I’d say it’s best to serve this with mash of some kind to soak up this nice gravy. I made standard mashed potato that has a nice earthy texture to compliment the crisp and slight oiliness of the chicken flesh. I think that sweet potato mash would also work well. Anyway, all in all, a nice simple dish, and easy to produce even in Hong Kong with limited resources and ingredients.

Bibimbap House

Cambridge has seen quite a few new Asian restaurants opening up recently. Earlier this year it gained its second Korean restaurant, the small Bibimbap house on Mill Road.

That there is decent demand for this kind of restaurant was clear when we went in early on a Thursday evening. Every table in the restaurant was filled and the waitress politely asked us if we’d mind coming back a bit later.  While we ate each newly vacated table was also quickly filled with new customers.

The restaurant was fairly basically decorated. The freshly painted white walls bare apart from two nice pieces of modern Korean art, while a few flowers and a big black lantern sat in the window alcove. Rather than austere, this limited decor gives the place a nice zen-like simplicity.

At the moment, the menu is also quite minimalist with just a list of six or so different varieties of the namesake bibimbap. The owner said she’d deliberately decide to focus on serving bibimbap, a dish she extolled for its healthy benefits. This typical Korean dish consists of different vegetables and meat of fish which are mixed together with rice, usually in a hot stone bowl that cooks them at the same time.










I went for the standard bibimbap, which came with piles of spinach, onion, sliced carrot and straggly beef pieces arranged like segments of a colour wheel on top of the white rice. A raw egg is typically broken over this to cook as it’s mixed, but here an already fried one had been used in what was perhaps a bow to English tastes. We mixed the ingredients together so they cooked against the hot stone bowl, scooping in some of the chilli sauce so that it stained the rice a bright orange.

This gochujang sauce is the fundamental ingredient of bibimbap, giving the rice its distinctive flavour. Made by fementing soya beans and chilies, it has a powerful pungent flavour that is overwhelming when eaten on its own, but when mixed which rice diffuses more gently together with a tingling spice. Some restaurants have a bad, bland version of this sauce. Here, however, it was excellent and gave each mouthful of rice a satisfyingly strong flavour.

The quality of the rice can also let the dish down if it’s too stodgy or dry. The rice at Bibimbap House was prepared perfectly though. Plump pearly grains had nice soft sponginess that soaked up the sauce to release it in the mouth. As it’s meant to, the rice at the bottom of the bowl had fried slightly so as you dug down with chopstick you pulled up delightfully crispy golden pieces.

Adding more texture were strips of carrot, which were fresh and remained slightly al dente in a way that gave them a cool crispness which contrasted nicely with soft rice’s softness. The other vegetables also contributed their own cool fresh flavours in a way that pleasantly balanced the pungent and spicy sauce.

The person I was eating with had the japchae bibimbap which similarly displayed interesting textures. The translucent sweet potato noodles had an unusual springy gelatinousness, while little strips of wood ear mushroom were elastic in a way reminding of squid. These cool and earthy flavours mixed nicely with the sharper spice of the chilli sauce. While not quite as striking as the other bibimbap, it was a nicely done dish.

As is customary in Korean cuisine, the two mains were orbited by lots of small side dishes. The kim chi nicely contrasted the almost icy cool taste of pale white cabbage with the spice of the bright red sauce that coated it. The other dish presented similar contrast, but with crisp slices of raddish. Miso soup, while nothing that special, was a heart-warming addition.

These small sides, and the substantial mains, meant that both dishes were excellent value for money for just under ten pounds each and left us truly filled. But more than just satisfying my appetite, they succeeded in offering a stimulating range of tastes and textures that satisfied my curiosity as well.