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