Shanghai Lane

About

I was a bit uncertain about Shanghai Lane as we walked in. The large black and white photos of Old Shanghai, the neat soy sauce pots on each table, and the smartly uniformed waiters all felt very packaged. I imagined other identical restaurants being set up by the company across the city and feared the food would taste equally indistinct. Overall though, while not that remarkable, the restaurant offered solid Shanghai food at lower prices.

The ‘braised pork belly with bean curd knots’ (HK$50) had fatty cubes of meat that were pleasingly tender, but didn’t melt sumptuously in your mouth like the best braised pork can. The meat was soaked in a sauce which felt a little thin, potent with Chinese rice wine but lacking more subtle flavours. In comparison the dark sauce of Xiao Nan Guo’s ‘red braised pork’ is thicker and loaded with hints of liquorish and cinnamon that it has absorbed through the long cooking process and make it really exciting to eat. The dish is twice the price at Xiao Nan Guo, but I’d probably rather pay the extra for these more stimulating flavours that really enhance the meat.

I was hesitant to pay HK$68 for fried noodles when some you can get them for half the price elsewhere. Shanghai Lane’s ‘fried noodles with shrimp, chicken and ham’ warranted the higher price though, reminding me more of pasta dishes in finer Italian restaurants than the oily ‘chau mihn’ of a lot of local cha chaan tengs. The noodles were just lightly brushed with oil, which enhanced rather than smothered their own fresh, slightly floury taste. The shrimp and chicken had also been handled delicately so the frying just lightly cooked them and brought out the strong seafood and tender white meats flavours. Together the noodles and shrimp offered really soft, yet enticing tones that were very enjoyable.

The siu lung bau (dumplings with pork and soup inside) followed the trend of being good whilst not really blowing me away. The dumpling wrapper was thin and tasted fairly freshly made, free from that chewy, micro-waved texture that often marks cheap dumplings. But the wrapper still didn’t have the homemade texture of the best dumplings, and the soup inside was a little bland, lacking those soothing brothy flavours which explode out of the best siu lung bao. Again, Xia Nan Guo offers better dumplings, as do many of the higher end dim sum places in Hong Kong.

If you’re hungry and looking for decent Shanghai food at a low price then Shanghai Lane is definitely worth a visit. Some of the more special braised dishes like the ‘sea cucumber’ or ‘pigs trotter’ might also offer something a bit more special, though I’m yet to try these. If you want more stimulating Shanghai food though, it’s probably worth paying a little bit more to head over to Xiao Nan Guo or somewhere else.

Directions

35-37 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong Tel: 2850 7788

Notes

Open from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Cost

Around HK$50 a dish, Dumplings HK$15-35 with some ‘chef’s recommendations’ for up to $200

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Yachiyo

ramen

 

About

I’d walked past this place quite a bit. It’s tucked away in On Wo lane, just behind Wellington Street in one of my favourite semi–hidden areas of the island. There are host of Japanese restaurants around the intersection of Aberdeen, Gough, Cage and Wellington streets, and I’m yet to really weed out the good from the bad. Yachiyo is definitely good.

A Japanese friend had also given Yachiyo his seal of approval, based on the fact that the noodle company he works for supplies them. The ramen here had an amazingly soft texture, melting in your mouth as you ate them and spreading a rich buttery flavour. They are the type of noodles you could eat unadorned and really enjoy.

Here though, the ‘spicy miso’ ramen I had came wonderfully presented in a bright red broth scattered with different additions. The soup really was exceptional, with a deep and hearty miso flavour just piqued by the right amount of spice. Its texture was especially satisfying. While not at all gloopy, the loaded flavours gave it a thickness so different from the tired, watery broths in a lot of places. I’m told this is because, instead of using a soup base, the chef here spend about six hour boiling down fish and other ingrediants into his own broth. 

Scattered into this broth are a liberal amount of other seasonings. Taking your chopsticks you can pull together the bits of seaweed, pickles, ginger and even strange very soft boiled egg, mixing all these with the noodles to further add to the depth of the flavours.  Although these ramen aren’t cheap, they are definitely worth the extra cash for the attention given to their preparation.

The restaurant does a range of ramen, a couple of cold noodle dishes, a few snacks like gyoza and fried vegetables, and Japanese ice cream. The beer and sake are reasonably priced and would go well will a bowl of spicy noodles. Worth checking out.

Directions

8 On Wo Lane (Kan U Fong), Sheung Wan

Price

$60 for a bowl of Ramen, $28 for 8 Gyoza

Notes

Open on Mon – Sat 12pm to 3pm and 6pm to 10pm.

Tel: 2815-5766

Hometown Dumpling

About

There are a few places dotted around Hong Kong Island doing good homemade noodles and dumplings, particularly Wang Fu in Soho, the two different Dumpling Yuan’s in Soho and Sheung Wan, and a place in Sai Ying Pun near the Chong Yip shopping centre.

You see them with all with trays laid out in the evening, rapidly stuffing filling into neat dumpling and lining them up row after row. All of these places are good basic fare rather than anything fancy, with prices to match.

Hometown has a better range of dumplings than most , with a lot of steamed buns and xiao lung bao on offer too.  Unlike Dumpling Yuan or Wang Fu, its menu is fairly limited to dumpling and a few different types of noodles though. If you’re not looking for either of these then you should probably go elsewhere.

Based on quality of dumplings alone, I’d say Hometown places near the top of the list. The Beijing lamb dumplings I had melted in my mouth with wrappers that were wonderfully buttery. The lamb stuffing had a really distinctive earthy flavour, and oozed succulent juice. 

The whole package tasted really freshly made, and massively better than the defrosted dumplings you get in so many places now.  

Directions

102 Caine Road, Mid Levels, Hong Kong

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Price

About $30 for bowl of dumplings and noodles, $30 for 12 dumplings, $10 for a steamed bun, $10 for plain noodles.

Cafe Little

About

www.cafelittle.com

Western style breakfasts tend to be pretty expensive in Hong Kong, with Cafe O’s clocking in at around $80 and other places even higher. This makes it hard to justify going for breakfast / brunch often like you might in the US.

But Cafe Little is out to change all of that. It offers a range of breakfast sets, none of which come to more than about $30 for the food and coffee. This small cafe on Hillier Street in Sheung Wan has a great retro feel, with plastic chairs and glass topped tables reminding me a bit of a local ‘caf’ in England, with the open cooking space bringing in hints of small American diners.

Like both of these is a functional place rather than somewhere to stay and relax; a place to get a good feed and some decent coffee before starting the day.  It’s the type of place I imagine a start-up group meeting to hack out different ideas, or a business man calling into during his short lunch place. Unlike the ‘cha chaan teng’ it isn’t so bustling that you can’t relax at all. 

It satisfies your hunger fairly well too. Although the scrambled eggs and toast ($25) I had suffered a bit from the blandness which seems to affect all HK eggs, they were mixed with herbs that gave them a stronger and more interesting taste. The espresso included with the set was of a high standard, as good as Cafe O or Graze anyway, and they also do more special coffee blends if you’re willing to pay a bit more.   

Other breakfasts come with bacon, or pasta, as well as the eggs. And Cafe Little also does a lot of different cakes. I’m yet to try any of these, but I will definitely be heading back in the future. Other people seemed satisfied with what they were eating from what I overheard. For a quick breakfast before work, or a feed after a heavy night out, Cafe Little is definitely to be recommended.

Directions

 Address: G/F, 27 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Cost

Breakfast sets $25-30 and ‘specialty’ coffees $25-35. 

 

Yu-Raku

About

Yu-raku was recommended to me by a Japanese friend and is one of the only places in Hong Kong I know of that does Okonomiyaki, a kind of Japanese egg pancake.

Slide open the door of this tiny restaurant and your only option is to sit by counter which stretches along the side. Perched on a stool here, you can watch the chef fry different ingredients on the hot plate in front of you and breathe in the different smells until you are drooling with hunger.

We began with the standard okonomiyaki which was a feast to satisfy any appetite, a thick patty of egg and cabbage and onion set on top of lightly crisped bacon and then smothered with cheese and the dark syrupy sauce that has a very distinctive flavour.

The care in the cooking here was impressive. A thinner, Negiyaki pancake was crafted over ten minutes or so, with the chef pressing rice crispies and onion into beaten egg to make a firm base and then scattering more onion on top of this.

The result was delicious, with the surfaces of the thin base browned but the centre still softer. Like the toppings of a good pizza, the ingredients scattered on top seemed to fit really well with this crisped pancake base.

Another wonderful dish used a really thin egg pancake to wrap noodles that were fried and smothered in a rich brown sauce. The combination of the frail egg wrapper’s soft, savoury taste and the richer noodles worked really well.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Yu-Raku as a place to go in Hong Kong for an authentic Japanese Okonomiyaki experience. At about $70-80 a dish, it’s a bit more expensive than some of the other restaurants in the city, but then Japanese food usually is.

And eating okonomiyaki, packed with flavour and smothered with sauce and cheese, you really do feel more satisfied that you would many other places.

Directions

Shop E, 468 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay

Notes

Tel:2838 0061
$41-$100
Mon-Sat:12:00 – 15:00;19:00 – 04:00 (Closed on Sunday)


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Chili Fagara

 

Entrance to Chili Fagara - Form Over Function?

Entrance to Chili Fagara - Form Over Function?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 

I apologise to anyone expecting a real review of this place. I didn’t actually eat there. 

 Because the restaurant was full, we were brusquely ushered to a table right in front of the door.  I was given a couple of menus, covered in finely embroidered Chinese style cloth. I looked down the list of items, fairly standard Sichuan things given elaborateness in their English translations.

Then I saw the prices! Dan dan mihn was about $98, while a lot of the other dishes were way up about the $100 mark.  These were ordinary dishes – some the more ‘special’ things were even higher up the scale. I began evaluating whether it was still worth staying to try this place. I realised that for the price of two or three dishes here I could be having a nine course Sichuan meal at Mum Chau’s or a feast of food at Sijji.

These dishes would have to be really good to make it worth such prices. I looked around at what other people had, glimpsing small bowls and fancy cutlery, and wasn’t convinced. So I did something I very rarely do. Stood up and left.  After we got out, my Japanese friend asked me why I’d wanted to leave so much.

“Too expensive,” I said, “Dan dan mihn for $100”

He laughed and, being an ex-food exporter, did some sums out loud. “Yeah, noodles only cost $4 and meat maybe $10, and vegetables $5, so where’s the extra 81?

Instead, we wandered down the hill to one of the dai paai dongs on Graham Street and ordered a feast of different freshly made dishes, none of which cost more than $40. I sat as the rain tumbled down outside the umbrella, enjoying this food and authentic Hong Kong atmosphere.

I’ll go back to Chilli Fagara sometime, to see if it really justifies such extravagant prices. But for now, I’m glad I walked out.

Directions

G/F, 51A Graham Street, Central District, Hong Kong

Notes

Tel: 28933330

 

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Khyber Pass Indian Mess House

 

Mutton Saag, Mutton Jal Frezi and Chicken Mahkani

Mutton Saag, Mutton Jal Frezi and Chicken Mahkani

About 

Getting good Indian food in Hong Kong is not easy. If you go to most of the places on the island you’re likely to be dissapointed by half hearted, almost bland, attempts at different curries and preheated onion bhajis. A much better bet is to head over to Chungking Mansions which clusters a lot of the local India community and promises a much more authentic experience. 

Khyber Pass has for a long time been my pick of the different offerings in the mansion. When I visited several years ago, Khyber Pass offered curries cooked so that their different flavours were more intense, a wider range of different types of dishes and breads, and a generally more pleasant atmosphere. 

The balance of spices in the sauces at Khyber is its main strength, although the tandori dishes are also supposed to be good. The saag curries have spinach potent in flavour with a nice course texture that goes best with tender white chunks of chicken. We had the mutton saag however, and the sauce was let down by large chunks of lamb that were tastless and far too tough.

Mutton jalfrezi suffered from the same poor quality meat. Really the lamb should break apart into soft chunks. The jal frezi also lacked that slight piquancy which can make jal frezi so interesting. It had nicely balanced spices, but didn’t really leave you with a striking impression. The chicken mahkani was good however, with the really rich, subtly spice creaminess which makes this dish so satifying. 

Several other smaller complaints might further push me to look elsewhere. The popadoms came with tomato sauce. The waitress who took our order didn’t really listen properly and kept suggesting different things in an attempt to push the price up. The restaurant now serves alcohol and although the didn’t make a fuss about us drinking our own bottles, indicated that this was unwelcome in future. Other restaurants in Chungking allow you to bring your own. 

Directions

Chungking Mansions is located 36-44 Nathan Road. Entering the building from Nathan Road, you need to head to the back right hand elevator, and then go to the 7th floor. Alternatively if you ask the guys loitering out the front of the building, the chances are one of them will be eager to lead you to Khyber Pass and also to give you a 10% discount card.

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