Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dinner at Ming Court in Hong Kong

Tonight I had a very nice dinner with two gentlemen at one of Hong Kong's handful of Michelin two-star restaurants. I'm in Hong Kong for three nights of fun and you might say that I'm pretty spoiled or pretty lucky -- take your pick -- because I'm eating at four two-star restaurants (and a couple of other non-star but very good restaurants as well) in a matter of three nights and a lunch.


The latest Michelin guide for Hong Kong was just out recently so lots of foodies here are in a tizzy over the ratings and over sampling the restaurants that have either maintained their stars or, better yet, improved upon them.

And I would have had four two-star restaurants and one three-star restaurant in my itinerary if my old friend YY had managed to get us a booking at the Four Seasons as he was trying to do at last minute yesterday for lunch; but yesterday at lunch, every good restaurant in Hong Kong's Central District was completely packed, so we'd ended up at the Hong Kong Club instead for a meal that was more than two stars as far as I was concerned.

I hadn't had much luck with the three star restaurants either, as I hadn't planned most of my dining in advance -- blame it on my crazy schedule in Manila -- and literally only started booking tables the day I landed in Hong Kong. So for someone who's just been booking stuff since yesterday, I was pretty lucky to get four two-star restaurants at very short notice.


I certainly can't complain. Four fancy Michelin restaurants in four days in Hong Kong is a pretty nice life. Hong Kong is indeed a foodie paradise, and if you're into world-class dining, it's really the nearest world-class dining destination to Manila.

90 minutes away and you're in restaurant heaven, with a great train service to boot so that the airport to city experience is painless whether you take a car or a train. And I must say that being in Hong Kong over the winter is really special as the Christmas decor all over just makes everything so beautiful. The weather is absolutely perfect so far, as well. More on Hong Kong as a romantic winter destination in a future entry.

Just this afternoon at sunset, before my Chinese gourmet dinner, I drove way out to Stanley for some wine and cheese with a couple of friends at a hot new wine bar and bistro. Everyone was sitting outdoors and the place was really relaxing and so unlike most parts of Hong Kong. It was quite a drive but I was so glad I went as Stanley is so different now from the equal parts sleepy village/ tourist kitsch destination I used to know.

"It doesn't feel like you're in Hong Kong at all," said a friend, as we walked by the sea to the most picturesque pier I have ever seen in Hong Kong. And I agreed. He continued, looking around this very new stylish development that is sure to make Stanley ever so attractive to people looking for something refreshing in Hong Kong: "It looks like some part of the European Riviera actually."

We took photos of ourselves by the pier and some of these came out really beautifully. I wish I could post them. But back to Hong Kong's fabulous restaurants for this blog entry.

"Why does Hong Kong have so many great restaurants?" Someone asked me recently. It's simple. Hong Kong is an affluent society with a cultured and sophisticated palate, that can afford to sustain many world-class restaurants; so naturally many talented chefs flock here and the competition to be the best is tough.


Tonight, two gentlemen accompanied me to the Michelin two-star restaurant Ming Court, which is in Langham Place Hotel all the way in Mongkok in Kowloon. I don't really go to Mongkok but tonight I did so to eat at this temple of Chinese dining, and what a nice surprise Langham Place Hotel turned out to be.

It's full of interesting art and attached to the massive Seibu Department Store and Langham Place shopping mall in the middle of old neighborhoods in Mongkok. We had a six-course dinner over three hours, and I can tell you that we were laughing so much when we weren't enjoying the food. What an enjoyable evening tonight was.


Ming Court is quite a simple and relaxed restaurant with lovely jars and potteries in glass cabinets adorning its walls. It's run by a young chef in his 40s who is very serious about retaining his two stars and possibly getting a third, so he's at that stage where he is very creative and hardworking. His style is best described as slight fusion -- meaning essentially Chinese but with a little Western twist.

Every dish we had was inventive both in the use of ingredients, in the composition of textures and sensations, and in presentation. Just imagine. We had tofu with black truffles and fresh shrimps with egg whites and crackling seaweed.


Roast pork with crackling skin

Tofu with gold leaf and black truffles

Our first course was a medley of three appetizers, each perfectly done and perfectly different. We were encouraged to start with the roast pork with crackling skin, and then to proceed to the tofu with truffles, before ending with pickled seaweed that was just ever so slightly spicy. Wonderfully controlled cooking so that flavors complemented each other without any of them being overpowering.


Then we had the chef's take on a Japanese favorite of clear soup, double boiled and flavored with Japanese matsutake mushrooms. This was similar to the Japanese dobin mushi which is served in the autumn when matsutake are in season. Even the way of serving was the same: the soup came in a lovely teapot and we poured it into teacups and drank it straight.

Interestingly, the Japanese version has a much stronger flavor of matsutake compared to Ming Garden's version, in which the matsutake was very subtle but unmistakably present.


The third course was among Ming Garden's most famous dishes because it's a mixture of very different flavors, textures and sensations. Very fresh shrimp was quickly stir-fried and then laid together with egg whites that were beaten and shaped to form a loose pasta. On the side were masses of crispy salty seaweed (similar to Korean nori), and we were encouraged to flavor this dish with some black vinegar to give it more punch. Almost everyone who eats at Ming Garden orders this dish because you can get it nowhere else.


The fourth course was a very creative mix of pan-fried chicken with minced chicken inside, coated with black truffles. This was supposed to be eaten together with sliced pumpkin that was also coated with truffles. We all marveled at how tender and yet how firm the chicken was, and how well pumpkin actually went with truffles. This was a truly wonderful dish that last year won the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) best culinary awards.


The fifth course, the fried rice dish, was also a big winner. It was chosen for the HKTB best culinary awards for 2011. It came in a steaming clay pot that was finished off in front of us with dousings of incredibly fragrant rice wine. Then the rice in the pot -- mixed with pine nuts, silky chicken, asparagus bits and crispy conpoy -- was divided into three, and we each ate our share with XO sauce. The rice was so moist and tasty.


For dessert, we had bowls of mango and pomelo with sago cream. The usual, we thought, as this is a favorite dessert of everyone at Chinese restaurants all around the world. But the one we had tonight at Ming Garden was completely different. First the sago was very crunchy so that I almost thought it was undercooked on purpose -- and this wasn't the case at all.

Then the mango could not really be seen anywhere but you could taste it in the sauce. Finally the pomelo that accompanied everything was actually bitter rather than sweet. But happily, if not surprisingly, everything just seemed to fall into place for a delightful experience so far.

Just like my Hong Kong trip. Good night from across the ocean. Just another evening in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Ming Garden
Langham Place Hotel
Kowloon, Hong Kong


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue

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