Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Golden Goose



Today I had a very nice ten-course dinner on the terrace of Bo Innovations, an informal Michelin two-star restaurant in Wanchai in Hong Kong. It was so pleasant to be seated outdoors under heat lamps, and I think dinner took four hours. It helped that we decided to do a wine pairing as well, so ten different wines and one very strong bottle of Chinese liquor (52% alcohol!) were poured for us to accompany our meal. More on that later because I'd like to first tell you about lunch.

A HOLE-IN-THE-WALL WITH A STAR

Lunch was at a literal hole-in-the-wall in a really local neighborhood in between North Point and Tai Koo Shing -- a kind of no-man's land as far as most tourists are concerned. But today we drove all the way here -- nowhere is really far in Hong Kong, but if you usually move around only one area like Central, like I do, everywhere else is the burbs -- to eat what is supposed to be some of the best goose in Hong Kong.

All photos are taken with my new SONY SLR.
I love this camera. It's light enough
and I can take photos like a pro.

Our destination was a tiny restaurant called Hung's Delicacies that has received one Michelin star for two years in a row. This has put this very unassuming eatery on the foodie map, especially for serious foodies who don't mind mess and would really like to taste very good and different local food.

A SURPRISE VISIT BY MICHELIN

It's run by a very nice chef called Chef Lai, and when he wasn't dishing up the goose in his tiny kitchen, he was talking to us about his career, his cooking and his Michelin experience.

Unlike many Michelin-starred chefs, Chef Lai has had no formal training as a chef and he worked his way up the typical restaurant ladder the hard way by doing all sorts of jobs and learning things in the process. He was busy running a quiet, under the radar but popular little place serving Chiu Chow food when the Michelin inspectors visited him one day.

He had no idea that he was being considered for the Michelin guide, or for a star, until the Michelin inspectors had already visited several times. On their last visit, after they had more or less made up their minds about him, they came around introducing themselves and asking him some questions. That was the only time he became aware of them.


So it was a veritable shock for him to receive the Michelin star, and an even happier shock for the neighborhood. Apparently, since he received his star, prices in his neighborhood have jumped so lots of people are happy. Unfortunately he doesn't own the space where his restaurant stands so he wasn't among those who benefited from the real estate boom.

"If only I had known this would happen, I would've bought the place," he joked. He also still has to get used to people recognizing him on the street and strangers saying hello to him.

NOT YOUR USUAL CHINESE

His food isn't for everyone because it's not easily likable stuff the way Chinese food at other Michelin-starred restaurants are. There's no dim sum, there's little color, and there's almost no seafood. Unlike many good Chinese restaurants here in Hong Kong, there's no award-winning fried rice here either.


Instead you have real local food -- but really good local food. Today I asked only for his best dishes and he gave me two kinds of noodles -- one with very thin noodles served simply and with little seasoning, and the other with a darker sauce that had been cooked in pure animal fat. Both were very good and best eaten with XO sauce. Even Hung Delicacies' homemade XO sauce is different: subtle in taste, not too salty or spicy, but you can tell it's of very good quality.

NOTHING FANCY, EVERYTHING DIFFERENT

We also had lots of tofu, vegetables and all kinds of stewed meats. Again, nothing fancy at all, but everything of excellent quality.




But the two things customers keep returning to Hung's Delicacies for are the goose done if different ways and the healthy soup made out of assorted meat stock and root crops. The latter is almost the color of red beans and it's the kind of hearty, warm soup you want to have on a cold winter day. I had two bowls as I figured it must be good for me.



A SPECIAL GOOSE KITCHEN


Before serving me some goose, Chef Lai asked me if I wanted to see his special goose kitchen. He did get his Michelin star mainly for the goose, after all. Of course I wanted to see the private kitchen, so off we went to the back of the restaurant where about five cooked geese were hanging from the ceiling, and also five raw geese were lying in a large vat of water. At the far end was a very big cauldron of soup in which the goose would be dipped in one by one until it was cooked.

The soup was a very brown color. I asked Chef Lai what was in it, and he said about 20 different Chinese herbs and spices. Then he took one of the raw geese in the vat of water and then he dropped it into boiling vat of soup several times until from a pale white color it turned a beautiful golden color. This was his secret to success.

HAVING MY GOOSE


After seeing the goose cooked, I just had to sit down finally and have my goose. Chef Lai sent over about a dozen different dishes with goose including goose sliced very thinly to be eaten with vinegar, stewed goose tongues (which is another of his specialties), and roasted goose wings.

Some of the dishes certainly require you to have an adventurous streak and not just a gourmet one. But one of my Hong Kong friends squealed when she saw the goose wings on the table as apparently she makes this rather long trek to Hung's Delicacies at least once a week to buy and take home this very dish.



LIFE'S CHANGED WITH A STAR


The Michelin star has changed life for Chef Lai, although perhaps not as drastically as it has for other restaurants. Today at lunch we were the only foreigners around and the rest were locals and regulars. But Chef Lai just opened a second outlet in Hong Kong airport a few weeks ago, so those wanting to try his goose can actually get it at the airport.

However, if you have time, I really suggest you make the trek to the original restaurant as this very local atmosphere is really quite an interesting experience -- especially for foodies who have "been there" and "done that."

WHAT A CONTRAST

Tonight's two-star restaurant, Bo Innovations, was equally enjoyable. And what a contrast it was to lunch, which made the whole day very pleasant and fulfilling indeed. Unfortunately, along the way I must have gained a hundred pounds. And how easily one's blood pressure can raise when you're having fun.

And tomorrow, I have another two-star lunch on my agenda, but this time it's one of the fanciest in town. Life could certainly be much worse. For us, it's just another day in our never-ending, and never-ending eventful Travelife.

HUNG'S DELICACIES
Shop 4, GF Ngan Fui Building
84-94 Wharf Road
North Point, Hong Kong
Tel (852) 2570-1108

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