Or How Many Steamed Dumplings Can You Eat in Five Days
I’m a steamed dumpling fan from way back. It started back in the days when the Flower Drum was in Little Bourke Street. Yep, way back then. My favourite of all is the ha gow (Xiā jiǎo) – the simple pleated steamed prawn dumpling. I have always wondered how many I could eat in a sitting.
It’s long been a dream to visit Hong Kong with my best childhood friend Tamara. We started talking about it only a few years after Flower Drum opened and FINALLY decided to do it in 2015. We both took a week out of our lives, and embarked upon our own fantastic dumpling tour of HK.
Researching this trip was a challenge. I did recognize that Tamara and I are very westernised in the Chinese food we like. I figured we’re really not looking for true local food, but rather the type of Chinese food we are used to in Australia. Judge us if you will, but we love our Flower Drum version, a slightly sanitised version of authentic Hong Kong Chinese food.
I decide I am going to eat 50 steamed dumplings in the 5 days/5 nights we are there. Easy, right? The problem is that’s not all we are going to eat. The dumplings will have to be consumed alongside peking duck, egg tarts, yum cha in many guises, cocktails and anything else we come across. Hence the challenge.
Our first stop (even though it isn’t even on our list) is at the cheapest (and most famous) Michelin starred restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan. We just happen to be in the IFC centre, and THW happens to be two escalators away. There is no line, we just walk in. It’s pretty much a little cafe in a train station. No more, no less. Easy to follow, fill-in-yourself ordering cards. The specialty of the house is the baked bun with bbq pork. Think flaky flaky (remember this is pastry, not steamed dough) sweet bun stuffed with bbq pork in a sweet jammy sauce. The feedback I hear is ‘IT’S BRILLIANT’. We aren’t so thrilled with the slightly gluggy steamed ha jiao (fresh shrimp dumpling) – start the list with 3 – but quite enjoyed the rice noodle rolls with shrimp. Just go there for the bun. And bring your own napkin/tissues unless you’re prepared to pay $5 for some of theirs!
We are lucky enough to stay at the absolutely spectacular Four Seasons Hotel. I can’t think of a nicer city hotel ANYWHERE. And the service is beyond AMAZING. First morning at breakfast, on the Chinese buffet, they have baskets of fresh shrimp dumplings. And delicious ones at that! Could I be happier? There’s another 2.
The general consensus (including Neil Perry) is that Maxim’s Palace City Hall is one of the better yum cha restaurants. What a brilliant place! Just a short walk from the IFC mall (the centre of our world, it seems), it’s huge, gorgeous, chandelier-ed, busy and fabulous. We take a ticket and only wait about 15 minutes for a table. This has to be yum cha at its best. So many trolleys trawling the vast ballroom-like restaurant. Grumpy staff only add appeal. The highlight? Shrimp wontons with a thin, super SUPER crisp outside and juicy prawn filling. Best ever. The fried rice is beyond delicious. And the ha gow are near perfect. That’s another 5 down. If you want the egg tarts, word of advice is to order early. We are, sadly, too late. RUNNING TOTAL: 10
Buffet breakfast again but alas only pork dumplings on the buffet. Not my thing. But fear not, I place a special order and within 15 minutes I have a steaming plate of ha gow in front of me. There’s another 6. Happiness!
We find a really good (but on the expensive side) coffee at Fuel Espresso (in the IFC mall and the Landmark). It becomes part of our daily ritual.
I’ve always wanted to learn to make dumplings from a master dim sum specialist and, with the time restraints we had, we choose The Peninsula Academy. The class itself is great. We have hands on instruction in making the dumpling dough from scratch in the authentic way and then an opportunity to learn to pleat and fold and pleat and fold and pleat and fold. Oh what nimble fingers we need and do not seem to possess. It is really REALLY hard! We make many. Poorly! Our master chef does it with ease. Once our fingers are numb from folding failure, our chef throws them all in the steamer and we are invited to eat them all (I knocked 4 down). We do keep in mind that our package includes lunch at Spring Moon after our lesson so we really feel we should hold back. We sit down to lunch and to be honest, it’s just ok. I’m really not a fan of a set menu for yum cha. I only want what I want! Judge (again) if you will. I did manage to scoff 3 ha gow (great!) and 2 mixed dumplings.
I’ve been reading about this legendary egg (custard) tart at Tai Cheong Bakery on Lyndhurst Terrace (in the middle of the escalators, just hop off Pizza Express). How good can it be? Let me just say that I scoff two in about two minutes. The pastry shell is very short, a little sweet and uber buttery. The filling is smooth, super creamy, slightly warm and, to my taste, a perfect just-set egg custard. An OMG moment. I want 10. No, I want 20. But even I have my limit. RUNNING TOTAL: 25
Oy. Now we are getting tired of Chinese food. Who would’ve thought!?!? Today it’s my birthday and the wonderful Tamara has arranged for some steamed shrimp dumplings as a special birthday breakfast treat. These are different to the usual. They are not pure shrimp, and they have the little tail sticking out. The pleats are spectacular. They are nice, but are sadly not my faves. The waitstaff are so sweet and I feel bad. Under duress, I consume 4. I have no choice and they do go quite nicely with the birthday bloody Mary.
Afternoon tea today (after much debate and discussion) is to be at the Mandarin Oriental Clipper Bar. We want tradition – finger sandwiches, scones, champagne. Nothing inventive or fancy. Simple and traditional. We love it. The decor is straight out of the 70s but the service is great and the food is really good. The savoury offerings are delectable – a mini quiche and soft fresh DELICIOUS sandwiches – and the rose petal jam with the excellent scone is just perfect.
Since it’s a special day being my birthday and all, we go all out and head up up up to the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton for pre dinner drinks at the super funky Japanese-designed Ozone bar. No big deal that it’s a cloudy night and we can’t see outside, the inside is AWESOME! We follow with dinner at the extremely refined and grown up Tin Lung Heen, just a few floors down. I’ve just got to say, the BEST prawn toast in existence is here. Lovely Peking duck, superb lobster. We are in Chinese heaven. RUNNING TOTAL: 29
Now it seems that the lovely folk at the Four Seasons want to make me the VERY SPECIAL DUMPLINGS every morning. Unfortunatley I didn’t know they were coming and I’d already ordered and consumed an omelette and toast. Under self-imposed pressure, I eat 3 breakfast specials. Oy. What’s going to happen tomorrow?
Another highly recommended yum cha joint is Lei Garden. It has a number of locations and of course we choose the one in the IFC mall as we are becoming increasingly lazy and feel like our world is now the said IFC mall. Modern decor, trolley free, fill-in-the-card-to-order model. Highlights are the sticky rice in lotus leaf (fabulous!), the deep fried and crisp prawn rice paper roll and the spring roll with shredded taro. And of course the prawn ha gow. Add 3. For a sweet ending, a trio of egg tarts. Definitely not up to the Tai Cheong standard – the pastry here is unsweetened puff, not my thing. RUNNING TOTAL: 35
I’m fearful at breakfast that they will bring me more VERY SPECIAL DUMPLINGS. Should I hold off on the buffet until I know ? I sit on a coffee for 15 minutes just in case. Nothing. So I venture to the buffet and grab a little fruit. Nothing. Phew. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, the waiter appears with a plate of freshly steamed ha gow for me. Yay!!! No VERY SPECIAL DUMPLINGS in sight, just perfect pleated prawn ha gow, simple shrimp dumplings. I can down 5 without a problem. I would’ve had 6 but Tamara did deserve one. RUNNING TOTAL: 40
After breakfast, we walk around town and just happen to pass Tai Cheong bakery again. The egg tarts are hot today. How can I pass up this opportunity ? I have another. It is totally sublime. I can’t think of a better morsel I have eaten.
Our last lunch is to be at Spring deer for its highly commended Peking duck. We find it quite easily across the harbour. We’ve been warned that it is authentic and local, perhaps a euphemism for grungy. But we’re only here for the duck and we only have our eyes on the prize. I love the pancakes – they are rustic and floury, soft and chewy. Nothing factory made about these ones. The duck skin is sweet and crisp, the meat soft and a little fatty. Great hoisin sauce. Leeks instead of spring onions and fatter than usual cucumber sticks. All in all, delicious.
I arrive at the airport with my head hung low. I’ve eaten 40 steamed dumplings. Still 10 short. I spot the Jade Garden restaurant in the distance and I look at Tamara with hope. Could I? Can I? Will I? She shakes her head, and I agree. I think I’m done.
We head to the new Qantas lounge and sit down for a glass of wine before our flight and, what do you know, they come over and tell us that they will be serving dim sum in 15 minutes.
GRAND TOTAL 44
Hotel: Four Seasons HK. Exceptional.
Aqua, SPECTACULAR view and space, nice food. Book a window table. Next time I’d like to try Hutong again.
Tin Lung Heen, Ritz Carlton, Beautiful, refined old world Chinese with a view.
Spring Deer, grungy setting, delicious Peking duck
Zuma, cool Japanese restaurant, nice food, wouldn’t rush.
Maxim’s Palace City Hall – loved. Especially the chandeliers and the flower murals on the huge pillars.
Lei Garden, IFC Mall – liked the food, didn’t love the vibe.
Tim Ho Wan – cheap, cheerful, Michelin starred. Go for the pork buns only.
Soup and noodles:
Mak’s Noodles – loved the wonton noodle soup.
Mandarin Oriental, Clipper Lounge – nice traditional high tea in a 70’s setting (with excellent scones and delicious rose petal jam).
Tai Cheong Bakery – the egg tart is MUST. Do not leave HK without having one (or three).
On the list for next time:
Ho Lee Fook
Mott 32 – best dinner we had. Start with a ‘Mott St Cooler’ (vodka, vanilla, chilli, ginger, apple) alongside some really delicious ‘evening dim sum’. Loved the Apple wood roasted 42 day Peking Duck (order 1 day ahead). Loved the wok fried flat rice noodles with beef and mushrooms. And there may have been a brisket…
China Tang (Landmark) – very swish place and good food.
Lung King Heen – At the Four Seasons, beautiful if you get a window table, food really nice but we didn’t think it was really worthy of its 3 hats.
China Club – do not go!
Maxim’s Palace City Hall – They have removed the flower murals from the pillars. What a disappointment. They are now white. Next year they might remove the chandeliers! Excellent dumplings, same crazy vibe. Didn’t love as much as 2015. I’ve just seen that as of Sept 2016 it is closed for renovations. Hopefully they are repainting the pillars.
Tim Ho Wan – cheap, cheerful, Michelin starred – MUST MUST go just once for the baked pork bun. MUST. (don’t need to have anything else here). Most people are divided on the pork buns, they are very sweet. Danny went back every day for a fix.
Heichinrou – very upmarket, no trollies, actual service. And very very good dumplings.
Soup and noodles:
Mak’s Noodles – went back again for the excellent wonton noodle soup.
Tai Cheong Bakery – went back twice in 2016 – the egg tart is really a MUST. Again I reiterate, do not leave HK without having one (or three).
On the list for next time:
Ho Lee Fook
THE MUST-DOs if you only have an hour…
You need to take the train to HONG KONG STATION and find Tim Ho Wan, IFC Mall, Central. When you are there you need to order the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork. That’s all.
Then you need to go to the Tai Cheong Bakery for an Egg Tart at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace (15 minute walk up the escalators, exit at pizza express – ask directions)