Sunday, January 17, 2010

Private Kitchen Dining in Hong Kong

With only 2 nights to spare in Hong Kong last month, time was definitely not on our side. The main focus of our trip? To eat and shop!

One dining concept which never fails to intrigue me is that of private kitchen dining. Private kitchen dining is like being invited over to a friend's place for dinner. Seating capacity is limited (usually restricted to just 4 or 5 tables), the venue is usually obscure, you eat what is being served and get to mingle with the owner -who usually also doubles up as the chef.

Yellow Door Kitchen ranks quite highly as one of Hong Kong's top private kitchens. As one of the forerunners of private kitchen dining in the late ’90s, the one-Michelin starred Yellow Door Kitchen apparently attracts a star studded following which includes luminaries like movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, Japanese actress Takako Tokiwa and Hong Kong actor Andy Lau.

We were fortunate to secure a dinner reservation on our first night in Hong Kong. The restaurant's dinner sets are pocket friendly, costing HKD 298 (or about SGD55) per pax excluding drinks. The restaurant does not impose service charge so tipping is encouraged.

Locating the restaurant was very challenging. Nobody knows where the restaurant is located and the notorious Lan Kwai Fong slopes seemed bent on torturing our pampered tubby feet.

Traversing up the cruel slopes...

After what seemed like eternity, we finally spotted a dimly lit sign beside a 7 eleven store which led us to our final destination.

Phew. What an adventure. You can barely see the sign.

Contrary to our perception of private kitchens, Yellow Door Kitchen is modern, swanky and highly westernized, complete with servers in crisp white uniforms.

The chef draws much inspiration from Sichuan and Beijing cuisine so be prepared to douse the spiciness with lots of water or tea (The water dispenser was mysteriously "faulty" that night so we had to separately order bottled water and tea).

I strongly recommend the eight treasures tea which leaves a fragrant pleasurable aftertaste in the palate and complements all the food items beautifully.

Our dinner menu for that evening comprised 8 entrees, 6 main dishes, a dim sum and dessert:

Entrees: Pickled cucumber, sliced pork with spicy garlic sauce, fried slices of eel with orange peel, boiled edamame in distilled liquor, stir fried beef fillet with soya bean topping, slice bittergourd, corn kernels with lemongrass and seaweed salad with spicy sauce.

Mains: Soup of porcini and chicken, chicken and shredded leek with spicy sauce, smoked pork ribs with honey and tea leaves, fried prawns in sichuan hot and spicy sauce, stir fried chinese asparagus, shanghai stuffed duck.

Dim Sum: Dan dan noodles

Dessert: Sesame dumplings

The entrees were in minute portions and we were ravenously hungry. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the exquisite and clean flavors, our favorites being the addictively crunchy pickled cucumbers and spicy morsels of unagi accentuated with shavings of orange peel. We were also highly amused by the liquor infused edamame pods and lemon grass spiked corn kernels.

With our appetites suitably revved up, we dug into the main courses with gusto. The clear chicken broth was nourishing and full of deep flavor.

Glistening with goodness

However, what really upped the ante were the subsequent courses of spicy saliva chicken and smoked pork. The pairing of meat and marinade was sublime, as was the play of textures and flavors.

The saliva chicken makes you feel like salivating...and crying

Hubby especially adored the smoked honey crusted pork rib, which effortlessly slid off the bone and crumbled in our mouths like a bar of Cadbury's Honeycomb.

Char siew would never taste the same again. This was definitely a highlight of our trip.

The next course comprised of battered prawns doused in a piquant Sichuan peppercorn sauce with diced peppers, garlic and dried chili.

Humbled but undeterred

Here was another unforgettable dish- but in a different way. The prawns were big and juicy but the small peppercorns hidden within were also wickedly spicy. Our tongues were momentarily stung for a good ten minutes- but it was worth it.

Our meal took a downhill slide from here...the subsequent dish of stuffed duck (purportedly the restaurant's speciality) was interesting but paled in comparison to the earlier meat dishes.

Disappointing with a big D

It tasted like a glitzier version of the lotus leaf wrapped glutinous rice dish commonly served at Chinese wedding banquets in Singapore.

Equally lack lustre were the dan dan noodles, which were simply doused in chili oil. Tasty but underwhelming.

Dessert was wholesome, homely and highly satisfying.

Looks like goat's balls but tastes heavenly

The chewy exterior of the dumpling burst forth with just the right balance of creamy black sesame goodness, resulting in a gooey mess which could only be described as heaven.

All in all, it was an enjoyable meal. However, with so many other interesting private dining kitchens in Hong Kong yet to be explored, I doubt I'll be coming back to Yellow Door anytime soon.

Here are some other private kitchens on our radar:

Da Ping Huo- Super spicy Sichuan cooking. Some say this establishment could give Yellow Door Kitchen a run for its money. Eccentic owners love art (Philippe Starck pieces in the bathroom!) and the lady boss is known to belt out some Chinese opera songs post dinner. There are 2 seatings- one at 630pm and the other at 9pm and the restaurant is closed on Sundays. Reservations required. Price is fixed at HKD280 per head excluding drinks.

Address: 49 Hollywood Road, Hilltop Plaza
Tel: 852 2559 1317

Bo Innovation- This is not a traditional private dining establishment. Helmed by long haired, tattooed and cigar touting Demon Chef Alvin Leung Jr, the cuisine has been described as "intelligent, humorous and thought out". If you are into molecular gastronomy, this is one restaurant you would not want to miss. If you have moolah to spare, order the Chef's Menu at HKD1080 per pax for dinner. If not, go during lunchtime and order the HKD198 set lunch or HKD680 Chef's Menu instead.

Address: Shop 13, 2/f, 60 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai (Private lift entrance on 18 Ship Street
Tel: 852 2850 8371

Gong Guan
- Another secret hideout which doesn't advertise much. This is a Shanghainese private kitchen so expect a menu that is less spicy but equally delightful. Check out some mouthwatering pictures here. Prices are HKD380 per pax for dinner with an additional HKD100 top up for corkage. 1 week prior reservation required.

Address: 12/F, Fung Woo Building, 279 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan
Tel: 852 2577 9789

Mum Chau's Sichuan Kitchen- The most unpretentious private dining kitchen of all, with plastic coated tablecloths and disposable chopsticks. The restaurant can only seat 40 and is located in an undistinguished apartment building. Lunch is served promptly from 12-2pm (no reservations) and dinner is by reservation only. Specialties include the home made dumplings and hand thrown noodles. To order you are given a small yellow chit to tick against. Prices are relatively cheap and affordable. Dinner is HKD200 a head.

Address: 5B, Winner Building, 37 D'Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, Central
tel: 852 8108 8550

Yin Yang
- Chef/Owner Margaret Xu is the unofficial queen of organic food in Hong Kong and runs her own farm in Yuen Long. Her restaurant operates out of a four storey 1930s colonial shophouse where the roast chicken is purportedly "to die for". Unfortunately, prices are not cheap at HKD560 per pax for a set meal. By reservation only.

Address: 18 Ship Street, Wanchai
tel: 852 2866 0868

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