Saturday, 14 November 2015

Lung King Heen (Weekday Dim Sum Lunch), IFC, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia)

During our honeymoon, Alissa and I had the great pleasure of dining at Caprice, the then 3 Michelin Starred restaurant located in the Four Season Hotel in Hong Kong. Almost two years on, our dinner at Caprice remains one of the best meals of our lives, with the excellent standard of cooking equalled by some of the finest service we have ever experienced in a fine dining restaurant. With such fond memories of our meal at the Four Seasons, Alissa and I had often wondered about Lung King Heen - the hotel's 3 Michelin Starred Chinese restaurant - especially since it was the place where Mak Kwai Pui worked as a Dim Sum Chef before going on to open Tim Ho Wan. Particularly keen to try the restaurant's Dim Sum selection, Alissa and I made a lunch reservation at the first Cantonese restaurant to ever be awarded the top star rating.

Like Caprice, Lung King Heen is gifted with a spectacular view of the Kowloon Peninsula and like Caprice, the standard of service that we experience was absolutely world class from start to finish. Take for example the tea service - the restaurant's very premium tea selection may seem pretty expensive, but its basically a limitless cup prepared the proper way with water at the right temperature and leaves not steeped for too long. We went with the prestigious Wuyi oolong tea Da Hong Pao, a superb tea we were served at Vue de Monde in Melbourne, and every pour was perfectly prepared by all of the staff who served us. Unlike our later meal at Mott 32, the staff never hovered overbearingly, and yet almost telepathically knew when to top up our tea - the very epitome of perfect service.

After placing our order, assorted condiments were brought out to go with our meal, including Chilli Sauce, a Mushroom and Tofu version of an XO Sauce and Soy Sauce with Cut Chilli. The Soy Sauce and Chilli was fairly standard, however both the Chilli Sauce and the Mushroom and Tofu XO Sauce were very artisanal takes on Dim Sum condiments.

While most Dim Sum restaurants serve relatively faithful versions of the classics, Lung King Heen's Dim Sum menu is filled with an array of dumpling that take seemingly familiar classics in new and interesting directions. The Steamed Goose Dumpling with Water Chestnuts and Preserved Vegetables were the first items we tried. These were really flavoursome, with large pieces of what tasted like Roasted Goose accompanied by the juiciness of Water Chestnuts and the funkiness of the Preserved Vegetables. It reminded us of a very luxe version of Teo Chew Dumplings, made all the better by the addition of Goose.

Next we sampled one of the restaurant's signature dishes - Steamed Lobster and Scallop Dumpling. Just as the previous dish was a very luxe take on the Teo Chew Dumpling, this seemed to us like an upmarket Har Gao. Although topped with a Prawn, the use of the Lobster and Scallop meat within made the dumplings meatier that a standard Har Gao as well as having a richer seafood flavour. I love seafood dishes so really enjoyed what the Lobster and Scallop brought to the dish, although Alissa was a bit more reserved in her praise and appreciation - your mileage may vary. Finally, the very thin skin that surrounded the dumpling was so incredibly thin and soft that it was a veritable showcase for the skill of the Dim Sum chef in creating little parcels of delicacy.

The Baked Abalone Puff with Diced Chicken is another of the restaurant's signature dishes, and is basically another refined take on a Dim Sum classic - this time being the humble Chicken Pie. The last time we were served Abalone was at Sepia in Sydney and it was a bit tasteless in comparison to the Abalone served at Lung King Heen; it tasted like something between a Scallop and and Oyster, and was made all the more delicious by a sweet, sticky glaze on top. The flaky pasty had a nice crumbly crunch, and was really buttery like the best short crust pastry should be. The Chicken filling was very similar (but more refined) that the average Chicken Pie, and all added up to a dish of superb quality and flavour.

Steamed Shanghainese Pork Dumplings with Scallops were the most straightforward dish, being faithful interpretations of Xiao Long Bao. These were amazing - the skin was thinner even that Din Tai Fung, and the filling more refined than their standard Xiao Long Bao. Although tasty in their own right, Din Tai Fung's filling was more of a chewy mass inside, while the fillings of these dumpling were softer. The net effect enhanced the melt-in-your-mouth soup dumpling experience. The sauce that was provided with them was also noteworthy, being even better than the soy and vinegar combo at Din Tai Fung. These were probably the best Xiao Long Bao we've ever eaten (although the Black Truffle version of the Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung would be a close second).

People less familiar with Dim Sum may not be aware that the sugary crust idea comes from the dessert Pineapple Bun or Bo Lo Bao being applied to a nominally savoury dish. Lung King Heen's Crispy Pork Dumplings with Dried Shrimp and Peanuts were a similar riff on that concept, with the usual Red Bean filling of the sweet Sesame Seed Balls replaced with a meat-oriented filling. This was a very clever and original idea, with the combination of savoury filling and the crunchy but glutinous texture of the exterior working very well together. The Peanuts within were a particularly good touch, give the dish some additional crunch as well as a certain flavour and perfume of roasted nuts.

Speaking of Tim Ho Wan Buns, Lung King Heen made their own version of Baked Barbecue Pork Buns with Pine Nuts.

The Tim Ho Wan bun is something of a modern classic, but few places do it better than the Tim Ho Wan branches in Hong Kong. Mott 32's version was inferior, and even Tim Ho Wan branches outside of Hong Kong fail to deliver. The Sham Shui Po branch does this dish amazingly, however Lung King Heen's take was even better; the filling was perhaps a bit sweeter, however it was also meatier than Tim Ho Wan, and the Pine Nuts brought a wonderfully butter decadence to the proceedings. The sugar crust was nice and crunchy, with rest of the bun beautifully soft.

The sweetness of the Baked Barbecue Pork Bun was the perfect bridge to dessert. I have many fond memories of eating Mango Pudding at Dim Sum as a child, and the Chilled Mango and Sago Cream with Pomelo was without a doubt the best Mango Pudding I've had to date. Most Mango Puddings have a bit of an artificial flavour accompanied by tinned mango, however the use of real Mango here made it streets ahead of the competition. The dish was also wonderfully textural, with the fresh Mango Pieces, Creamy Mango Sauce, Pomelo, Mango Pudding and Sago all working together to create a very interesting whole, and a dish that was fruity, sweet and acidic. Given Hong Kong's humidity at that time of the year, the fact that the dish was served at a really cold temperature made it all the more refreshing. This was a swoon-worthy dessert, and one I'd definitely order again.

Being a bit of a fan of all things pastry, Alissa decided to order the Baked Walnut Puffs as her dessert. The presentation impressed us straight away, as the pastry actually looked like a walnut shell. The pastry was a nice buttery biscuit base - something between a nutty shortbread or a Peanut leh chey Biscuits. The filling was deliciously sweet and nutty, and reminded us a bit of marzipan. Having been baked with a nice brown crust, the dish had a roastiness that went very well with the coffee Alissa ordered to go with it. Needless to say, the coffee was also well made - something that is not a given in Hong Kong.

Finally, we were served a plate of Petit Fours. We heard the waiter refer to one of them as being made from Eggs (perhaps similar to the Egg Nets served at Nahm in Bangkok), however we thought it tasted more like the Rice Bubble-based LCM Bar. With their good coconut flavour, these were nice enough but paled in comparison to the Osmanthus Jelly they were served with. These were awesome; while way more floral than Tim Ho Wan's version they wereotherwise very similar, and were well made jelly desserts with a good wobble to them.

The Verdict: Ultimate
Lung King Heen's Dim Sum Lunch definitely impressed; Alissa and I left the restaurant very satisfied with a meal that was undoubtedly the best and most creative Dim Sum meal we've had to date. A lot is made of Tim Ho Wan's status as the cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world, and while Lung King Heen is definitely in a considerably more upmarket Dim Sum bracket we felt that it was very good value for money considering the quality and luxury ingredients used. As with Caprice, the service standards we experienced were faultless; staff were professional and attentive while being friendly, with the actions never feeling stilted or excessively formal and snooty. While we cannot speak for their somewhat different nighttime service, this was definitely Ultimate level Dim Sum, and one of the most enjoyable meals of our 2015 Hong Kong trip. 

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