Now for a blog that’s short on pictures but long on love… a review of one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong, Grand Cuisine Shanghai Kitchen.
My boyfriend has a stock list of restaurants he suggests whenever I ask where we should go for lunch: McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Express Teppanyaki and instant noodles from 7-Eleven. Yup, he’s a classy sort. So imagine my surprise when one day, having been dating him and asking this same question for at least 18 months, he suddenly threw ‘Shanghainese’ into the mix.
Which Shanghainese did he mean? Hong Kong has its fair share of good but now overrated Shanghainese joints – the New York Times apparently reckons that the Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung is one of the ten best restaurants in the world (I can think of ten better in Hong Kong!) and it regularly features on blogs battling for the title of ‘best xiao long bao in HK’ with another Shanghainese called Crystal Jade (curiously neither actually originate from China). In fact, he meant neither of these places and his choice of Grand Cuisine, tucked away near his old work place in Quarry Bay, has xiao long bao that blow those two out of the water.
Ever since his first nonchalant suggestion of Shanghainese, we’ve probably been there fortnightly ever since. The food is consistently excellent and the prices are more reasonable than the other big hitters I mentioned. And their xiao long bao… hear that slurping sound? That’s me sucking up drool from just thinking about them.
For Shanghainese novices, xiao long bao are steamed dumplings filled with minced pork and soup, with thin translucent skin encasing their contents as opposed to the fluffy white stuff you’d find with char siu bao. For such a small unassuming item, the list of criteria for perfection is rather long. Skin soft and thin enough to melt-in-the-mouth but not so fragile that it busts and spills all that soup within thanks to a slight breeze. Fresh enough that said skin has not hardened and said soup has not evaporated. Dumpling size big enough to satisfy yet small enough to sit in your spoon, hence further lessening your chances of losing the broth. Meat that’s tender and flavoursome with no off-putting pieces of gristle or other unidentifiable chewy bits. Delicious piping hot soup that doesn’t totally burn off the roof of your mouth.
Forget Cadbury’s Crème Eggs asking ‘how do you eat yours’. Everyone has a different method for tackling a xiao long bao – some devour it all in one, others make a small hole to cool the contents down and add vinegar painstakingly with chopsticks, some slurp the soup out before chowing down on the contents, others delight in savouring the soup left in their spoon until last. Anything goes but the act of getting a xiao long bao from bamboo basket to mouth is practically an art-form.
The soup (made from meat stock) is the best bit. Before I could wrap my head round the term xiao long bao, I called them ‘goo buns’ as I just couldn’t get enough of that gorgeous goo that exploded in my mouth with every bite. I’ll stop with the talk of liquid explosions before it gets too x-rated (who knows what nirvana Nigella might find herself if she had to describe it) but complemented with the bite of the vinegar and ginger dip it’s traditionally served with, it’s just heaven.
Back to Grand Cuisine’s xiao long bao ($26 for four dumplings). In my opinion, these really are the best in Hong Kong. All those criteria I listed earlier? They hit them – and then some – every single time. Perfection.
The other most popular dish at Shanghainese restaurants is the dan dan mian ($36, banner photo), noodles served in a Sichuan soup that’s usually as spicy as that radioactive red colour makes it look! Again, the dan dan mian here is top-notch stuff – soft slurp-able ribbons of noodle, a deep rich soup with a complex swell of flavours that intensify with each mouthful (I love the earthy nuttiness of the sesame paste, though it’s noticeably less prominent than the comparably sweet dan dan mian at Din Tai Fung) and an aromatic freshness provided by the sprinkling of scallions and coriander. Portion size is just right for sharing between two, or polishing off on your own if you don’t need anything else.
We always order the spring rolls as well ($24 for three). Very Western of us I know, but they’re so yummy – basically because they’re so fresh. Straight out the fryer, they’re some of the lightest yet tastiest spring rolls I’ve had, even though the filling mainly consists of vegetables (practically the only time my boyfriend will eat his greens!). Make the most of your leftover noodle broth and get dipping!
Service is decent, the environment is pleasant (though possibly slightly claustrophobic when it’s busy) with typically ornate Chinese restaurant décor and there’s a VIP room at the back that closes off from the rest of the place that would be perfect for private parties. You can also sneak a peep at the cooks hand-pulling noodles, steaming dumplings and generally strutting their chef-y stuff through the windows to the kitchen.
Plus drinks and the inescapable 10% service charge, it’s a lip-smackingly delicious meal for two that’s certain to have you full until (if not well past!) dinner-time for just over $100 – astonishingly good value given the quality.
The only downside? You might find me sat in a corner making orgasmic noises over a xiao long bao. If you can brave that thought, then I’ll see you there!
Grand Cuisine Shanghai Kitchen, Shop G510-11, Po On Mansion, Tai Koo Shing, Hong Kong, 2568 9989