The simple prawn dumpling known as har gao is a well recognised favourite in dim sum circles – its translucent, thin, white pastry barely revealing the deliciously orange-pink flesh beneath. You can eat a whole steamer of these and never get bored. Or can you?
Increasingly, Hong Kong’s high-end dim sum restaurants are setting new culinary standards, with gourmet ingredients, innovative flavours and a level of artistry that take this complex cooking style to elite new heights.
If the plush green seats, glitzy chandeliers and shimmering glassware don’t tip you off, then the well-to-do multi-generational families gathered around the lazy Susans surely will. The Mira Hotel’s Cuisine Cuisine Chinese restaurant has a dim sum menu that reads like a glossary of exotic global ingredients: think gold leaf, foie gras, morel mushrooms and waygu for starters.
Dim sum sous chef Ringo Wong‘s latest work (above) is a seasonal deluxe dim sum platter served in a custom-made rectangular bamboo basket. It showcases five exotic dumplings, possessing all the colour and artistry you’d expect in a cupcake shop. Lobster and crabmeat dumplings come in a tight little orange ball with a scoop of caviar, while a yellow steamed glutinous rice ball is topped with whole abalone and gold leaf. These really do look too good to eat.
There is a reason Lung King Heen was the world’s first Cantonese restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars. According to executive chef Chan Yan Tak, the success is attributed to the restaurant’s philosophy of using fresh ingredients. “Everything is freshly made in the morning, dim sums are steamed upon order, there is a fish tank in the kitchen and fish are only killed minutes before it is served,” he says. Located on the fourth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Lung King Heen rotates eight monthly dim sum menus, with eight more varieties on weekends.
The providence of the ingredients is key, says Chan, whose signature dish, baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken, uses South African Abalone specifically for its size. Another favourite is steamed lobster and scallop dumpling. Chef Chan has a specific preference for lobster from the South China Sea and scallops from South Australia.
Hong Kong foodies know the deal: at Mott32 you definitely order the soft quail egg and black truffle siu mai. When the dish arrives, you eat it quickly before the yolk has time to cook through. The perfectly timed result is culinary bliss. Mott32 is a designer-cool Cantonese restaurant in an old bank vault that has been fastidiously refurbished to marry industrial elements of old New York with classic Chinese wall paintings, calligraphy brushes and lampshades.
According to chef Lee Man Sing, the very traditional way of making siu mai is to have the quail egg on top. Instead, Mott32 wraps it in Iberico pork and tops it with black truffle. The restaurant sells 150 serves a day, proving it the most popular dish since opening. The restaurant’s latest xiao long bao offering is made from hot and sour Iberico pork, and served on a little wooden platform. The South Australian scallop, shrimp and beetroot dumpling is a little pink parcel with a twisted garlic chive on top – surely the darling of the dim sum world.
Exquisite taste never looked so good. Secreted away atop fashion house Shanghai Tang, this two-level upmarket Cantonese restaurant is the hangout of Hong Kong’s dressed-to-impress lot. On the lower level, there’s a dining room. The salon and library upstairs, with its designer chairs, couches and art is the perfect place for dim sum.
Happily, chef Siu Hin Chi, a purist who doesn’t use additives or artificial flavours, does justice to the setting. His dim sum is testament to his creativity. Dish without Spoons is a trio of Alaskan king crab, garoupa and lobster dumplings served on an elegant white plate. The garoupa is shaped like a fish, with two distinct eyes and yellow fins. His Dish with Spoons (below) is a trio of classic but luxurious dried seafood dumplings – imperial bird’s nest, abalone and fish maw, the latter fittingly dusted with gold leaf.
– TEXT BY PENNY WATSON
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.