Monday, January 17, 2011

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Dining with Royalty: Prince Restaurant & Dragon King Restaurant

Having covered off on some great mid-tier restaurants like Pak Loh Chiu Chow and CHE's Cantonese in Hong Kong, I wanted next to share some of the fine dining meals we had at the more modern, upscale venues.  Two of these we actually visited on one day: the aptly named royal pair were Prince Restaurant (for lunch) and Dragon King Restaurant (for dinner).

Prince Restaurant is located at the upper floors of the shopping center at Lee Gardens, a complex developed below office towers.

In the U.S., malls or office buildings are probably the LAST places you would expect to find upscale dining with food that isn't designed for more than utilitarian sustenance.  There have been notable exceptions in recent years (e.g. Westfield Century City / Santa Monica Place) which is exciting, but for the most part those types of venues would not be at the top of most food-lovers' lists of destinations for a great dining experience.

I'm grateful for the emergence of places like Obika Mozzarella Bar, for decent dining when I'm already at the mall, but personally would not plan a whole evening around a meal there.

Hong Kong on the other hand is as dense with skyscrapers, if not more, than New York, and with the crunch for space - and the strategic advantage of being based in high traffic areas - it completely makes sense there for fine dining venues to be located in shopping centers / office buildings (in addition to hotels).

And Prince Restaurant offers a luxurious and modern setting with a spacious dining room done in soothing mochas and greens, and non-traditional, sleek booths adorned with crystal chandeliers.

We started off with an amuse bouche of sliced guavas sprinkled with plum salt.  The sweet / saltiness of the plum salt provided a mouthwatering counterbalance to the sweet / tartness of the guava slices, and was a simple and elegant way to wake up the majority of your taste buds in anticipation of the meal.

This is one that's easy to replicate back home, as long as I can find an Asian market that sells this salt.
Our appetizer was one of the most delicious salads I have ever had.  And one I've never seen before - sounds like it's a Prince specialty.  It didn't involve any greens at all, but consisted of small logs of eggplant steamed just enough to be tender to the bite, but still firm enough to retain structure.  The veggies were then served cold with "Japanese Sesame Sauce".  I don't know what is in this sauce besides sesame and cream - but in combination with the tender but slightly crunchy eggplant - the dish was like a drug that triggered addiction on contact.  Two weeks later, I still dream about it and need to go back to Prince soon to get my fix.

Next up was a traditional Chinese dish - Crispy Skin Roast Pork Belly - but well executed here and provides our protein dish, so we added it to our order to round out the meal. 

Other traditional dim sum items, each with one new added ingredient, that we ordered were:  Baked Egg Tarts with Birds' Nest (HK$25 ~US$3 per piece) and Baked Diced Goose Pastries (HK$30 ~US$4 per piece).  While the egg tarts were great, the Baked Diced Goose Pastries is Prince's one glitch this meal - the goose pieces were dry and a bit bland.
At our server's recommendation, we also tried the Black Truffle with King Prawn (HK$98 ~US$13) which came beautifully plated.  The truffle was made into a sauce of consistency somewhere between broth and cream, and drizzled over the prawn and plate.  The prawn was incredibly fresh, tender and sweet, and served at the perfect heat to release the fragrant aromas of the truffle - the smell is intoxicating even as the server approached the table.  You might say $13 is a bit excessive for a single prawn, but the dish was worth it (and there is no sales tax charged in Hong Kong). 
Next up was another Prince Restaurant specialty, Steamed Whole Abalone Dumpling (HK$48 ~US$6).  I know I often overuse the word 'amazing', but I don't think I have many occasions to use the word 'perfect' - and this dish was Perfect.  The Abalone was perfectly shaped, perfectly cooked at the right level of tenderness, perfectly flavored, and the dumpling was perfectly designed to encapsulate all the rich flavors of the abalone in a single bite, all cushioned with a bun to sponge up the juices so that the flavors can linger on your tongue just a little bit longer.  I loved that each dumpling came in its own individual steamer - bonus points for presentation!

We finished off our lunch with Pumpkin Fried Glutinous Rice Cakes, which was a new take on a traditional dessert ("Leen Gao" or new year's cake"), adding in pumpkin to the classic dough, forming into a shell and filling it with lotus seed paste.  These cakes were fried perfectly for a lightly crisp topping giving way to a soft, hot and chewy rice dough shell, that revealed the subtly sweet lotus seed paste with each bite.

All in all, lunch at Prince was one of my favorite meals on this trip - and next time I go back to Hong Kong I'm hopping in a taxi to Prince Restaurant straight from the airport.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Click link for review of dinner at Dragon King Restaurant


Hong Kong

Prince Restaurant
5th Floor, The Lee Garden, 33 Hysan Ave., Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Ph: 852-2577-4888

Dragon King Restaurant
12/F World Trade Center, 280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Ph: 852-2895-2288 

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