Friday, February 18, 2011

1MB Travels: Hong Kong - Dragon King Restaurant

There's the old adage "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade".

Living in Southern California, we are totally spoiled by / blessed with beautiful weather almost year-round - so when it's uncharacteristically cold and rainy (i.e. a "harsh winter day" - a shameless abuse of the phrase which induces groans and eye-rolls from my brother, a Montreal resident) like today - I consider it a 'lemon day'.  With a half day off in anticipation of the three-day Presidents' Day weekend - and weather providing strong incentive to curl up and stay in, I realized I can take my 'lemon day' and squeeze some blog posts out of it! Time to catch up on some of my recaps of meals from my most recent trip to Hong Kong.

After lunch at Prince Restaurant, my parents and I decided to head to a shopping center/office complex in Causeway Bay called wtc more  to walk off all that we had ingested earlier in the day,  before dinner at Dragon King Restaurant. 

The wtc more shopping center is notable for its massive Muji and Uniqlo stores, purveyors of Japanese, decent quality-low priced, deliberately non-branded fashions (plus home/office goods/snacks from Muji) for the masses.  This time around, I caught the end of the Uniqlo post holiday sale, and scored 2 sweaters, 1 belt and 1 scarf for less than $50 US!

Working up an appetite from strolling through the 7? floors of shops, we made our way eventually to the stack of restaurants above the stores - the 12th Floor is taken up entirely by Dragon King Restaurant.  We had been here on a previous trip for dim sum, and loved the space - with its amber / sand color scheme, chandeliers and fantastic harbour views.

This time my mom told a fascinating tale of fame / fall and redemption that starred the chef of Dragon King - Mr. Wong Wing Chee or "Brother Chee".  Apparently Brother Chee used to be a master chef at the top of his game at Hong Kong restaurant staple Lei Garden (now Michelin starred).  He immigrated to Australia, somehow picked up a gambling habit, lost everything he had, was shamed with desperate pleas to friends and family for money - and ultimately very publicly fired from his job.

Broke and hopeless, he decided to go home to Hong Kong. On the way back he vowed to quit gambling and work hard to put his real talents to work and to win back his spot at the top of the restaurant food chain.  And he managed to pull himself up by his proverbial bootstraps - going from flat broke to now head of a prestigious, award winning restaurant chain, published author of numerous cookbooks, and a celebrated TV personality with his own cooking/travel shows!

According to my mom, Brother Chee's rise to fame the second time around involved creative takes on traditional Chinese dishes, using unique ingredients or combinations to produce unique dishes.

With all that context, I was intrigued to try Dragon King again.

We started our meal, as most Chinese meals do, with soup.  This was one I'd never seen though - Coco de Mer Stewed Coral Crab Soup (HK$178 for enough to serve 2 people ~US$23) - coconuts 'of the sea' (native to Seychelles) boiled with crab, dried scallops, and chicken feet.  The broth was savory and sweet at the same time, yet clear and refreshing. 

In an adventurous mood, for one of our mains we ordered up Braised Crocodile Tail in Oyster Sauce (HK$128 per person - minimum 2 orders ~US$16).  This wasn't the first time we've had croc meat - apparently when my brother and I were kids, our grandmother fed us soup made with crocodile meat to help 'treat' our asthma (old school home remedy - Mom thinks it may be the steroids in the meat that is believed to help with asthma). 

Crocodile meat, from memory, tastes like chicken but a lot tougher with a more fibrous texture - but we had no idea what to expect of crocodile tail.  It arrived in a claypot stew - and at first we mistook it for sea cucumbers, another entree we had ordered.  The tail was cut up into small pieces and tasted like thick bricks of congealed gelatin.  Even with crunchy mushrooms for counterbalance and a rich flavored sauce base - I still thought the texture was overwhelming and not something that we would personally want to eat again.  But Mom and I were still glad to have tried it - now we can have an informed opinion about this dish.

Next was the 'real' Braised Golden Sea Cucumber with Drumstick Mushroom in Oyster Sauce (HK$148 per person ~US$19) - I like having sea cucumber once in a while for its unique texture, a combination of chewy/ gelatinous with a jellyfish-like crunch.  And this dish was great and flavorful, but unfortunately since we had just had the crocodile tail, which was very similar in texture, this dish became a bit too much.  This was my fault for lack of planning - should have pinned down our server to confirm what we were getting ourselves into with the crocodile tail first.  But on another day with more balanced meal planning, this claypot stew would have been fantastic.

Aside from the main menu, there was a special list of fresh seafood that Dragon King flies in direct from their own ships in Sabah!  Having just come back from Sabah and loving all the amazingly fresh seafood there - we thought we'd give the Butter Salt Baked King Prawn (HK$128 each ~US$16) from this menu a try.  The reason we got it, turned out to be exactly the reason we shouldn't have ordered up this dish - our expectations were way too high, and the prawns afterall did have to be flown in and of course could not possibly be as fresh as having them in Sabah a short time after they are pulled out of the ocean.
The breading was also a bit soggy...too bad.

Luckily the meal ended as well as it began.  We finished off with what I call "The Departed Dessert" (misprinted as "Layered almond and pumpkin mousse" on menu, named "Mo Kan Tao" HK$29 ~US$4).  This dessert is inspired by the original Hong Kong movie, "Infernal Affairs" ("Mo Kan Tao") which film buffs will know was remade by Scorsese in the US into "The Departed", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Inspired by the complex layers of identity of good/bad cops/crooks in the movie, this dessert has layers of black and white sesame / almond mousse topped off with a web of confusion on top.  Love the modern movie inspiration in the traditional culinary arena - and the dessert tasted amazing!

Though we did not have an incredible experience with this particular meal, memories of the great dim sum we'd had previously, along with the extensive menu still to be tasted, as well as the inspired starter and dessert, beckons us to come back for another try some other time (and next time I think I'll entrust the ordering to my mom).  Though backstory aside, between the King and the Prince in terms of the meals themselves - I much preferred the Prince.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90%


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


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