Wednesday, January 11, 2012

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Dragon Seal

Christmas dinner this year was at the top of the 4th tallest building in the world!

The down-low on the latest structure to scrape the Hong Kong skies, International Commerce Centre (ICC):

*Opened April 2011
*118 storeys tall
*Has world’s 3rd highest observation deck, 393-metres above sea level (on 100th floor)
*Houses tallest hotel in the world: Ritz Carlton which occupies floors 102-118

Just below the hotel floors is Dragon Seal, an elegant Chinese fine dining restaurant with - you guessed it - stunning views of Hong Kong and Kowloon harbours.
The view was especially breath-taking at night (my mom worked her magic to score us the best seat in the house - corner window)!

Two set menus were on offer for Christmas dinner - my parents chose A and I chose B so we could try both.
First up for me was an appetizer plate (B) of "Christmas Turkey", "Sea Blubber" and "Spanish Air Dried Ham with Fig". The translated names aren't super exciting / appetizing - the Chinese names are much more poetic: "sea blubber"s Chinese name actually translates to Glass Golden Rose! What is it? A type of jellyfish, that the chefs at Dragon Seal shaped into a translucent rose!

Appetizer plate (A) featured "Coral Seaweed in Spicy Chili Sauce", "Stir-Fried Wagyu Beef Cubes with Mustard and Wasabi Sauce", and "Roasted Pigeon".  Once I had a taste of the pigeon,  I couldn't stop until every morsel had been sucked from the bone.

Next up for Menu B is the "Stewed Jims Han Premium Shark's Fin with Crab Meat and Black Truffle" - Jims Han, whoever you are, I thank you from the bottom of my stomach.  This soup was a magical mix of textures and savory/subtly sweet flavors, taken over the top of course with a fragrant dollop of truffle.  Loved the presentation as well.

Menu (A) gets a "Double Boiled Sea Conch Soup with Fish Maw" - which elicited some sounds of lip smacking from the other side of the table as well.  Sea Conch is a pretty popular ingredient (along with whelk) in Hong Kong cuisine - it's a sort of sea snailFish maw is the air bladder found in most fish, that helps them stay buoyant - it's full of collagen and considered a luxury item in Chinese cuisine - mostly used to make soup.  It has a pleasing, soft spongey texture - and doesn't have much taste on its own, but takes on the flavors of the soup that it soaks up.

The next course was very similar between the two menus: (A) "Baked Lobster with Yellow Wine & Black Truffle" (B) "Steamed Lobster with Yellow Wine" - there must have been some massive sale on truffle or something - they were putting it in everything! But I wasn't complaining - there is no such thing as too much truffle.

Again the English names don't do the dish justice - the lobsters really lay on a silky bed of the lightest custard made with fragrant huadiao wine (a glutinous rice and wheat wine used a lot in high end Chinese cooking - when used, it's always called out on the menu for it lends prestige and says 'quality')

"Stewed Kanto Sea Cucumber and Goose Palm with Yunnan Harm (sic) Sauce" (B) - no, they didn't figure out a way to liquify violence (it's ham they used), but the plate may look pretty intimidating to those not used to seeing nose - or beak- to-tail taken to the extreme.

I've never liked chicken feet as there's nothing to eat - it's skin over willowy bones - and there's really no appeal for me (though I love chicken skin, this type is usually too rubbery with not enough fat underneath).  Goose palm, prepared with Yunnan ham sauce, I loved - maybe as the skin is more tender, and there's a bit more fat underneath.  Sea cucumber, I hear, is another one of those things that "everyone knows" is good for your eyes - no idea why, just ancient Chinese wisdom passed through the generations.  The texture of cooked sea cucumber is an interesting mix of soft, crunchy and gelatinous at the same time - and Dragon Seal does a good job here of making it tender without being mushy (some places make it too tough and rubbery).

The simply named "Baked Australian Tiger Abalone & Goose Liver in Herbs" (A) set off all kinds of fireworks in my brain and mouth!  Best 'surf 'n turf' I've ever had.

Surf: I've never seen white abalone before - it looked more like some odd-shaped cut of lobster tail at first, and sort of has a softer texture than regular abalone as well, that is reminiscent of lobster.  It's also more subtle in flavor and less chewy. 

Turf: Seared foie gras. A perfectly sized and seared lobe, earthy and buttery - and a brilliant pairing with the Australian abalone.

The next to last savory dish: "Bamboo Pith Stuffed with Asparagus" - as I've mentioned in a previous post, bamboo pith is an interesting type of mushroom that has a net hanging from the cap - this net when cooked to me resembles the spongey texture of fish maw (fish air bladder), a very expensive Chinese delicacy.  Obviously bamboo pith is not of the same quality as fish maw, but is a more affordable alternative that I think is very unique and tasty.  It's balanced here with a crunchy spear of asparagus and again some truffle for flavor.  Love.

As with traditional Chinese banquets, to signal the end of the entree portion of the meal, one rice and one noodle dish is served.

Menu B: "Baked Rice with Goose Liver & Mixed Seafood" this was a Hong Kong cafe-style preparation of rice with cheese, goose liver and various seafood mixed in.  A nice and satisfying end to the savory portion of the meal.

Menu A: "Stewed Inaniwa Noodles & Lobster Meat"- this one was the only total disappointment of the night, with bland, boring flavors and not very much lobster meat.  The noodles also sort of clung together a bit too much.

Just when we thought we couldn't possibly fit another bite in - we found room for dessert: Menu B: "Baked Chocolate Truffle Pudding" - this is the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate center that's served hot and oozes out when you break into the cake.  My mom loved the Chinese name, which translates to "heart too soft".

It was also the first time I'd ever seen a Pocky stick used in fine dining.

These "Lavender and Mango Sago Cream with Red Bean" win points for presentation and original combination of ingredients, but in terms of was a little like having whipped hand cream with your familiar HK dessert flavors of mango sago (tapioca) and red bean.

All in all, a fun haute meal towering above the city (and we got the best view of Hong Kong harbour during its nightly light symphony - where skyscrapers light up/down synched to music, which we couldn't hear at Dragon Seal but the light show was beautiful!).  The desserts were a bit of a miss, but the rest of the meal for the most part was very enjoyable.

It was Christmas night, so every place was going to have inflated prices - but Dragon Seal is known to be on the pricier side as well.  The food was enjoyable for a special occasion splurge, but on a regular day/night it may be the view that would be anticipated to be the more compelling draw.  Will let you know if we go back on another trip!

[For more photos of fun / good eats from my HK trip, check out the album on my Facebook page!]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 70%


Hong Kong
Dragon Seal 龍璽
101/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Ph: +852 2568-9886


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