Sunday, January 8, 2012

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Shanghai Min

On trips back to Hong Kong, my favorite meals tend to either be of regional Chinese, or fine dining versions of Chinese, that are not easily accessible - or accessible at this level of artistry - in LA.

And fine dining to me doesn't always just mean expensive delicacies at three-star restaurants in five-star hotels - it's sometimes more of a philosophy, in the chef's approach to their food - that they revere and treat it with great respect, no matter the level of venue, cost of the ingredients, or number of digits in the price of their food.

Shanghai Min is one such example. It's a branch of an upper mid-tier restaurant chain started in China, perched in a humble space in the mall levels of historic Man Yee Building in Central, the less ostentatious side of the financial district of Hong Kong.
Though the narrow space only seems to be able to hold about 25-30 tables, its lofty ceiling and chic, sleek, modern decor lends it a very relaxed, airy and serene, almost spa-like vibe.

From the moment we were seated, we could tell the care and pride they take with every element - instead of the staid and overused visual assault of red and gold typical to very old school Chinese restaurants, Shanghai Min gives a sophisticated nod to tradition via beautifully embroidered linens (albeit a bit self promotional, featuring the name of the place on the tablecloth and napkins).

Diners here also tend to be more refined, and respectful of the calming setting - no shouting to hear ourselves over loud conversations from neighbors, or clanging of dishes in the dining room here.

The lovely thing about Shanghainese food is simple ingredients, clean flavors. For our appetizer, we got Drunken Chicken - chicken marinaded in Shaoxing rice wine, and served with skin on. This is typically served cold, but Shanghai Min offers this dish slightly warm, in chicken & wine broth, the better to release the beautiful fragrance of the wine that has fused it seems like with the very DNA of the chicken, whose meat and skin are so smooth, tender and flavorful that it made me forget I don't even like chicken (except when fried, and apparently when *it's* 'drunk'). Does alcohol really make everything better? When it's used in food - YES. My only note is I wish the pieces were bigger, to even better showcase the texture and flavors.

Can't have a Shanghainese meal without, of course, Steamed Pork & Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao), aka Shanghai Dumplings ($55HK for 5 pieces / ~$7.50US) - and they are delicious here, with fresh, thin wrappers made with fragrant dough, filled with very smooth and lightweight rounds of pork and clear, flavorful broth.

As if inspired by the Xiao Long Bao, Shanghai Min's Signature Pan-Fried Crispy Pork Soup Bun ($55HK for 5 pieces / ~$7.50US) 灌湯生煎包 - these Chinese white bread buns are typically filled with just pork - but Shanghai Min's have broth added inside, then fried to make each bite amazing with the soft, pillowy bao giving way to great, juicy interior of broth and tender meat, then a nice crispy, crunchy, salty and slightly charred finish. All topped off with sprinklings of fragrant spring onion and sesame. Delicious.

(The inside looks very much like a Xiao Long Bao)

Last up was my favorite in terms of presentation: Straw-tied Belly Pork (with Chinese Bun) 稻草肉 ($38 per piece / ~$4.75 US 2 piece minimum). Pork belly is usually a rustic dish braised and thrown piled high onto a plate, but Shanghai Min elevates it here with a 'surf and turf' presentation, wrapping perfect squares of gorgeously layered pork belly (fat/meat/fat) up with straw to look like gifts in a ceramic lotus dish, accompanied by white bread buns infused with lotus leaf flavor and shaped to look like scallop shells.

These tasted as great as they look, again reflective of the craftsmanship at Shanghai Min - the fat to meat ratio was skillfully controlled to make perfect, juicy, melt in your mouth, flavor rich bites, and the bao were nice and fluffy, the kind you can tell is well made because they rise back slowly to its original fluffiness after you take a bite - smooth, not grainy and full of fragrant flavor. Perfect when opened up and stuffed with a bite of pork belly (soaks up all its rich juices).

Three of us were so stuffed after these dishes (plus bowl of noodles that my mom had to herself as she wasn't feeling well) that we didn't have room for dessert unfortunately.

All in all, a fine meal at Shanghai Min of classics, well executed - in a relaxing setting as a mid-day getaway from the sometimes frenetic energy of Hong Kong.

[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 - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

*Note for tourists: No taxes are charged at restaurants in Hong Kong, but there is a service charge of 10% which is standard to all sit-down restaurants, which is basically the tip for your server. You are not expected to tip above this, though if you received exceptional service and wish to leave a little extra, you will make your server very happy.


Hong Kong

Shanghai Min 上海小南國
Level 3, Man Yee Building, 68 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2259-9393



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