THIS month, chef Michael Chew of Zuan Yuan Chinese restaurant re-creates some of the flavours he tasted on a recent three-day trip to Hong Kong. "We have taken selections of dishes from a cross section of restaurants there," he says.
He laughs when he recalls how, at some top-end restaurants, his group had great difficulty making reservations as these were so popular they were fully booked for consecutive days.
But that has not stopped Chew from coming up with the I Love Hong Kong promotion this month. There are a total of eight dishes in the a la carte menu that ranges from appetisers and soup to main courses and dessert.
We start with poached bittergourd Sichuan style (RM12). The bittergourd is cut into fingers and poached. "This removes some of the bitterness," says Chew.
Then the bittergourd is topped with a hot sauce made with ground chilli peppers.
The other appetiser of sea conch with cucumber (RM18) is a more bland offering.
The conch and cucumbers are cut into small dice and tossed with a mild wasabi cream sauce. A refreshing dish indeed. A sprinkle of tobiko (salmon roe) completes the flavours and adds a dash of orange hues.
I simply love the soup. Black chicken and dried scallop soup (RM20 per person) is double boiled for at least four hours with chong cao hua, a kind of dried flower with the aroma and texture of mushroom. The soup is clear and sweet, so delicious you will want to tip the bowl to get the last drops.
There are five main dishes. All seafood with the exception of braised chicken with king soya sauce (RM20 for Â½ bird). As Hong Kong is surrounded by seas rich in excellent seafood, this is hardly surprising.
But Chew is particularly proud of the braised chicken. "The ingredients are not complicated - mainly superior soya sauce, onions and a bit of caramelised sugar - but the flavours are wonderful," he says. He is right. Cooked and served in a claypot, the taste is truly superb. Perhaps it´s the first-draw soya sauce that Chew uses. Or it´s his skill in balancing the flavours. Or the sliced onions that lend a lovely scent. Whatever the secret, it all balances well. The chicken itself too has great texture.
Just like the braised cod with morel mushroom (RM22). The fish is panfried lightly and then cooked in an oyster-based sauce with black fungus and whole morels. The earthy, mildly smokey aroma of the morels adds an exciting edge to the delicate fillet of fish.
Those who enjoy prawns will love the wok-fried tiger prawn (RM28). The huge crustacean comes drowned in a creamy sauce fragranced with crispy, deep fried curry leaves.
For the sauce, Chew uses three dairy products - fresh milk, evaporated milk and whipped cream - with chopped dried prawns. The latter is an inspired move and it serves to accentuate the essence of the tiger prawn.
Assorted seafood with crispy rice (RM13) is a hearty, satisfying dish. Diced prawn, scallop and fish are cooked in lobster stock and poured over the crispy rice.
I´d recommend eating this dish quickly as otherwise the rice will absorb the lobster stock and turn soft instead of staying crisp. The soft rice is still tasty but I like it better crispy.
Braised tofu with egg and tomato sauce (RM22) doesn´t sound like much but is surprisingly quite palatable. The silken tofu is skilfully sliced into thin slivers and artistically arranged on a plate. In the centre is a tomato-based sauce thickened with egg. Despite my earlier misgivings about how it would taste, it´s an easy dish that should find favour with young children.
There are two special items for dessert. While I think the mango and avocado puree (RM12) served in a yin-yang arrangement soothing but rather common, the black and white sesame rice cake (RM12 for four pcs) gets my vote.
It´s made with pureed black and white sesame seeds mixed with glutinous rice flour. The two colours are then steamed in alternate layers and served hot. Lovely texture and flavours.
The I Love Hong Kong promotion is on till Oct 31 and is available for both lunch and dinner.
By TAN BEE HONG, NST, Life & Times
, 20 Oct 2011