Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

The Chairman

The Chairman was nothing like I thought it would be.
That name, right? As pointed out in the Times' recent Yunnan Kitchen review, locally sourced,
organic products haven't been adopted by Chinese restaurants in NYC the way
that other cuisines have. The same is true in China, itself, and by extension, Hong

So, when I read about free-range chicken from The
New Territories and soy sauce brewed in Kowloon, I pictured communal salvaged
wood tables, subway tiles and cocktail programs because I've been in Brooklyn
too long.

The chairman upstairs

In reality, The Chairman is just a restaurant, a
little upscale, neither flashy nor run-down (crab art on the walls!) with good service (shockingly
affable for Hong Kong) slightly away from the hubbub of Long Fai Kwong at the
end of a quiet street with no outlet.

The absence of abalone and shark's fin on the menu
(they'll make them if you want them) also gave me pause, in a good way. I almost skipped The Chairman due to my ambivalence
about Cantonese food, particularly on the higher end. Status markers like the aforementioned
duo plus XO sauce and birds nests aren't for me, and the austere purity of a
double boiled soup or barely sweetened desserts teeming with legumes are above
my head. I can't appreciate a glossy arranged plate of mushrooms and bok choy

Normally I hate over-explainers, but it was a
novelty for a Chinese restaurant. The service was unusual (they also accommodated a last-minute switch to Sunday night–many HK restaurants are closed on Sundays–when a travel snafu caused me to miss my original Saturday night reservation) in that our server,
an older gentleman with a British name, seemed genuinely excited about the
food,  describing everything and being
helpful by suggesting half portions unprompted when we showed interest in items
that would've been too big for two.

We just had tea, in other words, no drinks, which is unusual for me at dinner on vacation, but I
don't travel well and it was that thing where you're so tired that drinking has
no effect (I'd had Sazeracs beforehand at no-vowel, kind of pricey, The Blck Brd,
which was in a more Brooklyn vein, oh, and four hours of unlimited champagne at the Intercontinental brunch).

The chairman smoked baby pigeon with longjing tea & chrysanthemum

Our baby pigeon was missing its head, an omission that
may have been intentional to protect our delicate Western sensibilities (photos
I've seen online are beak and all). Headless or not, the little crisp bird was
smoked with longjing tea and served with pickled onions, a non-Cantonese touch
that balanced some of the richness. There was also a chrysanthemum component,
though it blurred with the green tea flavor (also, I don't know what the flower
tastes like).

The chairman fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine & fragrant chicken oil

Fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine and  fragrant chicken oil is a signature dish, and
rightfully impressive–look at that face. The mottled crustacean arrives assembled
but already cracked, behind ripples of fat rice noodles. Not an easy chopstick
dish. The sauce was strongly winey yet still smooth, pleasingly bitter and
borderline fermented, just a little funk, almost like nothing I'd tasted before…almost,
half-way through I realized it reminded me of fondue if fondue could be
creamless. If your eyes were closed, I'm not sure that you'd recognize this
dish as Chinese. Combined with the flakes of crab meat and the noodles, it was
like the idealized seafood pasta I never actually get from an Italian
restaurant.  I was resisting my American
urge to clean my plate and trying to be more New York by leaving noodles behind
to save room for the rest of the meal (four-hour brunch, remember) but they
wouldn't clear our plate. The remainders started getting cold. The staff seemed
concerned. Eventually our server came over and divvied up the uneaten noodles and
scraped the roe clinging to the crab shell onto our plates. Rookies.

The chairman stir-fried snap beans with mushrooms

We would've felt guilty not ordering vegetables.
There were like fifty different types of mushrooms–that bacon-looking blob is
fungi–and freshly shelled peas in this dish.

The chairman braised spareribs with preserved plums in caramelized black vinegar

This is a half-order (they were bigger than they appear
here) of the spareribs coated in caramelized black vinegar and preserved plums
and garnished sweet potato chips. It's a fancy sweet and sour sauce, and
therefore, pretty lovable.

This was one of my favorite meals during my quick
stint in Hong Kong because the food and approach, a mix of humble and high-brow
with an emphasis on ingredients over glitz,  isn't really like any restaurant I've
experienced there.

The Chairman * 18 Kau U Fong, Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan is famously the cheapest Michelin-starred
restaurant on earth. At least the original Kowloon location is, but there was
no way I was testing out the blog-chronicled two-hour-waits while on vacation.
I get enough of that nonsense in NYC, thanks. The snazziest branch is on the
Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour in the IFC mall. I went for the
lesser-trafficked Kowloon location (The Guardian recently filmed a video there)
a bit higher up the subway line in Yau Ma Tei, which appeared to be a district
made up of blocks and blocks of toy and children's clothing wholesalers.

Tim ho wan yau ma tei

There was still about a 15-minute wait, but not so

Tim ho wan pork buns

This is dim sum, by the way, non-skippable in Hong
Kong even if only in town for two days like me. I couldn't even tell you the
best because there are just so many choices and it depends on if you want luxe
or old-school; many fall somewhere in the middle, and most now serve fresh dim
sum cooked on demand after checking boxes on a piece of paper instead of the
cart method that Americans have grown to like.

Tim ho wan pork bun

Often a restaurant is known for a specialty or two.
At Time Ho Wan it's undoubtedly the place for pork buns with a crackly shortening-and-sugar
enriched topping that bakes down into a barely golden, flaky crust. A softness without
fluff. I'd say they're a relative of the Mexico buns I was obsessed with on my
last Hong Kong visit. I don't consider buns chopstick food, but tried to do as
my fellow diners, using the little bowl to park it and taking awkward nibbles
before I dropped the floppy mound onto the spoon.

Tim ho wan shrimp dumplings

Hong Kong is modern, British-influenced, and all
that but there is still a substantial language barrier, and outside of the
central areas, foreigners still get stared at like you're in rural China or
something. I felt the eyes, and then a heap of trouble arose when I tried
asking for chile sauce for the shrimp dumplings.

Tim ho wan tonic medlar & petal cake

The table next to us, which being separated by
half-an-inch meant we may as well been dining with the middle-aged couple, had
a dish, so after futile attempts at asking for chile sauce I pointed at theirs.
And what I ended up with was the only thing on the fairly short menu that I
really, really didn't want to eat. I'm not crazy about eating flowers, but go
along with it at high end restaurants since it's en vogue and unavoidable, but
not with my dim sum! Um, so three wedges of the so-called Tonic Medlar & Petal
Cake were given to me. It's basically Jello with chewy bits of…I don't even
know. Apparently, medar is a fruit but these were dried petals and I think wolfberries suspended in
gelatin not fruit. Anyway, it was fine, and I ate it, but it was no cake and
did nothing for the Chinese dessert image problem.

Tim ho wan shrimp rolls

Shrimp rolls. I should've gotten the pork liver
version, but it slipped my mind.

Tim ho wan spare ribs

Spareribs with black beans.

I briefly considered getting another order of pork
buns to go, but after than medlar mishap I wasn't taking any chances.

Tim Ho Wan * 9-11 Fuk Wing St., Hong Kong


The Chinese aren’t the most sentimental people. Mainlanders only recently started to fetishize the past with the creation of Maoist, peasant-themed eateries. It takes a more Westernized city like Hong Kong to name a high end restaurant Hutong after the maze-like back alley dwellings rapidly being demolished in Beijing.

I avoided slick restaurants on vacation (Robuchon, while expensive, was more garish-regal) but for our final evening in Asia I wanted to do the whole guidebook-approved fancy cocktails and dinner overlooking the skyline. And you’ll end up paying for that, no getting around it. Not only are the Chinese un-sentimental, they have no problem requiring customers to spend set minimums. At Aqua, one floor above Hutong on 29, you are must spend HK$120 to enjoy the atmosphere. No one ever need encourage me to order two drinks (which easily added up to more than the $16 rule) so that wasn’t a problem.

It did seem odder to set a number (HK$300/US$39) at a chic restaurant. I’ve never encountered practices like sharing fees and $10 per person musts at diners and the like. But I knew this going in based on the confirmation email that also spelled out the no short, slippers or sleevelessness (for men only, I would think) policy. I can see dirty backpackers being a problem in Bangkok but Hong Kong doesn’t really attract the bumming around element. Or maybe they are trying to keep out those pesky Chinese who wouldn’t stop wearing pajamas in public even for the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I goofed off like a good tourist taking copious photos of the glowing red and blue interior and picture window view so poor I was forced to delete them. At 8pm, they start a laser light, pyrotechnic show, “A Symphony of Lights” in Victoria Harbor (and we think the Empire State Building periodically changing color themes is hot shit) which is hard to ignore. In no time I got a red battery low signal that had me panicked over missing shots of our last supper.

I greatly prefer the strong flavors of Northern Chinese food over the pure delicateness Cantonese is known for or else I would’ve booked a place like Lung King Heen, recently bestowed with three Michelin stars. I’ll eat atmospherics right up too; the wire bird cages that sit on each round antique carved wood table until diners arrive and they’re whisked away, the dim cavernous space with outer edges divvied up into mysterious private nooks and even the rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” orchestrated on plinky Chinese string instruments. The cover was almost as good as the first time I heard Musak version of “Hungry Like the Wolf” piped into a Hallmark two decades ago.

Crispy yuppies

The food wasn’t anything like the upscale Chinese that plagues NYC. The Waikyas, Buddakans, I don’t know, maybe Shang (I haven’t tried it yet but have higher hopes). Hutong served Chinese food that was actually good. And being Hong Kong, items you’d never see on an American glossy menu—marinated pig’s throats, lamb organ soup, lots of salty egg yolks and crab roe—were right at home. I’m still not certain what “crispy yuppies” are. I’d guess a fish, as
this dish was listed in the seafood section, but that could also be
because it sounds like guppies.

Hutong crab daikon rolls

Family-sized portions provided way more than I had expected. Thankfully, the chilled daikon crab meat rolls were light. The sweet-vinegary edamame cabbage slaw on the right was a freebie relish/appetizer.

Hutong boneless lamb ribs

Lamb ribs were a signature dish and present on nearly every table. I acquiesced. I would be good with these crackly skinned, lightly fatty slabs replacing pork belly as cut of choice. If I’m correct, the meat is de-boned and slow cooked while the skin is fried separately then reconstructed. Accompaniments included crushed garlic, julienned scallion whites and a soy based sauce. The sharp raw garlic and onions helped cut the natural sweetness.

Hutong sichuan fish head

The fish head wasn’t on anyone’s table, and got lots of ogling from the Middle Eastern couple sitting near us who asked the waiter what we had. I’ve never encountered a Sichuan fish head preparation and am not sure whether it’s traditional or not. Who cares? The sauce tasted salty and hot from chile bean paste and was enriched with minced pork, very much like a ma po tofu preparation.

Hutong green bamboo shoots

The last surviving photo from Hong Kong/Singapore/Macau extravaganza 2008. My battery died immediately after I snapped this shot of the “jade” bamboo shoots. Not only did these taste amazing, they also were incredibly pretty, pale green and glistening. I thought they had forgotten this dish since it arrived half-way through the meal; there was no rhyme or order to the courses. I could’ve sworn these were cooked in butter as they tasted salty and rich, though the menu only said wok-fried with no clues. I’m not crazy about gloopy cornstarch-thickened vegetables so these were perfect.

We did the high in the sky, bar with a view sandwich (or is that a bookend) and had a few nightcaps at Felix, famous for its window-facing urinal in the men’s room. I had no idea how tiny—one long table and a curving leather banquette off to the side of the circular counter–the Philippe Starck-designed bar was. Or how much the peach and pistachio pudding color scheme enhanced by underlit marble reminded me of ‘80s Santa Fe style with a dash of Golden Girls’ Miami. It never looks like that in photos, though. It’s quite possible that my observation skills were dulled by too much food and drink.

Hutong * 1 Peking Rd., 28/F, Hong Kong

Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant

I had to keep postponing my desired Sichuan meal because I didn't think my stomach could handle it. By our last day in Hong Kong I just gave up and risked a lunch anyway.

Yunyan was a nearby backup plan (plan A, San Xi Lou, seemed like a pain to navigate at the last minute on public transportation) on the fourth floor in a mall that housed a disproportionate amount of Japanese retailers: Muji, Uniqlo and Sekiguchi (the Monchichi store that I bring up often as possible).

Yunyan szechuan restaurant

I had read in Time Out Hong Kong, I think, about a spicy intestine dish they served. What I didn't realize was that even though Chong Qing wasn't in the name or description, it's exactly the same preparation as Chong Qing chicken, which we also ordered. D'oh.

Yunyan sichuan pork intestines

We ended up with two massive plates heaped with dried chiles, one with hidden bits of fried chicken cubes to sift through with chopsticks and the other studded curled with porky tubes.

Yunyan chong qing chicken

I always enjoy a good intestine, but am better acquainted with Argentine grilled chinchulines. These must've been quite fatty because they crisped right up, the soft inner layer only making an appearance after an initial crackly bite. And yes, the heat level was high. In the US, the intimidating pile of chiles is often more decorative than fiery. The heat never seems to transfer from pod to protein. Not the case here.

Yunyan dan dan noodles

The tongue-numbing properties were also amped up to that buzzy point where your mouth starts tasting metallic. You really need other flavors for balance and we didn't have those. The two closely related entrees were so strong that the dan dan (spelled tan tan here) noodles seemed sweet and soothing by comparison, probably from the sesame paste and maybe a touch of sugar.

A green vegetable, any vegetable is seriously lacking from this meal. But we were afraid of over ordering since leftovers are troublesome on vacation. What we ended up doing was adding the remaining intestines to the chicken pile, got it to go, wrapped the Styrofoam container in serious plastic and brought it back home with us on the plane. This was totally not my idea, though I'll admit that after 15 hours of flying with a head cold and coming home to an apartment with bare cupboards, a few nibbles of day-old mouth-burning Sichuan organs was kind of fortifying.

One of the more photographically comprehensive posts I found about this restaurant, resides on the blog of an eight-year-old. Yes, an eight-year-old.

Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant * Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Rd. 4/F, Hong Kong

Mak’s Noodle

1/2 Maybe Mak's is to wonton noodles what Katz's is to pastrami sandwiches. It's a classic, touristy or not. I lamed out a bit by not trying the original location, but one in a Kowloon mall instead. We had to make a few concessions on this vacation, sometimes choosing closer restaurants over potentially more authentic ones.

Mak's noodle kowloon

Honestly, I'm not enough of a wonton noodle connoisseur to nitpick over nuances in broth and dough elasticity. I happen to love New York Noodletown's roast pork noodle soup with shrimp wontons, which might not pass muster in Hong Kong.

Mak's shrimp dumpling soup

The hallmarks of Mak's is a soup base made from dried fish and pork bones, which lends a robust flavor, and small serving size supposedly to keep the noodles from getting soggy. I think it's the perfect portion because on vacation I like having double meals for maximum sampling. A normal bowl could easily be twice the size of what's pictured. The amusing thing is that everyone around us who had ordered soup from different restaurants in the food court had bigger bowls and still finished before we did. Granted, I'm a slowpoke, but Chinese are no nonsense eaters.

Mak's dumping interior

I tried a bowl with dumplings and wontons, not knowing the difference between the two. It appeared that wontons are the compact shrimp-filled pockets you commonly find while dumplings are larger and stuffed with two whole shrimp and chopped mushrooms.

Mak's beef brisket soup

Here's a version with beef brisket. I would've had this if I hadn't just had a surprisingly good room service rendition a few night's previously.

Mak's Noodle * 33 Canton Rd. 2/F, Hong Kong

West Villa

There were so many meals to squeeze into four days in Hong Kong that we only managed dim sum once. I chose West Villa based on strange criteria: the presence of something called “Mexico buns.” A custard-topped pork bun that I can only guess got its name from its vague resemblance to a concha. Really obscure, though, because pan dulce, not to mention Mexicans, are nonexistent in China.

West villa interior

What I hadn’t really considered is that Mexico bun is the English interpretation of cha xiu ma xi co bao, which wouldn’t be spelled phonetically but in Chinese characters, duh. The staff didn’t speak English. Luckily, they did have bilingual check off cards, though nothing called Mexico bun appeared. Um, and I messed things up. I originally put a 1 next to five items, then thought that looked weird so tried changing to an X, but stopped after two—pork buns and shrimp asparagus dumplings–because the squiggles resembled nonsensical asterisks. And guess which two dishes never arrived at our table?

West villa roast pork

I was under the impression that West Villa was known for their char siu and anything containing the roast pork. Here it is in its pure sweet, fatty lacquered form, nothing like the tough, dried out version found so often in the states.

West villa shrimp rolls

Rice rolls with super plump shrimp.

West villa boneless stuffed chicken wings

Fried boneless chicken wings stuffed with minced pork and mushrooms, I think. The preserved vegetables were a nice touch.

Still no shrimp dumplings or pork buns, though. After nearly half and hour we asked one of the waitresses for an order of pork buns, thinking they must have forgot. Every other table had them so we knew they were must-haves. It seemed like she understood us but 15 minutes later it was clear we still weren’t getting them. We flagged her down again and this time she brought over the English-speaking manager. We once again asked for an order of pork buns, politely, I might add, which seriously pissed her off and she started violently cleaning up our table and banged around the plates extra loud to prove some sort of point that was completely lost on us. Seriously? So much trauma over stupid pork buns. We weren’t about to leave without them after waiting so long.

West villa pork buns

I don’t want to say these were worth the wait because no one should have to spend 45 minutes anticipating a single dim sum order. But they were pretty amazing, no question. The first I noticed was that they were warm, straight from the oven, something you never get with cart dim sum (which seems to be the preference of New Yorkers but not so much with Hong Kongers). Secondly, these weren’t regular pork buns, tan and bready with a shiny top. The finish was pale, dull and crunchy, created by a light sugar coating barely perceptible to the eye. I should’ve shown a cross-section of the insides but I was too busy eating to stop for a photo.

West Villa * Lee Gardens Two, 28 Yun Ping Rd. 2/F, Hong Kong

Harbourside at The InterContinental

Update: I re-visted in July 2012 and the buffet is still awesome and pretty much the same, minus the price (it's closer to $100 now) but you don't need a whole rundown. Instead, I have a newer set of photos.

* * *

Ok, I just dubbed StraitsKitchen the most awesome buffet in the universe. That title is now taken. Maybe The InterContinental hosts the most Decadent buffet in the universe. Yes, $80 (approximate, based on the current exchange rate) is crazy but you could recoup that in champagne, lobster and foie gras, alone.

I made sure to take advantage of the free flowing bubbly (Moet & Chandon, no generic sparkling wine). I'm stereotyping but I can say with great certainty that the majority of the clientele drank no more than two glasses; it's not a big drinking culture plus that whole "Asian flush" thing. But the waiter will refill as long as you keep downing them, though after the fourth or fifth glass (hey, flutes are small) they do ask before automatically topping off.

Intercontinental buffet plate one

Plate one: half lobster (people were seriously grabbing like two whole lobsters at a time-I was very restrained), salmon mousse, scallop of some sort, a circle of foie gras topped with a thin square of dark chocolate and assorted cold seafood.

Intercontinental buffet seafood

I enjoyed the chilled seafood station. The middle shelf was filled with lobsters just minutes before.

Intercontinental buffet plate two

Plate two: in the back is seared foie gras with a apple chutney (they are obsessed with foie gras everywhere and way generous with it), jamon Iberico (there was a carving station with three different Spanish hoof-on, whole leg hams), peking duck, "surf and turf," a toast with steak, mushroom and lobster claw meat and shrimp tempura.

Intercontinental buffet plate three

Plate three: more lobster, shrimp, squid and dried scallop dish.

Intercontinental buffet sashimi

I also got some sashimi with this round. Tuna, and maybe mackerel. I forget since this was almost a month ago.

Intercontinental buffet peking duck

Peking duck "action station" with dim sum, soup and assorted self-serve warm dishes in the background.

Intercontinental buffet plate four

Plate four: peking duck redux, cashews, a different Spanish ham and French cheese, one was Comte.

Intercontinental buffet desserts

I didn't really capture the sheer volume of goodies in the dessert section. As you will note, they had both white and milk chocolate fountains.

Intercontinental buffet plate five

Plate five: aqua green macaron, random cake, dinosaur egg-looking goodie, lemon coconut pastry, lime tart and cheesecake in the center. While picking at our sweets, we were kindly informed by our server that the buffet would be closing in ten minutes so we should make a quick final run. 3pm already? I have no idea how three hours passed so quickly.

I probably only sampled 15% of what was on offer. I don't like filling up on pastas or heavy meaty dishes. And I never eat congee, yogurt or granola at breakfast buffets because it just doesn't seem worth it. Oh, or d.i.y. Caesar salad, which seems very popular at Asian buffets.

It wasn't until we left that we realized the jazzy lite music serenading us all morning was actually being played by humans.

Harbourside at The InterContinental * 70 Mody Rd.,  Hong Kong


Before there was Food Republic there was BreadTalk (same company). I don’t have that many food obsessions but I can definitely count pick-a-mix sweet and savory bakery goods as one of them. I am so obsessed that I have given semi-serious thought to how I could come up with a New York interpretation. Sure, we have Fay Da, Taipan Bakery, Café Zaiya and their ilk thriving in Asian-heavy neighborhoods but what about a more universal equivalent that would appeal to Americans?

I was looking at BreadTalk’s franchising program. You need $500,000 and they only have locations in Asia and the Middle East. Not so doable, and it’s not like they have any name recognition in the U.S. anyway. I’d be better off starting from scratch—not that I have even a sliver of business sense.  Maybe if I had one of those The Apprentice type personalities.

Bread talk bacon floss bun

Bacon floss bun. I’ve mentioned floss already. It’s essentially finely shredded jerky and you find it in buns, mini egg rolls and sometimes in stir-fries. Crispy, salty and good.

Bread talk nacho cheese buns

I didn’t find nachos to all that pervasive in Singapore, so a nacho cheese bun was a little odd. Yet nothing can beat the nacho cheese-drizzled Cinnabon I once spied in the Petronas Towers.

Bread talk obunma

Obunma sums up why I like BreadTalk. They are not afraid of novelty and current events. Obama was also used as a marketing gimmick for Hip Diner USA.

Hawaiian pizza

There’s a lot of Hawaiian combos in S.E. Asia. Finally, a place where I don’t have to hide my love for ham and pineapple.

Frankfurter tortilla

Ok, this frankfurter craziness is not from BreadTalk but an upscale grocery chain, city’super, in Harbour City. Hong Kong malls are so chichi with their Prada, D&G, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and the like (maybe the Monchichi shop negates that). There’s nothing upscale about a weiner wrapped in a tortilla, though. I also picked up a classier camembert walnut bun.

BreadTalk * various locations, Singapore & Hong Kong

La Pampa

1/2 There always comes a point during a vacation when I want non-local food (all right, we already had German). Initially, I thought of FINDS (Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, amusingly enough) but they were closed for a private Finnish Independence Day party. What were the odds?

Earlier, we had been eyeballing La Pampa, which was directly across the street from the tiny Korean sports bar/fried chicken joint we were having a beer earlier. It was still closed around 6pm even though every place else in the neighborhood was already hopping. We suspected they were just being Argentine and conducted business on a later schedule.

La pampa exterior

That proved true. We came back a little later and the cozy, ok, cramped, little restaurant was packed, all prime tables reserved. We squeezed into an awkward two-seater near the door and wondered if the food would be even remotely authentic. The tiny room contained the most Americans (as well as Spanish speakers, all three of them, four including the owner) I had encountered in two weeks.

La pampa empanadas

I was reassured by the presence of sweetbreads, blood sausage, provoleta, milanesas and even Don Pedro for dessert. We probably didn't need an appetizer but wanted to try an empanada. No complaints about the ham and cheese.

La pampa bife de chorizo

There wasn't a lot of variety in cuts of beef, just bife de chorizo and bife de lomo. The rest of the mains consisted of meat skewers, chicken and strange for an Argentine restaurant, cod and salmon. I chose the smallest bife de chorizo, 250 grams, which sadly meat absolutely nothing to me because I have no concept of metrics. I was just hoping it wasn't prohibitively massive. But for HK$ 198 (about $25) I figured it would be substantial, and it was. I ate room temperature leftovers for breakfast the next day.

One thing I was curious about is where beef in Hong Kong might come from. Do they have farms in the region? It seemed like Australian beef was popular in the city. I only just now read that La Pampa's beef is imported from Argentina, which answers my question. I was going to say that the steak definitely didn't taste American, not corn fed, but also not nearly as tender and flavorful as what I had in Buenos Aires. The meat was a little tough and flat tasting, though not disappointingly so.

La pampa condiments

There were only a couple of quirks. One, the corn on the cob on the side. That felt strangely American not South American. And ketchup and two mustards as the default condiments brought with the steaks. We asked for chimichurri and were promptly brought a trio of vinegar-based sauces. Nice.

La Pampa * 32 Staunton St., Hong Kong

King Ludwig Beerhall

While I love Asian mall food, I also have a fascination with pockets of moderately upscale Western food. Clarke Quay in Singapore is overpriced and kind of obnoxious, plus I don't find sitting outdoors in 90 weather to be luxurious. Sure, I'll eat a bowl of laska in stifling humidity, but not a three-course meal with wine. They do have a Hooters, though.

Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon, however, kind of charmed me despite its veering toward tackiness. The collection of restaurants, including fare such as Spanish tapas, Russian I'm-not-sure-what, French bistro and Australian steak, is built onto a steep hill and painted in sunny pastels to evoke a Mediterranean plaza.

Knutsford terrace


We had to pay a visit, especially since it wasn't too far of a trudge from our hotel. Hong Kong is very walkable and the mild winter weather (you barely needed a light jacket) was energizing instead of the island's usual life-draining climate. It was hard to make up our minds where to stop and it's hard to focus when you're being constantly touted Sixth Street style. I was thinking tapas because I was curious about what cured meats and cheeses they would have, though I was also kind of wowed by Bahama Mama's and Que Pasa not so much for a potentially amazing meal but to see how Chinese might interpret Latin fare.

Then I remembered reading about a German beerhall and that was that. Even though we originally were looking for snacks not a full on meal, the siren song of the massive pork knuckle was too powerful ignore. But we couldn't find the restaurant anywhere. It turns out that King Ludwig is a chain affiliated with the same parent company, King Parrot, the Chinese B.R. Guest, as many of the Knutsford Terrace restaurants but wasn't on the premises. Even better, it was directly across the street from our hotel via an underground footpath. We hotfooted it back quickly as it was getting late for a Sunday.

King ludwig interior

The upstairs section was surprisingly full, and no, not with expats, but predominately Asian patrons, possibly tourists but definitely not horrible Westerners who can't bear to eat local food. These multi-culti restaurants are really geared towards Hong Kongers and I had no problem justifying bratwurst over lap cheong for a night. We were seated on the less populated main level near the long wooden tables, semi-open kitchen and stage, yes, stage. I had been surprised the entire vacation how Christmas decoration crazy they were in S.E. Asia, and King Ludwig's was no exception. I wouldn't have imagined anything less from a pseudo-German establishment.

And it wouldn't be Hong Kong without a live Filipino band (it's a known fact that they are the showmen of the continent). This group appeared to be made up of three sisters and a middle aged dude on a keyboard, for all I know he was their father. James was the only one in the entire restaurant who clapped after sassy renditions of Bette Davis Eyes, Daniel, and We Are Family.

King ludwig sausage

So, pork knuckle was a must. That would've been plenty for the two of us, combined with a pint of house brew. But James also ordered a spicy sausage that turned out to be an unusually long chile-flecked hot dog. I didn't sample any because frankfurters always give me a stomachache and I'd already suffered enough intestinal trauma that week.

King ludwig carving

You wouldn't think there was much affinity between German and Asian food but compared to Filipino lechon there is middle ground with the pork knuckle. I've also had a version in Hunan restaurants. And interestingly, we were sitting next to a Pinoy family who yep, had the meaty dish on their table. It was certainly large enough to feed a small group. And our santa hat-clad waitress even carved it tableside for us.

Our neighbors seemed surprised that we also ordered the pork knuckle and kept ogling us, which weirded out James because he's a grump and has childhood issues. When he was a kid Filipino relatives made a fuss over him liking rice, "oh, look he eats rice" like only Filipinos eat rice, when duh, the entire world enjoys the grain. This was similar to what appeared to be going on here, like only Filipinos eat pork knuckle and how could we know about it. Personally, I don't care who wants to claim what food. Like I said, issues.

(Speaking of the Philippines, at some point during this trip James mentioned possibly visiting Manila on business during 2009 because his company had acquired another in that city, and that maybe I could tag along and we'd schedule a side excursion to Thailand to make up for our disappointing vacation. When I brought this up later, he pretended like he hadn't said it so I am repeating it here so that it becomes public record. I've always wanted to go to the Philippines and just to be a pain he's vowed to never set foot in the country. We'll see.)

King ludwig pork knuckle

The pork was all I had hoped for, the right balance of crisp skin to fatty bits and juicy meat. Even the potatoes were winsome; I'm pretty sure because they were deep-fried. Why not Bavarian treats in the tropics?

King ludwig exterior

Strange solo alfresco table.

King Ludwig Beerhall * 32, KCR East TST Station, Hong Kong