Our first night in Hong Kong, the concierge suggests that we go to the 12th floor of Times Square. He says we'll find good food up there. He'd previously told us that we had to be put in a different room because we were too big for the original room, so I figured he understood the importance of food in our lives. And I also suspected that he would fear me crushing him like a bug if he steered me wrong.
I confess that my barometer was set to sceptical when we found the 12th floor of Times Square (which isn't that straightforward, despite the signs and a carefully drawn map) and the first thing we saw was Tony Roma's Chicago-style Ribs. The second thing we saw was a pizza & pasta place. I can't swear to it but I think there were red-checked tablecloths.
Fortunately, before we gave up in disgust and despair, we saw Water Margin, promising food from the provinces of Northern China. The board-covered menu at the door was promising: there was nothing on it that sounded familiar. The wooden rafters, paper lanterns and fabric drapings were attractive. There was a nice woman at the entrance who smiled at us. After many hours on a plane with flight attendants who ranged from the dismissive to the surly, it was nice to be smiled at.
They were pretty busy, so we sat at the front to wait for a table. I had a lemongrass and ginger mojito. As I had started a sore throat on the flight, the strong ginger kick was very soothing.
By the time we were shown to our table, we'd made some decisions. We were definitely going to eat pigeon, for example. The waiter was very careful to point out that our appetisers were cold, but we figured what the heck.
First thing out was a dish of smoked pigs cheeks. Which frankly looked like more like dried apples than charcuterie. Had a similar texture to dried apples too, and a strongly smoky, subtly porky flavour. Can't say I would rush to have that one again, but it was interesting.
Next up was pigeon bathed in a Chinese moutai wine (distilled from sorghum). This was delicious - tender cold meat, succulent and delicately flavoured. A bit of a fiddle to eat around the bones, but well worth it.
The first main course we ordered was a dish of steamed pumpkin in crab roe and salted egg sauce. Now, I know this looks disgusting. It gives a clear impression of regurgitation. But the flavour was just amazing. Delicate, perfectly tender, sweet slices of pumpkin were covered in a thick, creamy, slightly gelatinous, faintly fishy, salty sauce. If my life depended on it I wouldn't have been able to identify crab roe or egg, but the overall impression was just delectable.
The last dish we ordered was crispy beef brisket in a sea of szechwan peppers. What arrived was nothing like I imagined (I was thinking sort of crispy shreds of meat in a szechwan pepper crust or something) but so superior!
I think the brisket must have been cooked slowly, then tossed in cornflour and deepfried until crisp and then strewn through a deep dish of chillies (the superfinefeline got a much better picture of the chillies when she blogged about Water Margin in 07). We had to dig through the chillies to get to the pieces of meat. We wondered how many times each dish of chillies gets reused - they surely couldn't throw them out after one appearance on a plate?
So. If you are in Hong Kong and sick of the Western interpretations of Cantonese food, do see if you can find the 12th floor of Times Square. It really is worth trying something new sometimes!