Mandarin Oriental Hotel
5, Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong, China
Tel: (852) 2825 4003
Food type: Cantonese
Nearest tube: Central
Website: Man Wah
By the time we had made our way from the airport to the hotel and checked into our room it was already 2:30pm. This is when most restaurants in Hong Kong would stop accepting customers and diners would be prompted that the kitchens would be taking last orders. We were however, rather hungry given that the last meal that we ate was at the airline lounge at 0800 and we had declined any food on board. After check-in formalities were done, I cheekily asked if Man Wah restaurant was still open for lunch. The hotel agent made a quick phone call from our room and cheerfully confirmed that the restaurant would gladly keep the kitchen open for us but we had to make our way up immediately.
We have both dined at Man Wah on our last visit to Hong Kong when we visited for dinner. This time around, we were very keen to try their dim sum menu which we have heard plenty of good things about. It was also hairy crab season and after taking the advice of our server, we added a couple of dishes featuring this seasonal speciality. Our only specific request that we did not have to fiddle and pick any crabs.
The true test of a kitchen’s dim sum skills is in their execution of the two dim sum staples – har gau and siu mai. In general, I avoid eating dim sum in England, even at the high end restaurants because I find that they can’t seem to get the texture right. I think this is not because of a lack of expertise but rather that the dim sum is modified to suit the Western palate. Having grown up eating Chinese food for the best part of my life, it was only when I was watching a documentary starring Fuchsia Dunlop did it dawn on me that Western people have a lot of difficulty with food which has are slippery smooth (e.g. silken tofu) or chewy (e.g. abalone). You can tell by the pictures that they have got their har gau absolutely bang on with a crystal clear, silky smooth wrapping so thin you can see the filling. The siu mai meanwhile has the classic muffin-top bulge with the wrapping having a nice chewiness to it. This is a world apart compared to the abysmal versions served in London. For comparisons sakes, the picture on the right shows the har gau served at Michelin starred Hakkasan in London and you can see how thick the wrapping is.
If there is a signature dim sum you MUST try, it has to be their beef tenderloin puff. Just take a look at the crazy detail with the pastry work. We were told by our server that we should use a spoon to aid us in eating this dim sum because the pastry is very delicate. Indeed, this little morsel had glass-like pastry which simply melted in the mouth and the filling of black peppered beef was meaty and satisfying.
We of course tried some excellent hairy crab dishes, none more awesome than this simple dish of braised Shanghainese cabbage with hairy crab. Served in a clay pot, a few leaves of slow braised cabbage is topped with plenty of hairy crab meat and sauce made from the hairy crab roe. The simplicity of this dish allowed the crab to be the hero. The sauce was just immense – rich, umami-loaded and comforting.
A visit to Man Wah would not be complete without sampling some of their signature egg tarts. Dubbed by some as the best egg tarts in the world, it certainly did not fail to live up to expectations. There is a matter of a 20 minute wait as the egg tarts are cooked to order. What arrives are piping hot tarts with an egg custard filling which has barely set.
And of course any meal must finish with our obligatory sampling of mango pudding. A bowl of mango milk jelly has the perfect texture but they have also cleverly accompanied it with a bowl of mango coulis which is any mango lovers dream.
Our lunch at Man Wah was even better than our last visit. The execution of the dim sums were faultless but for me the most memorable dish was the simplicity of the braised cabbage with hairy crab which was immensely delicious.
I think it is worth a special mention the wonderful service we received – even though we were literally the last customers through the door when the restaurant was about to close, we were made to feel very welcome. I’m sure the staff were all desperate to have their break but at no point were we rushed and we were allowed to relax and enjoy our meal at our own pace. I wish the same could be said of the service at Amber (at neighbouring Landmark Mandarin Oriental) which I will cover at a later date. For me, it was the amazing service which elevated what was a very good meal to an unforgettable experience. Man Wah has long held the reputation as being one of the best restaurants in Hong Kong and from this visit I can see why.