Sherman's Food Adventures: July 2017

Garden Cafe (City Garden Hotel)

For the love of...  Another buffet???  My original plans did not call for any buffets, let alone 3 of them.  However, I am not adverse to visiting the occasional one as it does provided plenty of choice and can be fun for the kiddies.  However, this is mainly based on Vancouver buffets, which can only be described as terrible.  For a serviceable buffet, we normally have to travel South into Seattle.  But in Hong Kong, they seem to take buffets much more seriously as evidenced with my visit to Playt in the Park Lane Hotel.  For this buffet adventure, we didn't have to look far as we just went downstairs to the Garden Cafe in the City Garden Hotel.

I must admit, the spread was pretty impressive including an array of Seafood including crab, mussels, snow crab legs and conch.  Nothing particularly amiss here other than the fact that the seafood needed some condiments as they were not inherently seasoned.  Now the seafood didn't end there as we were treated to intermittent limited time offerings such as the seafood steamer tower where all the juices trickled down to the bottom section filled with congee.  The Scallops on the half-shelf, shrimp and clams were all topped with minced garlic, which also made it into the congee.  As a result, the broth was sweet, briny and garlicky without the need for excess salt.

There was also a limited time offering of large Scallops baked in the half-shelf with a truffle cream sauce and cheese.  These were buttery and tender while completely woodsy thanks to the ample black truffle.  Not completely sure if so much was necessary, but I liked how they didn't skimp.  The sauce was a bit starchy, but the good amount of melted cheese on top added body and texture.  Also on the same plate was seafood from the grill-to-order section including Prawns, Scallops and Fish.  I waited for the seafood to be prepared, so when I got my selection, it was cooked just right.

Similar to Playt, there was a selection of Sashimi and Sushi.  For the sashimi, there was a choice of tako, salmon, hotate, tuna and tai.  I went for the hotate, salmon and tai as well as a few pieces of maki sushi and one nigiri.  Catching me by surprise, the tai was the most appealing as it was buttery and tender with a bite (normally, crappy tai can be chewy and sinewy).  The hotate was buttery and sweet while the salmon was decent.  I found the sushi rice to be a bit dry, but not terrible.  Onto red meat, I tried the Leg of Lamb and Prime Rib.  Both were tender and well-prepared accompanied by a silky and flavourful jus. I picked up a piece of grilled Shortrib as well and it was on point too.

There was also a selection of cooked dishes where I sampled a few including Stewed Pork Knuckle, Ox-Tail, Chinese Pork Rib and Curry Chicken.  I thought the pork knuckle was fine being tender, gelatinous and well-seasoned while the ox-tail was also quite flavourful from the braising liquid.  It could've been slightly more tender, but it was still fine.  Although the pork rib was nicely charred and sufficiently tender, the sauce was too sweet for me.  I found the curry chicken to be tender, but pretty mild.  Right to the corner of the hot food were bowls of Old Flame Soup consisting of conch, dried scallop, pork, chicken, longnan and dates.  This was super sweet and flavourful.

Onto Desserts, there was an impressive selection which included many different flavours of Macarons. These were actually quite good with a crispy exterior.  Inside, it was a bit dense for my liking.  Taste-wise, I found them not too sweet.  As evidenced in the picture, there was something for everyone including hard ice cream, cakes, and little treats for the kiddies.  All-in-all, the buffet at City Garden was pretty extensive with many seafood options.  Quality seemed to be fairly good and things were generally refilled quickly.  Service was pretty solid as well.  Compared to Playt, I would say they are pretty similar except for a few dishes here and there.

The Good:
- Plenty of seafood prepared in different ways
- Quality was good for a buffet
- Fairly attentive service

The Bad:
- If you were snoozing, the limited time seafood offerings were gone quickly

Paradise Dynasty

Before I headed off to Hong Kong, I had a list of places I wanted to visit while I was there.  However, not all of the spots aligned with our schedule and besides, some restaurants were chosen for us by the relatives we were meeting up with.  Moreover, the "best" places sometimes are overrated and possibly far too busy for us to even attempt to eat at.  So when Sharon posted an IG story about the multi-flavoured XLBs at Paradise Dynasty located in Causeway Bay, I added it to my list.  It turns out, we were able to make it out there for lunch.

Of course, we had to order their signature item being the Specialty Dynasty Xiao Long Bao consisting of all 8 flavours including Original, Garlic, Ginseng, Foie Gras, Szechuan, Cheese, Crab Roe and Black Truffle.  These were beautiful to look at and in fact, pretty delicious in general because the taste was impactful and representative.  My favourite was the original featuring DTF-esque thin dumpling wrapper encasing plenty of sweet and meaty soup.  The meat was a touch gritty and loose though.  I thought the ginseng was pretty herbal and strong while the stringy cheese was subtle but we could taste it.  The foie was fatty and strong in flavour while the Szechuan was noticeably spicy.  Sporting actual black truffle, that XLB was super woodsy.  Lastly, the crab roe was sweet, but not overly so.

We also had other dishes including the Chilled Jellyfish atop cucumber with a soy sauce vinaigrette.  Viv and I really enjoyed the texture of the jellyfish as it was buttery but impactfully crunchy.  It was a bit bland on its own, but the strong acidity in the vinaigrette created a lasting impression.  Underneath, the large chunks on cucumber was refreshing with a nice crunch.  In addition to the XLBs, we tried the Pan-Fried Shanghai Pork Buns which were seared up appealingly brown underneath.  The bun itself was a bit dense and thick, but it wasn't a deal breaker.  Soft and moist with a light buttery bounce, the meat filling was adequately seasoned and not inundated with green onions.

When the kiddies spotted the Wok-Fried Rice Cake with Pork & Vegetable Shanghai Style, their eyes lit up.  Fine, it is their favourite, so I got it despite it being a carb-heavy dish.  I thought the wok heat was good as there was caramelization in terms of colour and flavour.  The liberal use of dark soy helped the cause too.  However, the rice cake itself was a bit too soft for our liking.  Our last dish was the La Mian with Braised Pork Pork Belly in Signature Pork Bone Soup.  If there was a Chinese version of Japanese Ramen (ironic since the reverse is actually true), this would be it.  The soup base was silky, porky and rich.  A touch on the softer side, the noodles were slippery and had soaked up the flavour of the broth.  We found the meaty and only lightly fatty pork belly to have penetrated sweet soy flavours while being tender.  For the dishes we tried, it was pretty obvious to us it was all about the XLBs.  So much so, we ordered 3 steamers.

The Good:
- Solid XLBs
- Decent service
- Spacious seating

The Bad:
- Other dishes are average
- Pricey 

Wang Jia Sha (City Plaza)

With another day of visiting family, we were not in control of our own destiny - where we were going to eat for dinner.  Yah, it's not like we can just force our relatives to eat where we want to eat!  So we ended up at Wang Jia Sha in the City Plaza Mall in Tai Koo Sing.  For those familiar with the mall, it has a ice skating rink in the middle.  Just watching people skating there made me really want to lace them up myself!  Nah, they were actually quite good and I guess I shouldn't have assumed no one could skate in HK!

Onto the dinner, we had a feast which included Braised Slices of Beef Shank.  This was pretty typical with thin slices of fairly tender beef that was a touch dry in spots.  The flavours were balanced though not being too salty nor sweet with the background hit of five-spice.  We also had the Wine-Marinated Chicken that was mostly dry and chewy.  Even though this was free-range chicken, it shouldn't have been this way.  The skin was nicely gelatinized though and the wine had penetrated the meat.  With that being said, it wasn't really that strong either.

Next up was the Mung Bean Noodles with chicken, cucumber and sesame dressing.  This was a pleasing dish where the noodles were buttery soft with a slight rebound.  There was more than enough tender chicken and cucumbers to go around.  However, the amount of sesame dressing (even thought it seemed like a lot) was insufficient to provide an impact.  It was nutty and slightly sweet.   Although being a simple dish, I really enjoyed the Century Egg with tofu and pork fluff.  The soft and silky tofu was topped with enough nutty century egg and pork fluff so that it was tasty.  The sauce wasn't too salty either.

Looking quite simple, the Stir Fried Shrimp was a pleasing dish.  It featured small shrimp (weird saying that) that were buttery with a cold-water snap and just cooked through.   The light glaze was sweet and only a touch salty.  I liked how there wasn't much moisture on the plate which meant the wok heat was enough.  For the second time this trip, we had Xiao Long Bao, but this time with crab.  It was super apparent when we bit into it as the soup was briny, seafoody and sweetThe filling was fairly moist and tender while the dumpling skin was thin except for the top twirl.

We didn't end there with the dumplings as we got the Potstickers that featured a crunchy and well-browned bottom.  The dumpling skin was medium-to-thick thickness and was soft with an appealing chewiness.  Inside, the filling was tender, held together well and did not feature any fillers like too much veg.  Now the next dish was all veg in the Sauteed Spinach in consomme with fried garlic.  As expected, the flavours were more subtle here where the garlic was necessary to add some punch.  Even though it was sitting in broth, the spinach wasn't mushy while the flavours did penetrate.

Bathed in a good amount of sweet sauce, the Stir-Fried Eel with flowering chives was a study in textures.  The gelatinous skin of the eel made things buttery and soft.  There was plenty of it as they didn't skimp.  The plethora of just cooked flowering chives added both a crunch and a certain brightness to the otherwise heavy dish.  On the lighter side, we had the Vermicelli with Napa Cabbage Hot Pot with pork belly, squid meatballs, dumplings and mushroom.  However, it was completely over-seasoned being pretty salty.  On the other hand, the amount of ingredients did dissipate the saltiness.

Aromatic from the stir-fry of oil, peppers and snow cabbage, the Fried Chicken was pretty flavourful.  On its own, it wouldn't have been that impactful if it weren't for the flavoured oil on top.  Despite the dark meat being tender and buttery, the white meat was dry and slightly chewy.  The richly hued skin was nicely rendered where it was a touch crispy and edible without being heavy.  I thought the Smoked Duck with bao was pretty decent featuring a light smoke and just enough salt.  The meat was a tad dry and chewy though while the skin was mostly rendered.  It went well with the fluffy bao on the side. 

We ended things off with a Fried Rice with gai lan stalks.  It was chewy, nutty and not overly greasy.  The ample amount of veg helped add a nice crunch.  However, there was far too much salt as each spoonful required some tea to water it down.  For dessert, we had the Deep Fried Red Bean Pastry.  Featuring what was essentially spring roll wrapper as the outside, the whole thing was pretty crispy, albeit oily.  Inside, the red bean paste was predictably sweet.  It was pretty much standard for this type of dessert.  In fact, I found the food pretty typical for a chain restaurant.  It is definitely serviceable but not super memorable.  But if you want a convenient location and predictable food, Wong Jia Sha fits the bill.

The Good:
- Overall serviceable food
- Fairly good service
- Convenient location

The Bad:
- A bit hit and miss
- Salty 

Lei Garden

Although there is more Dim Sum to come during my stay in Hong Kong, our first one (remember, the previous one was in Macao) would be at the Michelin-Star rated Lei Garden.  To me, it seems like they throw that designation around like free newspapers in Hong Kong (ie. Tim Ho Wan).  However, I went in with reasonable expectations despite this.  The reason we were here was because this was to be a family (my HK relatives) Dim Sum meal which was close to everyone.

Right off the bat, we started with some fried items including the Fried Glutinous Dumplings and the Wu Gock (Deep Fried Taro Dumplings).  The glutinous dumplings were small and lightly crunchy.  This was due to the thin layer of glutinous rice.  It was not greasy, which is no minor feat for this dish.  The filling was full of tender pork, but there was too much onion.  As for the wu gock, they were crispy, yet the layer of taro was rather mealy.  It was also not greasy.  Inside, the lean pork filling was nicely sauced and was mild tasting.

For the kiddies, they really enjoyed the BBQ Pork Buns as they featured a very thin layer of bun.  It was on the chewier side though, yet held up well to the ample amount of lean and tender pork.  The rich hue of the glaze was appealing and also was very flavourful with a depth of sweetness balanced by an equal amount of savouriness.  The Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice) was a little dry, but the 50/50 ratio of rice and filling balanced things out.  The tender ground pork as well as a nice chunk of salted egg yolk meant there was some nice flavours going on.

Onto some standard Dim Sum dishes, we had the Beef Meatballs and Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  We found the beef meatballs to be on point with a bouncy rebound texture.  The meat was processed until smooth, so there were no chewy portions.  They were seasoned properly where they could be eaten without the Worcestershire sauce (but we still used it).  Also, there was just enough greens so it was balanced.  The chicken feet were buttery on the outside, but a bit firm underneath the skin.  It was full-flavoured and garlicky albeit a bit salty. 

Looking like it may need a bit more sear (although it was still seared enough), the Lo Bak Goh (Daikon Pudding Cake) was tender and fluffy.  There was a wealth of natural daikon flavour as well as being well-seasoned.  In addition to needing more sear, I would've liked more cured sausage to vary the flavour and texture.  Coated with a thin and light batter, the Fried Squid was pretty good.  Each piece was lightly crispy and easy on the grease.  Furthermore, there was plenty of saltiness for impactful flavour.  The squid itself was tender while retaining an appealing chewiness.

Continuing with fried, we got multiple orders of the Spring Rolls because we had a multitude of kiddies as the table.  These were no ordinary spring rolls because underneath the crispy outer wrapper, there was another layer of crunchy noodles.  The filling was also an interesting combination of crunchy celery and bouncy well-seasoned shrimp.  That same shrimp could be found in the excellent Ha Gau.  These featured a thin chewy elastic skin.  Inside, the shrimp was  the desired texture where there was a buttery snap.  The seasoning was just right being balanced with a hint of sesame oil.

Onto some Rice Noodle Rolls, we had both the vegetarian version as well as the BBQ pork.  Guess which one I enjoyed more?  Since I'm a meatatarian, the lean slices of pork were up my alley.  Moreover, the rice noodle itself was thin and beautifully textured.  It was soft while retaining a chewy elasticity.  Interestingly, the vegetarian one was much softer.  Again, for the kiddies, we ordered something that was somewhat of a risk being the Xiao Long Bao.  Okay, these were pretty decent for a Cantonese Dim Sum service.  The skin was a touch thick, but actually quite good while the filling was moist and flavourful.  There was some soup to be found too.

As a filler, we got the Ho Yip Fan (Fried Rice in lotus leaf).  This was very good featuring tender rice that was not soft (still nicely chewy and aromatic).  The flavour of the lotus leaf had impacted the rice in a good way as well as the brininess from the dried scallops.  Loved how it wasn't too salty either.  For dessert, we had the Custard Buns sporting a silky salted egg yolk centre.  It was sweet and runny and encased in minimal bun.  Overall, we enjoyed the dim sum at Lei Garden, it was high quality and carefully prepared.  However, the service wasn't up to par though as it was not very attentive.

The Good:
- High quality dim sum
- Seating is not too tight 

The Bad:
- Service is not up to par
- A bit pricey

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