We make our way down a narrow staircase, over the original tiled floors, and back out to the streets of Yau Ma Tei. In case you’re wondering, we’re not finishing everything we order—the experience is more about tasting. This is certainly the case at our next stop, Shia Wong Hip, which specializes in snake soup, a dish particularly popular in the winter. An old press clipping hung proudly on the wall describes what the restaurant used to serve, including fox, cat, dog, owl, and monkey. Thankfully, those days are well behind us. As for the snake soup, it’s strangely tasteless, but the brisk business around us testifies to its enduring popularity, especially among an older clientele.
Soon we’re back in the limo for the short drive to Sham Shui Po, a working-class neighborhood where our final three culinary pitstops await. First up is Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong, an old-school tofu shop that looks straight from a film set, complete with a century-old stone soybean grinder. The wobbly tofu fa pudding is a delicate delight—all subtle sweetness and cream—while fried tofu is enlivened by a smear of shrimp paste. Then comes Lau Sum Kee, famous for its noodles with shrimp roe. Cantopop stars and local celebrities look down at us from photos on the walls as we dig in to the signature dish, which is rich and deep and indisputably fishy, but not overpoweringly so. Finally we head to Tim Ho Wan, known as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant—dim sum for two will set you back no more than US$15. Chef Tak can take some of the credit for the place’s extraordinary success, as its owner, Mak Kwai Pui, formerly worked under him at Lung King Heen.
After a few hours’ rest and digestion, we’re ready for dinner—a special menu devised personally by Chef Tak. The dining room at Lung King Heen is a calming space, all warm tones and gentle music, with spacious banquette seating for couples as well as more traditional round tables for families and groups. Like its two-starred neighbor Caprice, the restaurant boasts stunning views over the harbor, where the neon rises as the sun goes down.
As the champagne cart glides effortlessly toward us, I spy a Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut 2005, an extraordinary cuvée de prestige made famous as James Bond’s bubbly of choice. Like 007, it’s smooth yet occasionally effervescent, always polished and oozing class.
The amuse-bouche is the ultimate chef’s calling card, a signifier and tease as to what lies
ahead. Chef Tak’s is a simple shrimp wonton. But there are wontons, and then there are three-Michelin-star wontons. The gossamer-thin skin of my dumpling is almost translucent, enveloping the plumpest and sweetest shrimp you could ever hope to find. Humble, but brilliant. The marker is laid down.
Next comes a trinity of flawless siu mei roast meats: goose, suckling pig, and char siu pork. White porcelain sauce bowls contain the usual suspects, including chili soy, shrimp paste, plum, garlic, and a dangerously good vegetarian XO. But in this course they’re pretty superfluous as the meats shine brightly on their own.
The room is now buzzing, its tables packed even on a Monday evening. Chef Tak’s next dish helps explain why: an amazing superior pottage with chicken, brimming with collagen to deliver a breathtaking wave of umami. Crab is then served dressed in the shell, creamy but cut through with Worcestershire sauce, the whole glorious carapace topped with breadcrumb. No sous vide or liquid nitrogen in sight, just the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine—with an Alto Adige Gewürtztraminer as the perfect companion. The course that follows is garoupa, arguably Hong Kong’s favorite fish. Here it is steamed simply with ginger and spring onion before being served in a bamboo steamer. The results are delicate and fragrant, lifted by the unusual but effective pairing of 10-year-old Shaoxing rice wine.
Dinner crescendos with straight-edged cubes of Australian wagyu, Technicolor capsicum, seared asparagus, and beautifully cut morels hurried from searing wok to bowl. It’s yet another dish that is not deconstructed or innovative, just perfectly executed, and well matched with a stunning Brunello di Montalcino Tre Vigne 2009 from southern Tuscany that reminds us that pure Sangiovese can do no wrong.
Chinese desserts are not traditionally sought-after, but chef Tak breaks the mold here too. Chilled mango and sago cream with pomelo is ideal as a sweet counterpoint to the rich and decadent courses that preceded it, even if the creative petits fours that follow are not so beneficial for my waistline.
The day ends as it began, with chef Tak joining us for a chat. This time he asks us about our Kowloon adventure and the evening’s dinner. We thank him for both and, humility personified, he says that his formula is simple: “Without good leadership, good teamwork, and good communication, you will never have a truly strong kitchen.” And here in Hong Kong, that may well be the ultimate recipe for success.
For more information about the Four Seasons Hong Kong’s In the Footsteps of a Dragon, call 852/3196-8888 or visit their website. Tours are limited to a maximum of four guests and cost HK$11,800 (US$1,522) for two people.
This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Dim Sum, and Then Some”)