The Blog

This Week I Ate... Hong Kong and Hix at the Crown

We waved to a waiter who came and removed the garbage and wiped the table clean - they didn't mop the floor - and then we pondered how best to get something to eat. We soon figured out that you need to help yourselves from the trolleys that come from the kitchen, and you need to get to the trolley soon before the hoards take the first pickings.

Fresh off the plane in Hong and we headed up the hill from the Mandarin Oriental on Connaught Road - the traffic in gridlock, thanks to hundreds of students still occupying the central roads - to Wellington Street. 'If you only try one dim sum place during you Hong Kong stay, make sure it's the Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street,' goes the mantra.

So we sidestepped the cars and trams, nipped up the steep alleyways before reaching the calmer Wellington Street, where down on the left rests this ancient parlour. You mount the stairs and enter a large and steaming room. The place is crowded with round tables, noise and the sight of trolleys emerging from the kitchen which are then besieged by eager diners.

Finally here was a place where for once in my life I actually wanted someone to come up to me and explain the concept. I mean they don't even seat you. We quickly figured out that when you spy a place you grab it. There were two empty chairs on one round table, so we squeezed past families, solo diners and others and took our seats. Our part of the table wasn't yet cleared, we sat and grimaced at the detritus of empty plates, dirty paper napkins, discarded bamboo steamers. I felt my trainers squelching on the floor and looked down to see sticky liquid beneath my seat.

We waved to a waiter who came and removed the garbage and wiped the table clean - they didn't mop the floor - and then we pondered how best to get something to eat. We soon figured out that you need to help yourselves from the trolleys that come from the kitchen, and you need to get to the trolley soon before the hoards take the first pickings.

We both left the table positioning ourselves at different points of the room, a pincer movement seeming an effective strategy at food garnering. From one trolley I took a plate of fat, white puffy balls, my fellow foot soldier grabbed two bamboo steamers, then we met back at the table.

Armed with chopsticks we attacked the fat white fluffy numbers. I prised and tore through the rubbery dough, I tasted a stretch of it, which aside from a hint of sweetness, was bland, and here within I spotted the treasure, a small dry sausage.

We had found our sausages at the same time - me and my lunching chum - and we looked up and grimaced. Then we glanced around at our fellow diners - up to this point all dining in silence - all staring at these two foreigners and then they all started laughing.

Encouraged by the fact that we were at least providing some lunch-break entertainment we tackled another plate of white fluffy balls. Inside these ones wwas some very sweet and cloying brown sticky stuff. This discovery created more mirth among our new friends. Crazy British types, going straight for pudding! We avoided eating this too and instead opted for the steamers. Inside sat some small, chubby and glistening dumplings. I plucked one out, dabbed it in soy sauced and ateit. It tasted of nothing but soy. Was it pork, chicken, fish? Who knew?

So far, not so good. We took a look at one another and decided to bail. Each time you take a dish from the trolleys, the person shunting it about gives you a docket. You then take this to the 'til by the door, pay and leave. So we upped, paid and left, seeking another place for a rather less authentic experience.

Further up the same street we found a more modern dim sum establishment. Over-lit, clean and non-descript we ate good fried rice, nice dumplings and other bits and pieces agreeing that the food at Royal China in Bayswater was considerably better. There was much better dim sum to be had at the restaurant in Western Market. Up the escalator and onto the first floor of this mid 19th century building and where once there was a wet fish market there are round tables laden with lazy susans filled with all sorts of goodies. The food here is excellent, I sucked and spat the bones of chicken feet (warming, nicely gelatinous) ate gloriously soft pork buns, rice with shrimps and dumplings. This was a world away from the smelly, dirty tea house on Wellington Street. But it still doesn't rival Royal China.

So these days in Honkers you look to international chefs to excite the palate. So there's now Jason Atherton's Aberdeen Social, for example. This beautifully designed - dark wood, iron-clad windows, faux industrial low hanging light - contributes a wonderfully moody atmosphere. The menu is classic Atherton: pine smoked quail, brunch, tea and toast for example. Which particular dish came in several parts and it wasn't explained until after dinner that the toast went with the quail. We thought it was a random canapé. But the quail was perfect, and the tea went well (sort of, in between sips of white wine).

There was a heritage and heirloom tomato salad with burrata, which seemed odd eating in Hong Kong - but not as odd when I ate a similar thing in Dubai. A risotto of cepes arrived that was so so creamy and buttery it almost made me feel cross... damn those chefs how they cheat. A dish of duck breast with honey spiced beetroot, pickled pear and other stuff was actually too sweet for me...and rather an overload after the gallons of butter in the risotto. But the lamb rump was a thing of total beauty; deeply, lushly tender, tasty and satisfying.

Then came some puddings: Jaal 75%, was a chocolate and banana dessert with 'madras curry' which actually worked very well, it wasn't a bowl of hot madras, more a hint of spice.

This place heaved and will do well. The service, bar one man whose utterances were simply unintelligible and his presence irritating, was excellent. It simply is a lovely room to be in and the chefs turn out the Atherton menu as if Jason was there all the time.

Then there was a drive into Mainland China - where I dropped into a hypermarket in Guangdong. My, how they do things differently out there... vast vats of rice, freezers full of chicken feet, tropical fish for pets sold next to water tanks filled with live fish and tanks without water but with turtles (real turtle soup anyone?)

I then flew back to the UK and immediately hosted Mark Hix in the kitchen at our local pub, The Crown Inn in Weston, Northamptonshire.

What a tonic... he served red legged partridge on Yorkshire toast (a solid piece of bread sauce - wonderful) and then silver mullet cooked in 3Cs Cider. The pub's regulars cheered and lapped up his original take on British food, with always a random foraged herb thrown in and there. Then, to check we were awake, he served buckthorn berry buttermilk pudding.

How could one describe this? Controversial for sure. I turned to one yummy mummy who was tasting it. 'Smells like cock and tastes like cheese,' she said grinning and then wiping her chin. The Chinese would have loved it.