Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Symphony of lights (and tastes)

Day 3 (Tue, 15 December 2015)

I've been insistent on having pigeon this trip but having googled restaurants that served pigeon, I came up blank. They were either too far away or they served roasted pigeon, which is not the type I like (deep fried).

In the end, we decided to go to Wah Fung at Wellington Street, Central, a restaurant I chanced upon in my last trip to HK, where I tasted some very satisfactory pigeon. Kenneth wasn't expecting much since this restaurant isn't on foodies' radar, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we had in HK. We had char siew (which Lesley-Anne declared was the best char siew she's had so far), suckling pig and deep fried pigeons.

Everything was extremely delicious. Even the milk tea was the best we've had, which shouldn't be a surprise I guess, since Wah Fung started out as a cha chaan teng. And even more astonishing, the prices were very reasonable. The generous portion of suckling pig and rice (which was so so unbelievably crisp and mouth-watering) was only HK$65 (about S$12) and it came with a free drink (this is a lunch special, I think). The five-star lunch came up to HK$365 (S$67) in total which was the best value for money meal we had in HK, considering we had two portions of suckling pig and four pigeons.

The restaurant also has a wonderful ambience - very inviting and clean. Not your typical hole-in-the-wall outlet. Highly recommended.

Like many tourists, we paid a visit to Ladies Market in Mong Kok to see what deals there were to be had. Unfortunately, this place has become pretty much a tourist trap. Chockful of gimmicky trinkets and imitation goods. The prices aren't exactly rock bottom either (you would do better at our pasar malams), so if you're looking for a bargain, this is probably not it.

That evening, we decided to catch the Symphony of Lights night show by the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. For convenience, we ate at the food court at Harbour City. Maybe we should have gone somewhere else. The food was nondescript and overpriced.

My favourite food item that evening was a cream puff we bought from one of the stalls. The pastry had a thin, crisp layer like you find in polo buns - very light and tasty, and the custard was smooth and sweet. Very yummy!

The Symphony of Lights with the very picturesque Hong Kong skyline.

Panoramic view

Immediately following the Symphony of Lights display was the Pulse 3D Light show on the opposite wall of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

The clock tower also changes colour according to music. Very pretty.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Goosey goosey gander

Day 2 (Mon, 14 December 2015)

This was a truly relaxing trip, aimed at recuperation. Most days, we woke up late and went for brunch. We would return to our apartment for a rest in the afternoon, before heading out again for early dinner. Hence, we had only two meals a day (with snacks in between) and the biggest advantage to this arrangement was that we avoided the breakfast, lunch and dinner peak periods.

This morning, we wanted to have dim sum, so we decided to go to Tim Ho Wan. We chose the Olympian City branch so we could also do a little shopping after. It turned out to be a great decision as there was no queue and no waiting time when we arrived just before 11am.

The food here is so much better than that at the Singapore branches, especially the char siew bun. Super light and flaky pastry with a juicy filling...yummm. Prices are much better too! For some reason, the Tim Ho Wan prices here are almost equivalent to those from the neighbourhood dim sum places and lower than typical mall restaurants.

After lunch, we did a spot of shopping at Uniqlo and H&M. Note: The Uniqlo prices in HK are at least 10% lower than those in Singapore, not sure why. We bought a fleece jacket for Andre at only HK$99 (about S$18!)

We were amused to discover that there's a Food Republic at the ground floor of Olympian City! Decided to stop for a cup of coffee.

In HK, milk tea is the practically the national drink and Andre had copious amounts of the iced version wherever we went. However, Kenneth and I still prefer our local kopi and teh by a mile. So we had a cuppa at Toast Box and Andre had his iced milo. I was startled by the prices - almost S$3 for one cup of kopi! But I realised that this was normal by local standards. Even in the hole-in-the-wall stalls (dingier conditions than our Singapore coffeeshops), most drinks, including tea and coffee, are at least HK$15 (about S$2.70). Makes our S$1.20 kopi at coffeeshops back home sound very cheap.

Back to the apartment for a rest and for dinner, we were very focused - it was time for goose! And where else but Yat Lok at Stanley Street. We took the MTR to Central and got detracted by the gorgeous Christmas installation at the Landmark.

But back to the goose! We arrived at Yat Lok at about 6pm and the place was PACKED. They squeezed us in a booth seat next to a couple of strangers. In HK, it's commonplace to share tables with strangers but this was so squashed we had no elbow room whatsoever. As Lesley-Anne put it, she had to eat like a praying mantis. Another reason to avoid peak periods.

We ordered half a goose and some char siew. We wanted to add an additional goose drumstick but were told it was all out.


I'm not too fond of HK's char siew - it doesn't come with sauce and it has a stronger taste, similar to lup cheong (Chinese sausage). But my kids love it. The goose, on the other hand, was heavenly. Greasy, tasty and roasted to perfection.

Prices have gone up significantly since Lesley-Anne and I were here a year and a half ago. Back then, a goose drumstick with rice was HK$74. It's now HK$88 and I expect prices will rise again very soon.

We'd left space in our tummies because just down the road is Honolulu Cafe, home of the best egg tarts around.

Just look at those golden, glistening beauties!

Our original intention was just to have tea and egg tarts but all resolve flew out of the window when we saw the extensive menu. Andre suddenly decided he was ready to have a second dinner. We ordered two pork chop buns (which he strangely declared as tasting "like a McChicken")...

...two pineapple buns (which has nothing to do with pineapples!) A pineapple bun (HK$11) is a soft bun with a sweet, flaky top crust, served with a slice of butter. Delicious melt-in-your-mouth texture.

"That doesn't look like a pineapple!"

And four egg tarts (HK$9 each) with milk tea and a watercress drink.

These were the three stages of egg tart tasting for Andre: 1) Disbelief

2) Confirmation

 3) Pure joy

Friday, December 18, 2015

Peking duck in Tsim Sha Tsui

Day 1 (Sun, 13 December 2015)

This year, we'd let Lesley-Anne decide what she wanted to do for our family holiday, as it would be her reward after a long, grueling year ('A' levels and everything). She said she wanted a leisurely holiday where there was nothing to do except eat and sleep.

It was quite a no-brainer then - Hong Kong it was! The plan was basically no plan - chill out at the accommodation and go out for food any time we wanted.

We knew the holiday was off to a great start when we turned up at the Cathay Pacific check-in counter and were told: the flight was very full, would we mind going on the flight an hour later? In return, they would fly us Business Class and they would also throw in four meal coupons for breakfast at Changi Airport. Heck, yes!

It was a very comfortable flight and for the first time, we undersood why some people might enjoy flying. Huge seats that recline and so much leg room that you don't feel claustrophobic. The four hours just flew by!

From Hong Kong International Airport, we took a cab to our accommodation in Tsim Sha Tsui. Just a note: if you are a family of four, it makes sense to take a cab to Kowloon rather than the Airport Express. It costs about the same, especially if you intend to take a cab from the Airport Express station to your hotel anyway.

More about our accommodation later but first, the food! Since this holiday was 80% about the food, it's going to be the predominant theme of the blog posts. We wanted to have Peking duck for dinner and reckoned this was one of those iconic dishes where everyone has an opinion as to where the best one is. We decided to try Tai Fung Lau, one of the old-school restaurants with a long-standing tradition of Peking duck. One of the reasons we chose this place is because it's near our accommodation (though it turned out not to be that near cos we got lost and ended up walking in a large circle!)

When we finally arrived at about 6pm, we were told the restaurant was fully booked. Wah! Fortunately, they agreed to seat us in a corner if we could finish our dinner by 7.30pm. No problem, we're survival eaters.

Old-school is the right phrase to describe the restaurant. The furniture is old, the waiters are old and even the patrons are old! It's like a throw-back to the 1970s banquet halls in Singapore. We ordered sweet and sour pork, a stir-fried veg and a whole Peking duck.

The food was delicious. In Hong Kong, Peking duck is wrapped with the meat as well. For this trip, be prepared to see lots of pics of Andre the Gourmand. Lesley-Anne, the photographer, said his joy of eating lights up the camera. A food muse of sorts. I think Andre polished off half the duck on his own!

Last year, when Lesley-Anne and I came to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival, we were severely handicapped by our lack of Cantonese. This time, we had Cantonese-speaking Kenneth with us, which was great. He struck up a conversation with a waiter and must have charmed him somehow because a complimentary serving of dessert appeared on our table.

Remember this? It used to be commonplace in Cantonese restaurants in Singapore - deep-fried egg white with a red bean filling. Excellent!

Back to the accommodation. Hong Kong hotel rooms tend to be small and rooms that sleep four are rare (or very expensive, in the higher end hotels). So instead of booking two hotel rooms, we decided to go with an apartment on airbnb. This one I found is located at the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, five minutes walk from the MTR station, sleeps four and costs about S$200 a night. It's small like most HK apartments but it's super convenient, very clean and has everything.

A kitchen with washing machine, microwave, kettle, cutlery, etc.

The kitchenette links to a sitting area with a large screen tv. The sofa can be used as an extra bed. More importantly, there's free and fast wifi in the apartment.

Modern bathroom with a very good heater.

Master bedroom with a double bed. Do note though that because the room is so small, the bed takes up almost the entire space so the person sleeping inside would have to climb over the other to reach the door!

A second bedroom with a large single for Andre.

And in a little nook off the living room is another single bed that was perfect for Lesley-Anne. Night light included!

All bedrooms are air-conditioned. The mattresses are firm and comfortable, so are the pillows. The not-so-good parts include the towels which are small and made of some sort of flannel that doesn't dry very well. There's traffic noise as the apartment is right by Granville Road but we slept well so that didn't really bother us. You also have to climb up a narrow flight of stairs to the lift lobby of the building, so it's not ideal if you have elderly with you.

But other than that, the apartment is luxurious by Hong Kong standards and definitely of a better quality than any hotel we could have booked at that price.