We’re at the Pearl Harbourfront Chinese Restaurant
More than two dozen, big, round tables fill the room. Our table seats 10 and is behind a wide, cumbersome column that obstructs our view of the stage. We can’t see or be dazzled by the tourism board’s newest video-ad playing behind it and we don’t know who’s speaking into the microphones. But we know there will be food.
A waiter flashes the first plate before us, letting it hover in the middle of the table. As soon as we set our hungry eyes on the contents, he pulls it away – like a tease. Each platter of our seven-course meal is presented like this then whisked off to a side table where it’s divvied into 10 small plates.
The first course, an appetizer, is mystery fare. Okay, we recognize the little cubes of braised beef, we know we’ve got a deep-fried, battered shrimp (that is oddly straight, not curled) but we don’t know if the sushi-like morsel beside it is vegetarian or not. Is it wrapped in bean curd skin? What’s that smoky, delectable interior? Good food deserves a proper introduction. Without one, this sushi-like offering has been dissed.
Okay, there’s a small menu card on the table, but it’s vacuous and vague with poetic renderings like “double clouds reaching for eternity” or some such.
More meat arrives: beef tenderloin with a honey-sweetened exterior sprinkled with sesame seeds. Sweetness echoes in the rich lobster morsels that arrive still in the shell, their pieces glistening in a cornstarch-sheen. Strands of ginger and green onion drape throughout, the astringency biting through any risk of cloying.
Curled white filets of fish have tumbled out of woks with emerald bundles of bok choy. Ceramic bowls that look like pencil holders are filled with a clear, rich broth, their gems sunk to the bottom: sea cucumber, mushroom, and little chunks of chicken. My favourite is thick slices of meaty prince mushrooms on snow pea shoots. Earthiness meets earthiness. It’s a fabulous feast finished with a simple bowl of fried rice, each grain emits a tiny crunch in the mouth.
My friend Cynthia says she’d like to lick the bowl.
Celebrating Chinese New Year, guests of the Hong Kong Tourism Board