It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
As we stepped into the restaurant, the somewhat gloomy interior and dark furnishing reminded me strongly (for some strange reasons) of a karaoke lounge. Granted, Shanghai Lo is probably very new, and the deco – contemporary Chinese with hard straight lines exuded a vibe of privacy and seclusion. The cubicle tables comfortably seats four though most were used by couples, and I saw some very promising private rooms perfect for a small group gatherings. It was buzzy without being too noisy.
But I wasn’t there to comment on its interior. The tasting menu ($368 per pax) looked very pretty good, so we went for those.
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The other half was craving for xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings) one night, and I vaguely recall a Shanghainese restaurant in the valley that I never dared to venture into. In fact, there are quite a couple of places in Happy Valley that I always shy away from because… because their menus are in Chinese. Or so I thought.
Well, the menu at Shanghai Lane was bilingual. Who would have thought! This brightly lit restaurant was abuzz with milling waiters and hungry patrons, though it wasn’t packed and we were seated at possible the prime spot – a table for four right by the window. The service was super efficient when our first order arrived at the table less than five minutes after we ordered, so I suspected mediocre food. But boy was I in for a surprise!
We ordered a portion of the dan dan noodles in chilli sauce to be shared. I loved the peanut-y taste in the broth of dan dan noodles, and the version at Shanghai Lane didn’t disappoint. We slurped up every last strand of noodles in an attempt to get all the delicious, slightly spicy broth. In retrospect we should have just ordered two portions of that.
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I have been living in Hong Kong for almost three years now, and the term “private kitchen” still puzzles me. Is this the name given to residential flats converted to quasi-restaurants serving a select table of discerning diners? Or a place with too few tables that, with their popularity, their waiting lists are at least weeks-long? Or, or… are private kitchens just that – a kitchen in a house, a private residential address, a handful of regular customers?
Maybe my more experienced foodies will be able able to shed light into this, but for now, let me share with you a gem of a find I had in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong.
And I do mean in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong. To reach Fa Zu Jie (法租界) was also part and parcel of its mystic and experience. Snaking your way round unassuming stalls, down suspicious looking alleyways, climbing the most unlikely looking staircases, even your iPhone GPS and printed maps may be of little use.
So, what do you do? Follow your nose. When you are confronted with a nondescript door with the unmistakable smell of delicious cooking and faint clinking of champagne glasses, you do what your gut tells you.
Stepping into Fa Zu Jie is like attending a party where you know nobody yet you feel right at home. The immaculate space, with its glassroofed backyard and open kitchen, could comfortably seats 30 patrons on a busy day. And it was a busy night.
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