Best Bites is a roundup of the outstanding dishes we had within the last week: Those which renewed our love for established venues; caught our attention at a new opening; or freshly impressed upon us the creativity and skill of Hong Kong’s talented chefs. From casual street snacks to meticulously prepared tasting menus, these are the best dishes to try in Hong Kong, and the plates we’d recommend you make a special trip for.
These were the best dishes we supped on and savoured this week:
The dish: Potato Salad (HK$108)
Maybe it’s because I’m still a baby in learning when it comes to potato salad — I never truly appreciated its existence until earlier this year, when I was met with a very delicious helping from somewhere I’ve been trying really hard to remember. But before I could call defeat, I was acquainted with another, also incredibly delicious (maybe even better), at Censu.
The thing about potato salads is that they’re easily forgettable; cast aside as a pre-dinner filler. Because you already know what to expect: potatoes, dressing, salad style. Nothing special. Oftentimes, they’re over-shadowed by more attractive sounding serves, and on a menu like the one by chef Shun at Censu, these would be the zucchini flower tempura or unagi paella or House Dango with mascarpone, per my friend Kelly’s advice. But if writing for this column has taught me anything, it would be to never underestimate the humble dishes — the tomato salad was also a favourite. Unlike its pale, sloppy counterparts, Censu’s potato salad had form and perfection, arriving like a showpiece with homemade potato chips jabbed and arranged over the top in the form of petals — making this, funnily enough, potato-on-potato salad. Beneath was a very honest recreation of the classic Japanese version; smooth enough to be picked up by a thin chip but still chunky enough for a satisfying bite. While mixed within was a flavourful combination of dill, ham, shallots, and then, the best kind of surprise, an egg confit with a runny centre that spilled over for an ever creamier texture. We loved it, raved about it continuously while we ate it and lapped it all up, easy.
So, a PSA to anyone who’s planning on visiting Censu: Get the potato salad. — Lorria Sahmet, Editor
Mille Mele Tokyo
The dish: World’s No.1 Apple Pie (HK$36)
I’ve never understood the “second stomach for dessert” thing. I’m not, even, really a sweets person. I didn’t spend my entire childhood craving waffle-cone ice cream; would never spend the duration of numbered-course meals yearning for the last, often-too-sweet dish. Mille Mele Tokyo’s “World’s No.1 Apple Pie” (superlative theirs, not mine), though, proved me wrong at a Christmas Pot Luck this week. I could’ve had five! It was a perfect reprieve between bites that canter towards the savoury and the umami; a not-too-sweet serve that holds dollops of custard and chunks of apple within a still-warm, flaky pastry hug. One tiny side note for any pie pedants that might be among us: Mille Mele Tokyo’s World’s No.1 Apple Pie is… not a pie? It takes more of a folded-over turnover shape; more pastry than pie, defiantly. World’s No.1 Apple Pastry just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’ll give it to them. And of course I went back for meatballs and gravy after the apple pastry — but that’s neither here nor there. — Joey Wong, Editor
Don Don Donki
The bite: Kinkans (HK$48 for a little crate thing that has like, IDK, 11 of them?)
For the uninitiated, kinkans are the perfect fruit. The fact that “kinkan” is the Japanese word for kumquat feels inadequate, because I’ve had my share of kumquats and they’ve got nothing on these little miracles. They’re like sweet little candy drops with a light pop of sour that you can eat, skin and all, without getting your hands dirty — worst case, you smell like citrus, so also, best case. I hear Wilson Fok makes a pretty good jam out of these, too. They’re only in season during the winterish months, so get involved. Best Bite today, tomorrow, forever. — Nathan Erickson, Editor-in-Chief
Don Don Donki, (various locations), No. 22-36 Paterson Street 1-4/F, Pearl City, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Isoya Japanese Vegetarian Restaurant
The dish: Winter sushi platter (HK$398 / person, from their set dinner menu)
As a part-time vegetarian (I’m trying!), it’s become quite a fun pastime to join my full-time vegetarian partner around the city hunting for new veg-friendly restaurants to try. We’ve shortlisted quite a few favourites over the years, but one that we always return to is the super wholesome Isoya — a word-of-mouth beloved haunt of the community. Yes, everything is vegetarian, guilt-free and delicious. Just look at this platter of “sushi”; that scallop-looking fella is, in fact, a grilled king oyster mushroom, and the “salmon”? Red bell pepper! The tofu pocket needs no explanation, but the final California-sushi-wannabe is filled with red dragonfruit and banana! Bizzare! Yet so, so good. They do a mean lunch set as well, so come for that and definitely order the lime somen. My personal fave. — Sandra Kwong, Features Editor
Isoya Japanese Vegetarian Restaurant, 9/F, 83 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 5500 8813
The dish: Shredded Chicken in Chilli Oil (HK$102)
The original name of this Shredded Chicken in Chilli Oil should actually be “Bang Bang” chicken, which is a really famous Sichuan dish. The funny name comes from its production process. In order to create the tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture of the dish, chefs will use wooden batons, or “bàng bàng” (棒棒), to evenly shred up the chicken, which might seem strange, but is a very important step. You may have seen it in some Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong. But it’s pretty rare to find one that is close to the original.
Kikusan is not a Chinese restaurant, but this dish tasted like the real-deal Sichuan version, not only for juicy tender shredded chicken, but also the rich and intense Sichuanese sauce that packs so much flavour — nutty, spicy, sour, salty, with just a hint of sweet — that’s perfectly balanced and coated all over the chicken. Also as a traditional Chinese appetiser, taste it ahead of your mains, and your movie night or holiday party will begin exactly where you want. With delicious food. — Jing Chuan Zhang, Editorial Intern