Monday, August 20, 2007

Marginally Good

Water Margin
Shop 1205, Food Forum
Times Square
1 Matheson Street
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

The second restaurant in the Aqua group that we check out during our day trip to HK was Water Margin or Liang Shang Buo as it is known in Chinese. Situated on the 12th floor of the Food Forum @ Times Square in Causeway Bay, this restaurant is a nostalgic feel of a “ke zhan fan dian” with the dinning hall resembling that of a travelers lodge in Chinese kungfu movies that we watch often on TV or cinema. The cuisine is focused mainly on northern Chinese cuisine along the Silk Road so flavours of Sichuan, Xi An and Beijing were dominant in the dishes.
We started with a chilled appetizer of shark lips and black fungus which are contrasting textures of crunchy wood ears and supple strips of shark lips which tasted like “compressed” konnyaku sheets. Toss with salt and sesame oil with lots of fresh coriander and spring onions, the flavours were clean and simple, crunchy and refreshing.
Next came a platter of five pieces of finely rolled Warm Radish Pastry. It should be named Hot instead as the generous filling of green and white radishes were piping hot and spilling out of the delicate flaky pastry as we bit into each piece. Washed down with a delicate brew of Long Jing Tea, this was a great tummy warmer for the main dishes to come.
Dong Po Rou or Soy Stewed Pork Belly was given a modern touch where thin pieces of streaky belly, slow cooked to a melting tenderness was served with paper thin wheat pancakes, similar to those used for wrapping Peking Duck. The gravy was deliciously rich with subtle notes of soy flavours and a slight hint of sweetness from the use of rock sugar. It was a nice change of eating style that took out the greasy after feeling.
We expected our cuttlefish to arrive in pre filleted slices but it came like a stir fry instead of grilled as mentioned in the menu. The sauce was spicy with fermented chilies but yet delicious with aromas of Shaoxing wine. After picking the first few pieces, we realized that they gave us more heads of the calamari than the succulent body so after the first piece each, we started to get bored with it and picked on the accompany veggies instead. The onions had soaked up much of the delicious sauce eating them was more of a pleasure than the calamari itself.
For greens, we chose to have Winter Melon Braised with Jin Hua Ham in Broth. The flavourful ham lends its delicious aromas to the bland melon strips and perfumes the essence of the broth with a savoury umami taste. A strong affinity for each other, there isn’t really a need to have anything else in the dish to make the taste more naturally good than it already is.
A simple dish is also one of the easiest to make mistakes as many cooks take the simplicity of preparation for granted. Hence sometimes its worth to order simple dishes that says a lot about the chef that cooks it. Our simple dish is a Fried Rice with Egg White and Spring Onion. The bench marks are on the fluffiness of the rice grains, level of greasiness, wok fragrance and eggy afternotes. The dish was not a let down. The rice was still in individual grains after the wok tossing, shining with a glistening layer of oil but that did not make it taste greasy. The egg white and spring onions bonded very well in taste and aromas, giving the plain tasting rice a heavenly lift to simple sophistication.
The dessert menu came in the form of a Chinese almanac book or tongshu as it is know in mandarin. Playing with the idea of a hot and cold dessert, we flip through the almanac where family surnames and history provide the background of the dessert menu. What caught our eyes for the chill element was an interesting Chilled Pumpkin Puree in Egg shell with Taro Cubes. The egg shells were filled with a creamy sweetened puree of sweet pumpkin with topped with egg yolk slices. The entire row was flanked with lilies as both dessert and flower sit on a nice wooden box filled with a nicely carved egg tray.
The hot dessert was a trio of deep fried egg white souffl├ęs that each encrusted a dollop of yam ice cream. While the pastry crust was very nice, unfortunately it sat too long in the hot oil that much of the ice cream was already melted within when served. The fact that the colour of the ice cream was a purplish blue, it also tells us that it was probably just some commercial made taro ice cream that was nothing to shout about.
Water Margin and Hu Tong reflects the new generation of Chinese Restaurants that dare to break away from the traditional realms of sharks fin, bird nests and abalone. For sure it is environmentally for friendly too!

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