So, today I’m going to finally blog about one of my absolute favourite places to eat in Hong Kong. It’s a tiny, modest place in an apartment complex located in the east side of Hong Kong (in fact, it’s situated in increasingly trendy Chai Wan, or at least very near), that has managed to evade most food lovers’ radars, nevermind the press. The reason being that it’s a quintessential private kitchen, perhaps more exclusive than most, owing to the modesty of the chef – the eponymous ’3B’, a nickname he goes under among his closest friends and family – who prefers to keep his dinners low-key and limited to a select few.
3B’s been cooking for the best part of 40 years, I’d hazard, and once ran his own restaurant – The Silver Mushroom – in Canada, before returning to his hometown of Hong Kong and quietly churning out brilliant food for the lucky ones who’ve been able to seek him out. I’ve been dining here for years, and there are few – if any – places that match up to the quality of 3B’s Cantonese cooking (and otherwise). When I used to live in London, I’d often find myself craving the house signatures; from the simplest of water-steamed eggs with dried shrimp and salted duck egg yolk, to the more complex long-simmered soups (pork and winter melon is my top pick. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, this will be cooked and served in a mini winter melon itself, slowly steamed over hours until the flesh is soft and silky.).
3B holds his dinners pretty much every day of the week. It’s pretty incredible how he manages to craft so many dishes per meal in the tiny space that is his kitchen; chopping boards are balanced atop sinks, a myriad of vessels holding sauces, spices and herbs are precariously perched about every free surface. What’s unique is that there is never any menu; once you’ve secured your reservation, he’ll give you a call a few hours before the dinner – he goes shopping for groceries soon after – and cheerfully ask just one question (the answer to which is always the same from me):
“What do you feel like eating tonight?”
“Mo saw wai la [I've got no preference - anything goes]!”
Sometimes, uncannily, he’ll manage to make just what you were craving but just didn’t know it at the time – once, both my dining partner and I had, separately, developed a strange urge to have roast goose. And guess what ended up on the table that night? This chef has intuition.
Steamed fish is pretty much a staple of any Cantonese kitchen, and here the fish is always excellent. Fresh fish – never frozen – is often prepared the classic way, with a ginger-spring onion-soy sauce trinity (and obligatory splash of sizzling oil), though sometimes there’ll be a surprise. Finely chopped and fried shallots, or thin strands of fragrant aged mandarin peel. One recent meal featured dried lily bulbs and the merest whisper of white miso, which really brought out the sweetness of the fish. His soy sauce chicken (available whole/half or just wings) is also spot on, the marinade a elixir of sweet and salty flavours that coats the bird evenly every time.
In the winter months, I look forward to the hearty ‘claypot’ rices featuring tender rice grains, glossed in a sweet-salty soy and cooked with juicy shiitake mushrooms, caramelly Chinese pork sausages, and pieces of fresh steamed chicken. At least 24 hours notice is needed for this extraordinary dish.
3B likes to put his own creative spin on things once in a while – his glorious homemade char siu (pictured at the top of this post) for example, features dried rose petals in the marinade, as a rift off the traditional use of rose wine. And every so often he whips up some awesome European food – the best of which is his oxtail stew, long-simmered with meaty bones, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots and peppercorns. A more recent version included some pork bone for an even sweeter, more unctuous soup, with a surprising addition of mandarin peel. His roasted quail (he used to deep-fry them, but I think he’s gone the more health-conscious route now) is also brilliant, the little birds the embodiment of OMG UMAMI. My pictures of his Christmas special, turkey stuffed with glutinous rice (slowly ‘raw fried’, the Cantonese equivalent of paying attention to a risotto), are pants, but this was pretty much a highlight of 2010.
Recently one of my favourite dishes has been a combination of salt-pepper ribs (the secret is rice flour for an extra crisp exterior), braised daikon and wood ear mushrooms, and a psychedelic amaranth broth (so healthy, and totally plays tricks with your tastebuds with its vibrant pink colour).
So now the secret’s out, how do you get a reservation? Quite simply, if you really want to, you can go through me. I guess at this point I should mention that 3B is actually my dad, there is no ‘private kitchen’ business (though technically it is a ‘private’ kitchen ;D) and all of these dishes are just the result of a lot of labour of love, and it’s not for profit. So – I might be biased, but to repeat what I said, this is genuinely my favourite place to eat in Hong Kong – home.
Happy father’s day, daddy!
Baked treats at Lantana, London
I first came across friands at Lantana, a wonderful Australian café in London’s Fitzrovia, about four years ago. I remember seeing these little round cakes on the bar, next to the banana bread and then-named Hummingbird cakes*, and I asked after them out of curiousity. Friands. They’re little almond meal cakes, the girl behind the counter told me. I got one to go, and I was hooked. The friand’s crisp chewy edges giving way to soft, moist (sorry, I know how many people hate this word) crumb was unlike any other cake I’d had previously, and the addition of tangy raspberries offset the almondy sweetness. As it happened, I discovered that it was the perfect accompaniment to a strong flat white – together, they’ve brightened up many a sleepy afternoon back at the office.
Friands are now a firm part of my baking repertoire, because of how simple yet satisfying they are. Fresh from the oven, they are gorgeously crisp and soft at the same time; after they’ve cooled down, they’re good for a few days I hear. I don’t know, because we usually finish a batch pretty quick. I’ve brought them over to parties, served them at picnics or as post-dinner treats with tea or coffee. They take less than 15 minutes to mix together, then another 15 or so to bake (depending on your mould**). Simples.