Xanga Meet Up Dinner at Island Tang

Over the new year’s holiday we were in Hong Kong, in part to take part in the second annual Xanga meet-up or, more accurately, the Xanga alumni meet-up. This year’s group was roughly the same as last year’s and once again a nice venue was chosen for dinner: Island Tang.
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Island Tang’s owner is Sir David Tang (of the Shanghai Tang retail brand) whose restaurants include China Club, which I wrote about two days ago. The interior of the restaurant is every bit as elegant as China Club but many degrees subtler. As Time Out Hong Kong described it, Island Tang is Hong Kong of the 1940s compared to China Club’s Shanghai of the 1920s.

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In fact, it isn’t too much to describe the space as gorgeous. There was tremendous attention to detail in everything from decor to menu design to place settings. It felt elegant from the very start.

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The menu is primarily Cantonese food. The pictures here are a selection of what we ordered, although not everything. Above is the wok-fried jumbo garoupa fillets with Hangzhou pepper, garlic, and preserved black beans. Tasty dish although the fish was a bit overwhelmed by all the other flavors.

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A traditional braised duck with “eight treasures” – additional ingredients which can vary by recipe but in this case included shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms among other things. Very tasty dish.

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We tried several different soups, most of which were similar to what I showed from China Club. One unique offering was a casserole boiled bean curd (tofu) stuffed with minced pork and mushroom. This was a very nice, subtle dish.

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One of the non-Cantonese dishes, a very tasty pan-fried Welsh lamb belly seasons with cumin. The skin was crispy, the fat was properly rendered, and the cumin gave it an earthy flavor that was delightful.

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Quite an interesting dish was the wok-fried papaya with honey bean and fresh lily bulb. Most of the time in Thai cooking, we use green papaya, so I was caught a bit off guard to find ripe papaya used in this stir-fry. The most interesting ingredient was the lily bulb, something I don’t think I’ve had before. The combination was light and flavorful.

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For some more vegetables, we had wok-fried kale with crushed ginger and rice wine. A simple dish, well executed.

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We ordered a variety of chilled, pudding-like deserts that were tasty but did not photograph well. The only item I did photograph were these glutinous rice and sesame balls, which thankfully weren’t as oily as I had expected.

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A final shot of the dining room. We started eating at 8:30 and by the time we left, were pretty much the last diners. These ladies left before us.

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The obligatory shot of the current and former Xangans plus four non-blogger guests. Will let you figure out who is who.

New Year’s Eve at China Club in Hong Kong

New Year’s Eve was spent at the China Club, a retro-chic private club in Hong Kong, for music from the early 1900s, atmosphere from all over the place, and food that was mostly Cantonese.

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Tawn and I dressed to the nines. We didn’t realize that the theme for the night was for Great Gastby-ish dress, otherwise we would have worn some vintage crushed velvet dinner jackets. I’m proud that I achieved one of my 2013 resolutions: being able to tie my own bow tie without watching the YouTube video to guide me. Success!

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The interior of the club, which occupies the top three floors of the old Bank of China building, has the feel of a Chinese tea house but with loads of contemporary art on the walls. It was a happening place with lots of young professionals crowding the tables. Someone needs to remind these young men that gentlemen do not remove their jackets at the dinner table.

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The menu is mostly Chinese, with an emphasis on Cantonese cuisine, the style indigenous to Hong Kong. We did order a few variations, though. Appetizers began with these deep fried prawns with foie gras, wrapped in tofu sheets, which featured large, fresh prawn meat.

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Soups are usually available per-person, that way everyone can order what they want. One of our friends had this crab claw meat (one perfect, unbroken piece) served in a lovely consommé broth with vegetables.

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The other friend and Tawn both ordered the sweet and sour soup, a classic that was very nicely done. (Yes, I tried a bite of everything!)

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I tried one of the special soups, which was braised beef brisket in hand-pulled noodles. The brisket was nicely tender and flavorful while the noodles had a pleasant “al dente” texture.

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One of the recommended dishes was the charsiu, or roasted, honey-glazed pork belly. This staple of Cantonese cuisine is succulent and, when done well, is the perfect balance of flavors and textures. The chef did a good job with this and another plate would have been welcome

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This is a Szechuan style dish: sautéed diced chicken with garlic, star anise, chilies, and spring onion. It isn’t as hot as you might imagine and was one of my favorite dishes.

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For variety, I ordered another Szechuan dish: dan dan noodles. This dish has a spicy chili sauce made with preserved vegetables and minced pork served over noodles. This particular version had a lot more sauce than usual and the sauce had less of the tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns than I have experienced in other versions. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable.

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Sautéed lotus root, sweet peas, water chestnuts, and various fungi served in a nest made from deep fried taro root. This was a wonderful example of the clean flavors, simple preparation, and elegant presentation of Cantonese cuisine. Of course, it can also be heavy and oily when poorly done.

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I ordered this dish as an appetizer and it arrived near the end of the meal. Familiar to people who dine at Vietnamese restaurants, it is chopped shrimp made into a paste, formed around sugar cane, and deep fried. Always tasty.

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We concluded the meal with some fried rice, this one a mixture of different meats and vegetables. As with most Chinese banquets (although this meal was ordered a la carte), the rice is served last so that you do not fill up on it during the meal.

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For dessert, we shared a few items that didn’t photograph well plus these lovely egg custard tarts. With a very flakey and not-too-oily crust, the tarts were a nice conclusion to the meal.

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We also inexplicably received fortune cookies. I say “inexplicably” because these are an American invention and not authentic in the least. To top it off, there seems to be a trend of fortune cookies increasingly reading like “advice” cookies. As one Chinese friend pointed out, the quality of writing must be suffering because the fortunes are now outsourced to a factory in China. Ha!

All in all, China Club was a good meal and a fun place to dine on New Year’s Eve. For more info, here’s their website. Note that the club is members-only so to go, a member needs to make reservations for you.