A well-acclaimed and a super-premium location in the clouds inside the Hotel Carlton-Ritz in Kowloon. I had been told that morning I would be treated to some of the best Hong Kong had to offer, and needless to say, I’d been thinking about food from the moment I woke up.
We’d had our pre-drinks at the dazzling “Ozone Bar” and were on our way to our late evening reservation.
As you descend a set of expensive looking escalators in dimly lit, atmospheric conditions, you wonder what awaits you on the other end.
The moment walk into the restaurant you are stuck by a number of things; 1) the sprawling views of Hong Kong at night, and the fact that each table is set up so everyone can gaze out into the expanse 2) just how spacious the venue is and grandiose all of the finishings are; 3) the grace of the waiters and general cool vibe around you.
In front of us on the tables were two sets of chopsticks rather than one. The waiter mercifully explained that one set is used for transporting food from the dish to the plate, and the other to eat with. The chopsticks were also heavier than usual, giving off the impression they meant serious gastronomic business.
There was a certain mystical feel to the restaurant, enhanced by the calming tones of our waiter. He gently explained the merits of the set menu and then left us to ponder.
We were inclined to explore the menu on our own, having earlier conspired together to order the Peking duck.
The wine was not overly expensive (taking into account it was all fine wine). We ordered a glass of unoaked chardonnay to assist with cleansing our palate between courses.
We settled on sharing marinated pork cutlets, Peking duck pancakes and soft-shell crab.
The first course was the marinated pork. The portion size was small, and this encouraged us to savour the texture and taste of each individual piece.
The second course, and in truth the reason we were so excited to be here, was the Peking duck with pancakes.
The waiter brought the duck to us on a trolley. He slowly and meticulously put on some bright white gloves, before reaching for a an ultra sharp butchers/filleting knife.
It is difficult to exaggerate just how impressive his carving of the duck was. Each slice was incredibly thin, evenly shaped, with three different types of cut in total – crispy skin, crispy skin with duck, duck only.
Each slice was painstakingly laid on a platter depending on its cut.
It was at this point that I noticed a considerable amount of the duck had not been cut and remained on the table (I was starving and concerned we wouldn’t get to enjoy every morsel). My fears were soon allayed when I was asked whether we would like the chef to cut the remaining pieces to bring to us – I nodded enthusiastically and our waiter sent the duck off for further carving.
In the meantime, our waiter and carving magician lifted the lid on our pancakes. A torrent of steam and an incredible starchy waft greeted us, before dissipating around the giant chandelier above us.
We were brought hoisin sauce, thinly diced cucumber and what I vaguely recollect was thinly sliced leek.
The grand feast commenced. We devoured pancake after pancake, starting first with the crispy skin before trying every other possible combination. The taste and texture of the pancakes, cut through occasionally with our wine, was absolute bliss.
Just as all good things have to come to an end, we managed to eat every scintilla of food in front of us. I suddenly found myself having one of those rare moments, as I gazed out to see the city of Hong Kong in all its glory, stomach filled with glorious Peking duck, that all was fine with the world.
The trance came to an end when my mind started racing about the next course – soft shell crab. I did not know what to expect, and will happily confess crab is not my first choice of seafood. Nonetheless, tonight was an evening to break down culinary walls (no, I didn’t order gizzards or chicken feet on this occasion).
The crab arrived and my first impressions were that it was cooked in a heavy batter. As I broke through the exterior, I sampled the meat. What struck me initially was the intense sweetness of the meat, followed by the richness of the sauce (I believe it was cream based). It was undoubtedly tasty, but as I continued eating the crab, I became increasingly more aware at just how rich this dish was. Perhaps it was the circumstances in which I ate the crab, but this was not my favourite dish. I guess Peking duck is a hard act to follow.
As the night drew to a close, we were asked whether we would like to look at the dessert menu. There was a mutual understanding that we were both stuffed, and we in unison politely declined the invitation.
Not willing to take no for an answer and see us leave without sampling at least a few, the waiter nonetheless brought us a sample of Chinese deserts, on the House.
Unable to resist, and clearly lacking willpower, we delighted in trying the small but delicious dishes that were sent our way. My senses had been overloaded at this point, so I was in no position to assess the deserts objectively. I would hazard a guess and say they were great.
How would I sum up the night? Insane ambience, ridiculous views, mystical staff, zen and scrumptious. Had I stopped at the Peking duck, I would have been absolutely blown away with the offering. The soft-shell crab was a bit too much, so I would advise caution if ordering it with any other heavy dish. To be sure, this place is not cheap – but you wouldn’t be crazy if you considered eating mi goring for a week to save for a glorious night out.