Last Sunday was pretty busy on the HK dining scene. I could not get a table at any of my regular joints. So after much searching, it was with some luck that I managed a reservation at Luk Kwok Hotel's Canton Room. The reviews looked promising so it was with some excitement that I went to meet M and T, whom I hadn't seem in more than a year. These Brussels residents might be hard to please given their privilege of living in one of the world's best places to eat.
It was my first time in the hotel in my entire 10 years of living here. The restaurant was up one level via the escalator. I was a little worried at the noise when I got there, only to be relieved that the culprit was the neighboring cafe where there was a bustling buffet going on. Canton Room was pleasantly set in a small area and quiet as Chinese restaurants go. You can speak at normal voice and more than hear yourself. We were also lucky to get a corner table by the window, although there is no view except for one of usually busy Gloucester Road, which was quiet on a Sunday.
First up, shrimps in salted egg yolk batter. This interpretation was slightly different from the usual. Less crispy, less salty and we thought a little too sweet. The crispy leaves were a nice touch but overall, it was "ok".
Next up: the quintessential traditional Cantonese chicken dish. Crispy roast chicken which isn't really roasted but bathed in hot oil to achieve the very crispy skin, so crispy that it is sans the yellow layer of fat underneath, making it even more tasty, against the lightly salted meat. Canton Room's version came complete with the pink prawn cracker more commonly found from the '70s. It was competent and came well-drained. However, we couldn't get excited eating it. There was just something that didn't come together although you cannot fault the dish at all.
The looker of the evening had to be the award winning dish of Canton Room. A simple stir fry of honey beef short ribs with mushrooms and lily bulbs in a sauce with a sweet finish. Flanked by little mini mounds of mash, lightly grilled to deliver a golden brown top. The placement of asparagus shoots broke the monotony of the yellow and creamy with a vibrant green and crunch. It was pretty delicious and innovative. We all liked it but to be award winning, we had the expectation that there would somehow be a wow from somewhere.
The Princely Fried Rice was a little disappointing in my opinion. I like my fried rice dry and grainy so that each grain has already been enveloped by the flavors of the seafood, eggs and crunchy vegetables in this case. In this case, it was pretty oil-free but not enough to be the way I like it. And the use of too much ginger overpowered any fresh tastes of the ingredients, which is always a shame.
To finish, I had the almond cream, and we all shared a basket of steamed Malay cake. I don't know if the history of the cake is Malaysian but it is quintessential Cantonese dim sum and any place offering traditional dim sum must offer this, or relinquish the title. This version was pure soft chiffon with a pleasant egg and sugar fragrance. Traditional recipes call for lard, although I didn't smell it in this version. No detraction though - it was just as good and provided an enjoyable finish.
Overall, there is a lot of competence and potential for the place. Although there wasn't a wow, it was still an enjoyable dinner to be had. I'd like to think my choice of dishes may not have been the best and that this place is definitely worth a second shot.
1/F, Luk Kwok Hotel
72 Gloucester Road