Being famous can be a rather tricky balance. You’re either notoriously private, in which case you risk the fickle public completely forgetting about you. Or you make yourself so accessible that you cause your adoring fans to overdose, in which case they can’t really bear you after a while. Harry Potter is destined to be afflicted by the latter, as is Robert Pattinson. Chinese food is another one that became so ubiquitous a few decades ago no one can really take it seriously any more.
Hong Kong, tucked away in Umm Al Hassan, doesn’t seem to be too badly affected by the general apathy surrounding Chinese cuisine. Visiting one lunchtime we had the Indian Ambassador at the table next to us, and a whole host of other notables with pained expressions on their faces, desperately trying to save face and pick up something (anything!) with their chopsticks. It surely helps that Hong Kong has a reputation for being one of the best Chinese restaurants around, and yet charges a fraction of the price of some of the more upmarket joints in Adliya.
The restaurant itself occupies a villa, and is nicely done out with classical Chinese decor that faintly echoes the Summer Palace in Beijing. The waiters are classically efficient, and plates, replacement napkins, forks, spoons, glasses and the bill all appear and disappear as though of their own accord. The menu is everything you’d expect from a Chinese restaurant, with the obligatory bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, chow mein and chop suey, along with several unwieldy dishes like frogs legs and sea slug that you want to order but daren’t eat. The restaurant resembles the Chinese restaurants of my childhood. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that Hong Kong resembles the Chinese restaurants of my parent’s childhoods. The restaurant harks back to a time when the world discovered black bean sauce and MSG and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.
While it is not necessarily the job of a restaurant to surprise, or even for a cuisine to evolve, I’m the sort of diner who wants to feel that every culinary experience is a new experience – if I have a favourite dish it’s because I keep finding different nuances each time I eat it. One look at the menu in Hong Kong and it dawned on me that eating here is a bit of a culinary déjà-vu. Some people love that things never change, and such folk will be relieved to find a menu they recognise in a setup that feels familiar. I wasn’t much.
We opted for the mixed starter for two, a celery salad, some green onion pancakes and a pot of Chinese tea. The mixed starter and the pancakes were all deep fried, making me glad of the salad and gasping for tea. The food here is nothing if not incredible value for money, but does seem to be a throwback from the time of breaded prawns and battered chicken, which are somewhat out of favour in the current climate of obesity and the resulting raw food fads.
For the mains we ordered prawns with mushrooms and bamboo shoots and beef with broccoli, along with vegetable fried rice and shredded French beans, far too much food for two people, even if we both are gluttons. The food was nice, the gravy too thick for my liking, but there was nothing here that was even remotely twenty-first century. Making Hong Kong something of a food museum, a place to head if you want to see what people ate in the past.
But since fame is fickle and fashions run in a circular manner, no doubt the food here will find esteem again before long as the wheel of fortune turns in its favour.
The bill (for two) Mixed starter BD2.400 Celery salad BD1.800 Green onion pancakes BD1.000 Beef and broccoli BD2.800 Prawn and bamboo BD3.800 Shredded French beans BD2.600 Vegetable fried rice BD1.600 Tea for two BD2.000 Total (incl. service) BD19.900
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com