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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Birthday & Culinary Highlights In Hong Kong

A combination of the global financial crisis and the pound at a record low meant that the timing of my trip to Hong Kong this month couldn't have been worse, so with the prices of stuff in the shops almost double what we would expect, we decided to spend our money on getting some good food in instead.

We flew by Finnair for the first time because they were the cheapest option and my great-uncle won't fly by anyone else after he enjoyed his last flight with them so much. The flight into Helsinki was ok, but I was too mesmerised by the snowy fields on the approach to worry too much about the short plane journey. Unusually for a European flight, we were also fed with some hot food on the way - a portion of meatballs, gravy and mash - akin to the stuff you get in Ikea restaurant, but a bit sloppier. It tasted ok, but I didn't take to the rye bread very well.

Connection at Helsinki was smooth, but it's no Changi when it comes to shopping. The plane to Hong Kong was a brand spanking new Airbus A340, probably less than a year old and with the best entertainment system I've seen on a plane so far (dare I say, even better than Singapore Airlines!). The selection of films was pretty good and I finally got to watch Wall-E. Two more bog standard airline meals later (the Finns seem to like putting pumpkin in their food) and we finally arrived in HK.

After sorting out our hotel room (we stayed at the Royal Plaza in Mongkok) and grabbing a bit of rest, we wasted no time in heading over to Langham Place, where Tony completed our first mission and acquired a special birthday present for his sis (can't tell you what it is yet, as it's a secret until March). The first evening meal was in the Langham food court and although we took a look at Pepper Lunch (as strongly recommended by my sis and her bf) the smell of black pepper was a bit overwhelming, so I opted for the Hainan chicken rice instead and Tony went for a curry.

The next day was my birthday and we had originally planned for me to go present hunting in TST, but after a lot of wandering around, I didn't actually find anything, so we headed back to Mongkok and had an early evening meal at a place called Simply Thai in Grand Century Place, downstairs from the hotel. We'd noticed that the place seemed quite busy at night, so we dropped by before the evening rush and enjoyed a special lamb cutlet green curry, salt and pepper soft-shelled crab and made-to-order Thai roast chicken, all washed down with a cooling lychee, orange and cranberry fruitshake. For HK standards, it was a tad pricey, coming in at around $450, but for food of that standard, we were prepared to pay UK food prices.

The reason we ate early was because we had tickets (thanks to a helping hand from my cuz) to go and see Hacken Lee and Alan Tam in concert at the Coliseum. The venue had been closed for a few months for refurbishment and this was only the second performance since the re-opening. The concert was a bit different from other HK pop concerts that I'd been to because there was much more of a party atmosphere and everyone got up to dance and join in - normal for a Western gig, but highly unusual for the more reserved Chinese. The stars had been sponsored to work up some "muscles" for the show, but I think it was the men in the audience who were more excited when the female dancers came on in skimpy outfits to perform some pole-dancing routines. When it was time for Hacken and Alan to strip off and show us their bits, it just deteriotated into a bit of a comedy. When Chin Ka Lok dropped by to do his stand-up guest routine, then we knew it was time for a laugh. Oh, and the music wasn't bad either - a full 3 hours of old classics and new hits, with Hacken proving that his voice is just as good singing live. Making Alan try and sing all his 100 mph lyrics songs was pretty cruel, but it made me chuckle. Definitely a birthday to remember!

Although we spent the next few days wandering around a load of shopping centres, we still didn't actually buy very much. Instead, we did our usual rounds of all the tasty fast food places - Maxim's MX, Fairwood, Cafe de Coral (not so good) and then we also did our fair share of the good stuff too. One gem we picked out was a "Handmade Udon" restaurant on the top floor of apm (mall) in Kwun Tong, where they served up boneless chicken wings udon for me and crabmeat and scrambled egg udon for Tony - totally delicious and all for about a tenner. Tony then proceeded to go nuts at Muji and spend about $350 on freeze-dried soup, tandoori marinade, mango lassi powder and mango sauce. Looks like fans of our BBQs are in for a treat this year!

A trip to HK is not complete without a trip to Sai Kung for seafood. Okay, so it's a bit pricey, but when it's so fresh it's staring at you as you walk into the restaurant, then you really don't mind paying over the odds for it. Tony was ogling at all the tanks outside the restaurants that make the lobsters at Glamorous look like a fishpond. After checking out all the offers being thrusted in our direction by the promoters on the street, we opted for a 'Special meal for 2' that consisted of lobster e-noodles, salt and pepper squid, fresh steamed fish, flash-boiled prawnies and veg - all for $420. We then added a place of fleshy razor clams for $228 to top it all off.

We saved Disneyland for the second week, after all the kids had gone back to school and the workers had gone back to work. It was also $50 cheaper after the Chinese New Year holiday period. There were still plenty of mainlanders around, who annoyed Tony greatly by their sheer lack of manners and respect and inability to stand in a queue without shoving, but the waits weren't too bad and the weather was lovely. We got in photos with Goofy, Pluto, Stitch and Chip 'n' Dale and front row 'seats' for the parade. Most of the rides were really sedate, but Tony was pleasantly surprised by Space Mountain and came out really giddy. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Disneyland experience, but I'm not sure if I want to bother with the other parks - wonder what would be worse: queuing with mainlanders or queuing with Americans.

The last few days were spent visiting friends and family and that always means more great food. My uncles splashed out on a new year banquet that included roast meats, a whole roast goose and big fat fresh steamed prawnies, but Tony was a bit disappointed that they didn't opt for more lobster! My friend took us for some Taiwanese beef noodles, which were tasty and she also co-erced her Indonesian maid to make us some traditional fragrant soup-rice-noodles. Dim sum and sushi were disappointing - we can actually get better in the UK, now that is something I never imagined I'd say.

We don't usually eat at hotels that we stay at in Hong Kong, but when we passed by the hotel restaurant on the way out every day, we couldn't help but notice the posters (and the food out) for the daily evening 'Lobster & Prawns' seafood buffet. After checking on the budget, we worked out we had enough to splash out on the $368 per head charge and the hotel was kind enough to offer a 10% discount for guests. With about 120 different things on offer to eat, we were like kids in a candy store when we arrived at 6:30pm and were shown to our seats. Among the selection was cold Boston lobster, barbecued lobster, lobster in sauce, baked tiger prawns, seared Kobe beef, lobster and shark fin bisque, sharks fin and mushroom soup, emperor prawns, sashimi and sushi made to order, crabs legs, tempura lobster balls (our favourite - we had about 6 sticks each!!), roast lamb shank, chilli garlic lobster claws, lamb chops in black pepper sauce, German sausages, cold meats, DIY hotpot and roast beef. Then there were the desserts - birds nest Portuguese tarts (YUMMY!!), creme brulee, blueberry cheesecake, mango sorbet, bread and butter pudding with vanilla sauce, birds nest coconut pudding, home-made cookies and chocolate, profiteroles and all the watermelon and pineapple you could ever wish for!
(Unfortunately, we were FAR too busy eating to take any pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it how good it really was!!)

After an hour and a half, we had to be rolled out of the restaurant. Fortunately, it wasn't too far back to the hotel room!!

Also worth a mention was the Little Fat Sheep hotpot restaurant - we went to the branch in Mongkok. Unsure as to how big the portions were, we went for some squidballs, beefballs, lamb, prawnies and veg. The broth was a wholesome Chinese medicinal soup, which nicely brought out the subtle flavours of the food. You don't need to go for spicy when it comes to hotpot.

We checked the list of places we still had to eat at on the last day and the only one outstanding was Korean BBQ, so we decided to splash out on a lunch BBQ platter - beef, chicken and mini octopus, rice, soup and side dishes for $148, plus an extra dish of lamb for $98 to round off our 12 days of Hong Kong's culinary highlights.
Can't wait to go back again!!

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