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After undergoing a six-month rejuvenation, what has often been referred to as “Hong Kong’s most beautiful dining room” has reinstated itself overlooking Victoria Harbour on top of the venerable Mandarin Oriental. Since it first opened its doors in 1968, Michelin-starred Man Wah has delighted diners with its repertoire of classic Cantonese cuisine. The revamp promises plenty of new additions to the menu, showcasing classic, time-honoured recipes from across China.
Designed by Singaporean firm Silverfox Studios (which also designed neighbouring newcomer The Aubrey), the previously pink-hued Man Wah has been given a stately new look with dark navy panelled walls trimmed with gold accents. Hand-embroidered silk wallpaper adds dashes of colour and intrigue, and small seating alcoves provide both privacy and a sense of mystery.
Executive Chef Wing-Keung Wong, the veteran chef at Man Wah, with 40 years of culinary experience under his belt, hopes the new menu will “renew interest in our culinary heritage for both diners and the next generation of chefs”. Many of the new dishes are delicious reminders of classic recipes and techniques that are in danger of being lost owing to the often tedious, time-consuming skills required.
Our foray into the new menu began with deep-fried matsutake mushroom pudding ($360/6) modelled after the classic Qing Dynasty dish guo ja, which was created by historic epicurean Jiang Taishi using chicken testicles. Although intriguing, we’re glad that Man Wah’s version uses the nutty matsutake mushroom instead of the original key ingredient! The delicate pudding is served alongside a line of sugar, and we were instructed to take the first bite as is, then the second bite dipped in sugar. We felt that the crunch of the sugar accentuated the earthiness of the mushroom.
Man Wah also offers an extensive tea menu. We sipped on a very smoky chrysanthemum tea unlike any of the floral ones we’ve had before, with unique spiced undertones laced with a hint of Chinese medicinal flavour. The dark chrysanthemum tea was harvested from plants grown at very high elevations on the mountains of Xinjiang, giving it a vibrant, distinct flavour that sets it apart from all other floral teas we’ve tried.
Another quirky tea we sampled was a carbonated roselle tea infused with Earl Grey, strawberry green tea and lime juice. The sparkling tea was a great palate cleanser, with a subtly tart taste.
A treat for seafood lovers, the marinated abalone ($148) was delicate and tender, braised in a spiced Shanghai-style sauce that highlighted the sweetness of the shellfish. We were addicted to the accompanying winter-melon ball steeped in osmanthus syrup and could have eaten a whole bowl of it!
The sautéed lobster with superior fish broth ($588) was as delicious as it is visually stunning. Tossed in a rich fish broth reduced from grouper bones after three hours of slow-cooking, then dusted in a cloud of umami-rich pressed caviar shavings, this dish had delicate and balanced flavours. We especially enjoyed the salmon roe marinated in sake and maotai, which added depth and pops of sweetness.
The deep-fried and braised prawn ($188), served with tiny, chewy bites of rice cake and aubergine, was so substantial we felt like it was a meal on its own. The prawn was plump and juicy, and the rice cake and spongy aubergine soaked up the delicious sauce.
A very creative pairing, the pan-fried scallop with bean crumb ($198) features beautifully caramelised prawns with Fujian soybean crumbs fried in butter and evaporated milk. Soybean crumbs are by-products of soy sauce and are used in cooking for their nutty, savoury flavour. The addition of a dot of aged scallop sauce further accentuates the savoury notes of the dish.
Inspired by Hakka village cuisine, the braised pork belly with taro ($168) showcases a slab of deep-fried taro steamed on top of a slice of juicy pork belly, covered in fermented red tofu sauce. Additional taro tuiles add crunch and were a delicious accompanied to the moreish sauce.
Dessert came as a trio, because, surely, who can settle on just one? The sweet, milky soup with pearls made from seaweed had chewy and crunchy textures, and the peanut-shaped puddings with red bean gave a whimsical nod to the classic cakes sold on Hong Kong street corners. Our favourite was the deep-fried glutinous rice ball, oozing with taro flavour.
Things of substance can stand the test of time, and we certainly see this spelled out loud and clear at Man Wah. We dare say that our dining experience this time around has trumped all the other times we’ve dined here, thanks to the new menu items and dedication to time-honoured techniques of traditional Chinese cuisine. We also like that the experience incorporated ingredients from across China, adding wealth to Man Wah’s already extensive repertoire of Cantonese cuisine. Simply put, the new-and-improved Man Wah isn’t just a fresh coat of paint but an exciting approach in the evolution of this iconic restaurant.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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