On a recent evening at Snow Garden, a new restaurant nestled inside off-campus student accommodation in the bustling neighbourhood of Hung Hom, I was treated to a wide array of gastronomical, time-honoured Huaiyang delicacies.
Huaiyang cuisine is recognised as one of the four great traditions of China’s culinary scene, yet many Hong Kongers, including myself, are unfamiliar with this cooking style centred on the cities of Huai’an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province. Thanks to the opening of Snow Garden in Hung Hom, foodies can dive deep into an authentic Huaiyang experience.
The restaurant welcomes diners through an entrance that resembles a drawing room, with cosy furnishings and warm lighting against the backdrop of soothing greyish-blue walls. Chinese wine bottles of different shapes and colours are neatly displayed at the back of the bar counter, echoing Snow Garden’s offerings of Huaiyang dishes. The restaurant’s spacious public dining area and relaxing private rooms are perfect either for a casual meal or intimate gathering with friends and family.
While sipping hot Chinese tea and waiting patiently for the arrival of the highly anticipated meal, our host offered some insights about this centuries-old cuisine. Huaiyang cuisine is known for its meticulous preparation methods, intricate knife work and exquisite presentation, seeking to bring forth the freshness and natural flavours of the ingredients. I was fascinated to learn that a dish like pork aspic (HK$108) actually requires hours of complex procedures and craftsmanship to prepare.
The jellyfish with scallion oil (HK$108), one of the eatery’s signature starters, is skilfully shredded and well seasoned while retaining a crisp and crunchy texture. The homemade scallion oil drizzled over the jellyfish tantalises the taste buds. This dish is served with mustard on the side, adding a kick of pungent spiciness to the palate.
A classic Huaiyang vegetarian dish is this plate of Yangzhou crispy bean-curd skin rolls (HK$128), which are meticulously crafted by hand; the bean-curd skin is tied into knots before being deep-fried and soaked in a fragrant Chinese rice wine marinade. The vegetable and mushroom filling adds layers of freshness and flavour, making this dish a true culinary delight. While the presentation might not be as striking as some of the other dishes on the menu, the attention to detail and dedication to preserving traditional Huaiyang vegetarian fare make this dish a rare find in Hong Kong.
While retaining the spirit and traditional cooking methods of Huaiyang cuisine, Snow Garden also adopts a creative approach and sometimes uses ingredients that are less common in this cuisine – such as with the ox tongue marinated in rice wine (HK$168). The ox tongue is slow-cooked with Japanese sake and kombu to achieve juicy tenderness before being soaked in Chinese rice wine. The dining room was imbued with the rich aroma of this delectable plate.
One characteristic of Huaiyang cuisine is its use of freshwater fish and shellfish. Another dish with a creative twist is this of sautéed river prawns (HK$108). River prawn paste is mixed with egg white and then beaten well to create a firm and bouncy texture. This is a limited offering at the restaurant, made fresh daily. As appealing as these deep-fried river prawn balls infused with natural spinach juice are with their emerald-green colour, I found that the flavour of the egg white overshadowed the naturally sweet and salty flavours of the river prawns.
The classic Huaiyang dish of double-boiled Jinhua ham soup with chicken and Tientsin cabbage (HK$880 for ½ portion; HK$1,480 for full portion) demonstrates the cuisine’s scrupulous attention to detail and sophisticated cooking style. As soon as the soup is served, with the lid removed from the ceramic pot, the beguiling aroma fills the air. The Tientsin cabbage is stewed to tenderness, simmering together with the Jinhua ham and three-yellow chicken while the essence of these premium ingredients dissolve slowly in the broth. Not a single drop of salt is needed, and you will find yourself enjoying a clear and intensely flavoured soup that absorbs all the nutrients from the ingredients. This soup left me satisified but still wanting more.
The presentation of the Shangdong-style spring chicken (HK$368; pre-order required) is a true work of art, with the succulent and flavourful chicken meat first shredded by hand and then arranged to restore the original shape of the bird, leaving everyone in awe of the chef’s incredible skills. The chicken skin is also artfully coloured with the restaurant’s secret Western-style sauce and deep-fried to perfection. Highly recommended!
Huaiyang-style plates are frequently served at official Chinese banquets, given the elaborate preparation and intricate knife skills involved. The luscious smoked whole eel (HK$980; pre-order required) is a perfect example, with the eel deboned, marinated for at least 12 hours in a secret sauce and baked to an unbeatable texture. Smoked with tea prior to being served, the eel meat bursts with the rich flavour of the tea leaves.
The pan-fried pork buns (HK$72 for 4), a popular dish favoured by diners back in the 1980s at the original Snow Garden in North Point, continue to remain a quintessential plate at the new restaurant in Hung Hom. The white wrappers of the buns are golden and crunchy on the bottom but fluffy on the inside, featuring a flavoursome and juicy pork filling. The presentation and taste of these pillowy buns are simply divine!
Our Huaiyang culinary journey ended on a high with Snow Garden’s deep-fried sesame balls (HK$32 for 2) – a must-try dessert. These glutinous rice balls are fried until golden brown, giving the outer layer a chewy texture, with the velvety, lava-like black sesame filling oozing out from the inside.
This new Snow Garden is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the flavours of authentic Huaiyang cuisine in Hong Kong. With its dedication to combining traditional techniques with innovative aesthetics through the use of only the finest of ingredients, the restaurant is a great destination for foodies looking for a true Chinese culinary delight. Make sure to pre-order if you don’t want to miss out on their scrumptious signature dishes.
Where: Shop 101, 1/F, Y83, 83 Wuhu Street, Hung Hom
For reservations: phone 3897 9686
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.