Eeyore, or what is referred to as “donkey,” is but one of many dishes on the menu at Yau Yuan Xiao Jui in Kowloon. Eeyore legitimised the place as nothing else could, like a French restaurant serving andouillette. Horrible, but authentic.
Get thee to Yau Yuan Xiao Jui for the dumplings and biang biang noodles. As is generally conceded by gourmets, even the worst dumplings are okay (though, being sane, you draw the line at Chef Boyardee ravioli). So great dumplings must be exalted. Such were the pork and fresh dill dumplings here.
As you pulled up in the taxi, you knew it would be so. It had the aura. When you opened the door, the plasma of super-heated garlic, ginger, cumin and peppers confirmed this. The Chinese babushkas who waited on you made it certain. They had a brusque, imperious manner – reminding you of elderly waiters at a NYC Jewish deli – that brooked no dissent. You asked to sit at one table and in shrill tones they shooed you to another one, partially occupied (redounding to your benefit when your companions selflessly shared their awesomely delicious, deep-fried, sesame-stuffed glutinous rice dumplings). You didn’t like the buckwheat noodles in a sauce that tasted of petroleum product and you were gazed at reproachfully and admonished in sharp Chinese. In other words, they were by their lights looking out for you, which was comforting.
Biting into the pork-dill dumplings jolted your Weltanschauung off its spindle. You had to pick it up and reattach it, forever changed. The dumplings were unctuous, a bit soupy, and the dill jangled like an electrode to a pleasure centre in your brain. This is what a dumpling was meant to be. Had there been an infinite number of these dumplings in front of you, you would have eaten until you fell over dead. Until now you thought that the best dumplings in town were the Shanghai soup dumplings at Cheung Hing Kee, but these dumplings were to Cheung Hing Kee’s as Yahweh to a graven image.
The biang biang noodles stood at the apex of noodledom, cut in the manner of pappardelle, perfectly al dente, with some greens, some crushed peanuts and a sauce that you think contained stock, giving it the subwoofer that so many noodles sauces lack. It came with three deep-fried chicken wings that could duke it out with any of the bad characters from the Korean joints in town.
The lamb chops were tasty enough, the cumin seed coating delightful, but were too spicy and bony. With maturity comes the realisation that the flavour of chilli is more important than the testosterone-induced misperception that heat by itself is good. You don’t need many chillies for flavour. Re: bones, you shouldn’t need a PhD in osteology to eat a chop. Remove them or braise the chops before frying so that the bones slip out. That’s what Fu Run (in Flushing, NY) does with their genius, last-dish-before-you-depart-this-mortal-coil lamb.
The green beans and aubergine, cooked in a Vesuvian wok, were paradigmatic, what all other restaurants should emulate: crisp, blistered, redolent of ginger and garlic, amped by capsicum.
Yau Yuan Xiao Jui is cheap and gives extraordinary value. Just as the fabled pianist Arthur Rubinstein occasionally fumbled notes, it now and then fumbles. Still, it is among the finest restaurants in Hong Kong, far outclassing countless places much more expensive that mistake trophy ingredients – truffle, caviar, foie gras, gold leaf, for goodness sake – for excellence. It is worthy of “go to” status.
36 Man Yuen Street, Jordan, 5300 2682