Finding God. Finding love. Finding contentment. Is this the meaning of life? For you, it varies. But there are times when there can be no question, the meaning of life is finding really great Sichuan food, preferably cheap. This hits all your bumpers: God, Love, Contentment. Though your wife feels much differently on this score, you care not a whit for flower arrangements, folded napkins or well-dressed servers. It’s the great food you’re after. Cheap. Lao Chuan Huang in Mongkok gives you just this.
You visited twice before, and they were closed. Wanting to go there when they were open, you called to ask about their hours. And they hung up on you. They don’t speak English. This whet your appetite.
The name of the restaurant is problematic. The sign outside the place is in Chinese (老川皇), which you can’t read. You picked up this name, Lao Chuan Huang, from TripAdvisor. You see it nowhere else. So it’s possible the name is different or untranslatable.
The menu is just the sort you love, with photos of each dish. Some have English names, but others are only Chinese. When you asked the servers what they were, they not only couldn’t respond because they don’t speak English, but they clearly had no interest in responding. You sensed that this was because they had no interest in someone who would ask such elementary questions. Having grown up with the rude waiters at NYC Jewish delis, you found all of the above charming. You like folks who know their own minds. You don’t need to be pals. If you’re looking for pals, join a quilting circle.
Your gang of four ordered so much food that they moved you from a table for four to a table for six in order to hold the bounty. You think you ordered 12 dishes in total and four large Tsingtaos (and rice), and the cost for the whole shooting match was $960, super cheap, just what you dream of. Main courses at a number of restaurants in town cost more than this.
Smoked fresh bamboo shoots with smoked beef. Amazing amazing amazing. You liked it so much that you ordered a second helping. No food at a three-star Michelin is more delicious than this.
Sizzling lamb. Thinly sliced lamb with cumin. Crazy good.
Sizzling squid keel. Squid tentacles and onion and other stuff, all in a cuminy sauce. It’s worth playing Squid Game for their squid keel. You loved it.
Sour beans with pork. Long beans, chopped into short segments, pickled (you think), served with ground pork. Scrumptious. Startling in its uniqueness.
All of the above dishes are good enough to warrant a trip here just by themselves.
Deep-fried boneless chicken chunks with lots of dried chilli peppers. You wish it had contained peanuts or cashews and cloves of garlic and scallion. But this is one of the better versions of this dish you’ve had, rich in Sichuan peppercorns, which brought a delightful citrus element. Very good, but shy of excellent.
Cold slices of pork belly slathered in garlic sauce on top of slivered cucumber. The sauce had a large element of vinegar and some sweetness. You liked this dish, but you wish they’d used less fatty pork.
Potstickers with a pork-chive filling. The filling was great. But you were disappointed by the pre-made dumpling skins. Okay at best.
Sesame noodles. Pretty good, but nowhere near Golden Glove.
Homemade mung-bean noodles. Not as good as Sichuan Lab’s (because they weren’t as chewy), though you really liked the chilli-crisp sauce. Somehow it managed to be deeply flavourful without overbearing heat.
A pancake. Like a scallion pancake, but without the scallion. Good enough.
Smoked duck. Good, but not close to the best versions of this you’ve ever had (such as the camphor duck at Wing Lai Yuen), which are more redolent of smoke. Nor did it come with steamed buns, which is how you like it.
The place is clean and spare. Puppy videos, proven by science to be more therapeutic than talk or drug therapy, play constantly on wall-mounted flat screens. So perhaps you could deduct a meal here as a medical expense. The menu is quite extensive, worthy of multiple exploratory missions.
You wouldn’t say that this is your favourite Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, but you’d rank it with your other top faves: Liao Za Lie, Lao Zhang Gui Dongbei, Wing Lai Yuen and Tan’s Gourmet (and Café Hunan and Hu Nan Heen, which you love, though they are too spicy for your wife). You think it’s probably the cheapest of the bunch.
This is real foodie territory. If you want to be smacked upside the head with deliciousness but don’t want to overpay for the privilege, it’s vital you come here. Vital! Seriously, get off your booty and do it. It’s the meaning of life.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall greatness: 4
Restaurants are intuitively rated within their particular realms. So Michelin restaurants, pizza places and stand-up sandwich joints are judged against like restaurants, not each other. A 5 for a high-end restaurant is not meant to be the same as a 5 for street food.
From my website, here’s how I rate food: “I believe the quality of a restaurant’s food is vastly more important than any other factor. Even if I love a restaurant’s food, I’m very conservative about giving out 4s or 5s. I reserve 4s for food that is uniformly excellent. Preponderantly excellent tends to get a lower score. 5s are for food that is uniformly stunning.”
114 Portland Street, Mongkok, 2730 8881