Header photo: Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash
Jeniffer Chiat, Digital Content Manager
With my new year’s resolution to “travel more” having gone completely out the window, I wholeheartedly embraced 2020’s staycation trend. What was possibly my favourite meal of the year took place at a staycation at Hotel ICON, which included dinner at their Cantonese restaurant, Above & Beyond, which offers breathtaking harbour views. So often Cantonese fine dining is lost on me, preferring my local $40 dumpling spot to many high-end menus. However, Above & Beyond really did go above and beyond in exceeding my expectations with a meal that celebrated traditional ingredients while presenting modern, elevated dishes. Aside from a delicious Hong Kong–style Peking duck, the six-course set menu included perfectly executed dishes such as crispy five-spice sliced Angus beef brisket and juicy deep-fried prawn with brown garlic and green peppercorn. I was also impressed with the wine-pairing menu, which featured a Shanxi Chardonnay and made me wonder why more restaurants are not exploring Chinese wines.
Now more than ever, I see the importance of supporting organisations that care about the community and the planet. Hotel ICON has made incredible efforts by way of sustainability and continues to facilitate learnership, offering PolyU hospitality students hands-on working experience at the hotel. My staycay at Hotel ICON allowed for a little getaway while reminding me of Hong Kong’s exceptional culinary talent and versatility.
Jenni Lien, Contributor
Most years, I enjoy going out and about, trying all the new (and often splurge-worthy!) restaurants our city has to offer. But this year, I grew to appreciate a slower pace of life and renewed my love for both eating in and cheap eats... and going out for lunch instead of going to the gym. My favourite meal of 2020 is probably the first time I tried Ki’s Roasted Goose & Gwing Kee Noodles (Causeway Bay). I have worked near it for years but never tried it until this year. The spicy chicken and goose oil noodles combination blew my mind – so flavourful and rich! Most of my lunches here have been under $50 for a very decent amount of food. I also highly recommend the char siu with runny egg on rice and the crispy roast pork. Oh, and the house-made soup as well. They also have daily takeaway specials for their roast meats. Well-priced, satisfying comfort food – what could be better during a time like this?
Stephanie Pliakas, Digital Editor
Despite the many COVID restrictions related to F&B this year, I still managed to dine out a fair bit, especially for solo breakfasts and lunches when I needed a breather (literally). Yet my overriding food-related memory of 2020 is cooking at home with my twins. In between the seemingly never-ending Zoom sessions, homework and arts-and-crafts projects with my son and daughter, we did more cooking together than ever before, from our weekend ritual of scrambled eggs for breakfast to cookies and cakes to break the monotony with some tasty treats. This year has no doubt been stressful for me as a mother working from home, but it’s also made for some unforgettable food-related memories with my kids.
Dale Foo, IT Specialist
This very exclusive meal was cooked one time only for a select few by an extraordinary but little known chef, Mick Foo. Yes, another home-cooked meal, but this one was really special. The year of eating at home led to a number of trials of different deliveries of groceries. The sea bass pictured here was from Chef Shane Osborn’s catering supplier, Waves Pacific, and was pan-fried in butter and served on ratatouille alongside herbed new potatoes. WP at Home has an excellent whole leg of lamb that is a bit more pricey than others, but it was the best quality we’ve tried (and fed us for so many meals that it worked out to be good value).
David Greenberg, Contributor
Café Hunan’s spicy shrimp with tea leaf
Fighting the COVID rip tide, I still managed some tasty nibbles this year. The wide mung bean noodles with pork belly at Wing Lai Yuen. The sous-vide smoked duck at Sichuan Lab. The baby cucumbers in spicy sauce at Liao Za Lie. The Peking duck at Lao Zhang Gui Dongbei. The dry hotpot at Twelve Flavors. The miso cod and five-spice duck fritters at Brut! The lamb ribs at 121BC. The tandoori lamb chops at New Punjab Club. The triple-fried frites (in olive oil, no less) and blue cheese cheesecake at Rubia. The country terrine at Jean May. The Chilean sea bass at LPM. The everything pizza at Dough Bros. The sourdough egg tart and Sichuan fried chicken at Bakehouse.
But my tip-top meal of 2020 was a recent lunch at Café Hunan. Their menu includes wild turtle (not domesticated, mind you) – I was shell-shocked. Their food is target rich in peppers, both fresh and dry. Yet Hunan cuisine’s reputation for biting heat is overrated. Simply dodging a pepper here or there defangs it. Strewn with whole garlic cloves and spring onion, most of the dishes were unique and stunningly delicious. My three favourites were spicy shrimp with tea leaf, pudgy, deveined shrimp fried so hot that the peels and tails crisped like potato chips as delicious as the pristine shrimp within and tossed with deep-fried tea leaves, stir-fried sautéed preserved pork with dried radish (the salty pork was almost a jerky, contrasting delightfully with the chewy-crunchy dried radish) and stir-fried smoked Hunan-style beef, with a flavour so intense that I suspect the beef was preserved like bresaola (it had the comforting scent of campfire smoke). Café Hunan is cheap and honourably scuffed by hard use and the service is brusque (so what?).
Sanatorium Hospital’s Mont Blanc
Also, I just ate my favourite 2020 dessert at the bottom of the culinary swamps: a hospital canteen. No joke. Sanatorium Hospital in Happy Valley. It was a Mont Blanc (what they call a “chestnut meringue tart”), a pastry disc with a haystack of sweetened chestnut strands on top. My wife was in for knee surgery for a few days, and I stayed with her. I ordered it three times. Topped with a marron glacé (candied chestnut) that was actually gilded in gold leaf, dotted with meringue (to represent the snow of Mont Blanc), a layer of custard within (brilliant move), it was better than the one I had at the Musée d’Orsay restaurant in Paris. My Lord, other hospitals serve Jello and Sanatorium Hospital has a Mont Blanc! Bravo, Chef! Shine on you, crazy diamond! And it only cost HK$70! It’s like finding out that your local sandwich shop is selling slices of homemade truffled duck galantine in aspic for HK$70. If you love chestnuts, those bewitching condensates of the autumn forest, come here. If you can’t get in because you don’t have current COVID test results, just clamber up the facade of the building. The canteen’s on the fourth floor (I think I saw an open window). Now, if only I could find a place to get marron glacé gelato. There used to be a shop at ifc mall, but it’s long gone. If anyone knows, please send word.
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