Walking into The Chinese Library feels a little Gatsby-esque. There are marble tables, wall panels, velvet booths and other art-deco-style accoutrements everywhere you look.
I visited the restaurant for lunch on a Wednesday, and the place was packed, adding to the vibrant feel. In addition to parties of two and four, there were also at least three larger groups of eight or so dining in.
What is it about The Chinese Library that’s attracting so many?
In addition to the lovely surroundings, the restaurant serves delicious food. It aims to showcase Hong Kong’s varied culinary heritage and draws on cuisines from cities and provinces such as Guangdong, Beijing, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Sichuan – and does so with style.
Here’s what we tried from Executive Chef Junno Li’s new seasonal specials that each showcase his impressive knife skills and attention to detail:
We started with the marinated geoduck with jade flower (celtuce) in sesame oil dressing ($168). Before we ate, Chef Li put on a little show to demonstrate his said knife skills. It was very cool to see a spring made out of a vegetable root! This dish was fresh and delicate. Also delicious was the signature chilled jade flower in green Sichuan pepper essence ($88), which was lightly spicy but full of fresh, floral peppercorn flavour.
The crystal melon shrimp dumplings in chicken consommé ($108) was one my favourite dishes from our lunch. This one is perfect for those avoiding starch as the dumplings are (somehow!) wrapped in a one-millimetre-thin slice of melon. The wrapping added a slight sweetness to the classic dish.
I was quite curious about what the salt-baked meringue free-range whole chicken ($698) was going to be, and it turns out it is a modern take on beggar’s chicken. The chicken’s bones are carefully removed before being stuffed with pork belly, chicken gizzard, Yunnan ham, lotus seed, mushroom, salted egg yolk, green beans and shrimp. Then it’s wrapped in pig fat and lotus leaf and slow-cooked for 6.5 hours. On the plate, this rice dish isn’t that Instagrammable, but it tasted as wonderful as it sounds – juicy, full of flavour and with an interesting texture from the lotus seed. This dish needs to be ordered in advance as only four are served per day.
The golden lion deep-fried whole mandarin fish ($688) had a crazy mane made out of fish! We’re told it takes up to two hours to prepare such a dish. But did it taste good? It was well executed and came with an addictive spicy-sweet sauce, though I’m not sure it tasted much different from other sweet-and-sour fish dishes we’ve had in the past.
And because we needed a little veg (‘tis the season to be a little healthier), there are certainly worse ways than the comforting dish of Chinese kale “bamboo bird’s nest” in superior chicken broth ($128).
The Chinese Library is proving to be a tried-and-true favourite in Hong Kong’s busy Chinese food scene. The food is well prepared and pushes the envelope just so, but in a way that won’t put off even the most conservative of diners.
Police Headquarters Block 01, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, 2848 3088, book online
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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