July was a record month for me: I ate out only twice. In normal times, it’s more like twice a week, at least.
Don’t feel sorry for me, though: just because I wasn’t eating at restaurants didn’t mean I didn’t eat restaurant-quality food.
At the beginning of the month I went to Hansik Goo, the first overseas restaurant by Mingoo Kang of the two-Michelin-star Mingles, in Seoul, South Korea.
We were there for a friend’s birthday, and had the full seven-course tasting menu along with a couple of extra dishes sent out by chef Steve Lee.
Korean beef tartare at Hansik Goo. Photo: Susan Jung
Jang trio at Hansik Goo. Photo: Susan Jung
Highlights of the meal were jeonbok yukhoe – the traditional Korean beef tartare dish made even better with the addition of seaweed and fresh abalone, and samgye risotto, a clever and delicious version of the classic Korean soup of chicken, rice and ginseng. It’s usually made with a whole small chicken simmered with ginseng, but this was a roulade of tender, boneless slow-cooked chicken with rice and a subtly sweet ginseng broth.
Instead of the tasting menu’s summer jjim (fish with a green herb sauce), Lee sent us whole, shell-on lobsters with caviar sauce, followed by the best seafood and spring onion pajeon (pancake) I’ve tasted, barbecued Iberico pork chop, then refreshing cold buckwheat noodles in gochujang broth.
The three desserts we had included the jang trio, which Kang created for Mingles restaurant. (Hansik Goo is in the process of moving to larger premises. It will reopen on August 13 at 1/F The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2798 8768.)
The reason I didn’t eat out for more than three weeks after that is simple: I wasn’t in Hong Kong. I spent two weeks in Southern California visiting my parents. I was hoping to tell you about some great Mexican restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, but my parents, although fully vaccinated, still resist eating out for fear of catching the coronavirus.
I’m not sure how much weight I lost in California, but I know I gained it back in quarantine.
Seafood and spring onion pajeon at Hansik Goo. Photo: Susan Jung
As soon as I booked my flight to California, I had to choose a quarantine hotel for my seven-day stay (thanks to a double vaccination, plus a positive antibody test). Several names kept popping up when I asked around for recommendations for hotels that were of a reasonable size and about mid-range in price.
Of the three that could accommodate me for the dates I wanted, two were on the south side of Hong Kong Island, and the third was the Dorsett Wanchai. I chose the latter because the cancellation policy was better than the others, and – just as important – the Wan Chai location meant there were far more options for food deliveries. I made sure to bookmark the delivery apps for the occasions the quarantine food wasn’t edible.
It turned out to be unnecessary. Although the food was made in large batches, it wasn’t bad, and on two occasions, I would have been happy if I was served it in a restaurant. But I ended up eating only seven hotel meals because friends and chefs were so generous once they found out about my plight.
Quarantine food: Chaat’s fish curry, tandoori lamb chops and prawn pulao. Photo: Susan Jung
Quarantine food: Dang Wen Li by Dominique Ansel sent delicious pastries. Photo: Susan Jung
I enjoyed wagyu curry rice from Nikushou, a wagyu katsu sando from Wagyumafia, a huge delivery of fish curry, prawn pulao and tandoori lamb chops from Chaat (that was enough for three meals), pastries from Bakehouse and Dang Wen Li by Dominique Ansel, Pakistani mangoes from Palash Mitra of New Punjab Club, home-made gravlax and pickled duck tongues from one friend, and a freshly baked tarte Tatin from another. I had so much food that the chips, fresh fruit and other snacks my husband delivered to the hotel went uneaten.
As pleasant as that quarantine stay was, I fervently hope I don’t have to do it again any time soon. And I couldn’t imagine having to quarantine for 14 or 21 days.
Before I left on my trip, I booked one of my favourite restaurants for the first meal out of quarantine: Neighborhood (61-63 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2617 0891). Number 17 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it belongs to my friend David Lai, and as always, I asked him to compose the menu.
Cured Hokkaido sardines at Neighborhood. Photo: Susan Jung
Buffalo wings at Neighborhood. Photo: Susan Jung
I ended up eating five of the eight cured Hokkaido sardine fillets he served, because two of my guests dislike sardines (they were comparing them to canned sardines, which have a much stronger taste). They were delicious: firm, meaty and not at all fishy. I also ate half of the uni with tomato water jelly, because the same guests dislike sea urchin. And one guest, who finds crabs too fiddly to deal with, gave me his portion of yellow oil crab, a seasonal delicacy that gets its name because the fat of the shellfish is dispersed throughout the entire shellfish.
Smoked yellow croaker was a dish enjoyed by the entire table, as were Lai’s version of Buffalo wings, and a new dish of fresh watermelon with caviar and lardo (it’s much better than it sounds). We also loved the truffled, salt-baked Yuen Long chicken that, after being carved, was served on a wilted salad with morel mushroom sauce, with sautéed porcini mushrooms and roast potatoes on the side.
The meal ended with slices of tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream and black truffles.
Truffled Yuen Long chicken with wilted greens and morel mushroom sauce at Neighborhood. Photo: Susan Jung
Tarte Tatin from Neighborhood. Photo: Susan Jung
Lai admitted this was a small meal for us – he also planned on serving a kinki fish paella, but resisted. Still, there was too much food, and I ate the leftover chicken for lunch the next day. It was as good as the food I had in quarantine – and that’s saying a lot.