Monday, May 13, 2013

Dining solo in - Hong Kong

Dining solo in any country or city poses a set of problems. The lack of variety that you can order when dining alone (as opposed to ordering a variety where there are two or four stomaches present) is, by far, the most important. 

In Hong Kong, this issue is somewhat mitigated by the presence of restaurants and dining places that cater to the "order food, eat food and get out" crowd. They range from noodle/congeee shops to Japanese sushi bars, where one is seldom expected to linger after finishing your meal. In fact, some of these dining places pack tables so tightly (space is at a premium in most of HK) that you might feel your fellow diners' elbow touch yours.

There are of course places that cater to those who want to finish their after meal coffee leisurely. But this post is not about those.

First up - Noodle/Congee shops

1) Law Fu Kee Noodle Shop (2 branches)
Locations: 144 Queen St and 140 Des Voeux Road

Menu in traditional Chinese at Law Fu Kee

Making wontons by hand

Sui kow (water dumplings) in soup

Sliced fish and pig's liver congee

I couldn't finish both all the sui kows and the congee in one sitting when trying out Law Fu Kee by myself for the first time at their Sheung Wan location. When I went to the Central branch, I had a toddler in tow and 1 adult+1 child also couldn't finish the same order (1 order of sui kow+1 order of congee). 

2) Mak's Noodles
This noodle shop needs no recommendation. Possibly the most famous noodle shop in Hong Kong, it has been widely covered by blogs and media. 
Location: 77 Wellington Street, Central

Comparative size of wonton with a Singapore 50-cents coin

If you're going to Mak's Noodles for lunch/dinner, forget about ordering 1 bowl. You would need at least 2 or 3. Each order is small, probably half the size of other noodle stores. Each wonton is approximately the size of a Singapore 50-cents coin and there aren't many in each order. Mak's Noodles is best for an afternoon snack, if you've finished shopping at Central. On one occasion when I was there at 10.45 am, they refused to open for business even though I asked for takeaway (their official opening hours start from 11 am). Do not get there earlier than 11 am.  

3) Wing Wah Noodle Shop (not affiliated to the Wing Wah chain of bakeries)
Location: 89 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
Known for bamboo pressed noodles

Knowing my love for noodles, Mr effort brought me to this place, so technically we were dining for two. But this noodle shop is also good for dining solo. I ordered their famous Ha Zi Lo Mien (literally translated to 'prawn roe dry noodle') to compare against Lau Sum Kee's (read on). The noodle came with a dollop of oyster sauce by the side which you're meant to mix in with the noodle. I insisted on eating the noodle without mixing the oyster sauce and found it too dry. The texture of the noodles had a tad less bite than Lau Sum Kee's (or as Chinese speakers in Asia call it, less 'Q').

The good thing is that this shop is air conditioned and offers a menu in English if you don't read traditional Chinese. 

4) Lau Sum Kee Noodle Ka
Location: 82 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon
Known for bamboo pressed noodles

I went to this noodle shop with a toddler in tow, so technically not dining alone. By the way, don't expect high chairs in noodle shops. My toddler sat mostly on my lap or on the normal (meant for adults) stool while I had a hand behind her to ensure she didn't fall backwards. 

The ha zi lo mien here came with generous lashings of ha zi (prawn roe). I also ordered their wonton noodles which was bamboo pressed noodles in soup accompanied by wontons. I preferred Lau Sum Kee's version to Wing Wah's version but the long trek to Sham Shui Po is a deterrent. 

Ha zi lo mien

5) Ho Hung Kee Congee and Noodle Shop
Location: 2 Sharp Street East, Causeway Bay

This noodle shop is known for its beef rice noodle (or beef hor fun). Famous gourmet Chua Lan is quoted "Ho Hung Kee uses lard to cook its stir-fried beef rice noodle. That's why I appreciate it!" Although I'm not a fan of lard, I had to try this beef rice noodle which comes highly recommended by him. 

When I reached the shop, it was peak lunch hour and the queue in line for a seat was snaking out the door. I decided to buy a takeaway and eat in the comfort of my hotel room. The rice noodles did have the 'wok hei' (literally translated to 'wok fire', used to describe the slight smokiness and charring which comes with stir-frying at high temperatures) and the lard made the taste delicious. However, the beef was artificially tenderized and the taste of the beef was affected. The beef was very soft but at the cost of the taste. 

Second - non Chinese cuisine

6) Genki Sushi
Locations: Several branches islandwide, HK
Personally ate at the branch at Windsor House, Causeway Bay

Genki Sushi is your typical Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar counter suitable for solo diners. 

7) Nha Trang
Locations: Several in HK
Personally ate at the Wan Chai branch

Pho with beef slices 

Clockwise from top: Fried spring rolls, sugar cane prawns, dipping sauce and assorted raw greens 

I was recommended Nha Trang after lamenting the lack of good Vietnamese food in Singapore. This tip came from a Vietnamese (UK-based) gentleman who travelled to HK extensively, so I thought it had to rival the pho shops in Vietnam. Expectations were set very high and sadly, they fell a little short (I should have remembered that the recommender is no foodie!).

All the food above was meant for one person (me). I did manage to polish all of them off and waddled back to the hotel. The food itself was excellent and I have nothing to complain about.

8) Bread
Before donQ opened a branch in Takashimaya Singapore, I would buy baguettes from donQ Hong Kong and happily hand carry them back. I think more than a few stewardess' eyebrows were raised whenever they saw baguettes peeking out of my hand carry bags on flights from HK to Singapore.  

Look at the lovely bubbles of carbon dioxide in the baguettes (can't remember the French term for the bubbles in baguettes)

I no longer hand carry baguettes back from HK, but I do pop by the donQ store to pick up breads for a quick breakfast or just for snacking.

9) Tai Hing

Sadly I didn't manage to try a recommended iced milk tea in my last trip to HK. But I did manage to drink iced milk tea from Tai Hing and it was good. Tai Hing is known more for its roast meats (I didn't try the food) and I would recommend ordering iced milk tea if you need a drink to accompany your meal.

10) Dessert

Mango pomelo dessert is actually one of my favourite desserts. I didn't have much time or stomach for desserts on my last trip. But I managed to eat Xu Liu Shan at HK International Airport before checking in for my flight on my last trip. There are other more highly recommended dessert shops/chains, but for time and convenience, the airport branch is pretty good!   

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