Hong Kong Zhai Restaurant 香港仔 House of Dim Sum | Blk 107, Ang Mo Kio

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Ahhh yes… You’d know it: I’ve been watching reruns of Doctor Who again. I know the real fans hate it, but Matt Smith, Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill had such immense onscreen chemistry as the Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams that it made the Clara Oswald arc absolutely meagre. I had to let it sit a while before starting on it. I’m looking forward to what Peter Capaldi can bring to the table as the Twelveth Doctor. After all, he does look like the Doctor, at least, well, a likeness to the earlier versions’.

Anyways, it’s fascinating when one reads through Hong Kong Zhai’s website. The eatery’s claim to fame is its head chef, who has accummulated a string of prestigious awards all across the Sinosphere from San Francisco in the States to Shenyang in China. Some expense has even been spared to fashion a website which, in my opinion, is becoming increasingly important (to have an online presence, that is). Therefore, it’s surprising to find out that the eatery’s two outlets aren’t even proper restaurants, but stalls located in non-descript coffee shops in rural suburbia.

Despite the admirable web effort, I discovered Hong Kong Zhai by chance – it’s in the same coffee shop as Malaysian bak kut teh stall, Hongji. Although it was closed when I was there, Hong Kong Zhai with its open concept kitchen of gleaming stainless steel left a distinct impression on me. There’s also a critically acclaimed minced pork noodle and western food stall there too, as evidenced by the countless laminated newspaper cutting ornaments of previous media features. I made a mental note to come down soon, and decided that today would be as good as any.

The moment I spotted the words “流沙包” on the menu, I had a feeling my dim sum lunch was going to be at least, better than average.

I started with the Shrimp Cheong Fun, which was brought over and the soy sauce elegantly served and poured at the table. The dish was beautifully executed, and while Hong Kong Zhai experimented with the flavors and textures, it was definitely more of an evolution rather than a revolution. Aesthetically, the sauce was darker, had a slightly thicker consistency and was definitely leaning on the savory side of things, but it balanced the firmer but still flowing composition of the cheong fun. The result? Prawns, instead of “shrimps” stuffed in the cheong fun. I would even hazard to say that it’s overall a deconstructed har kow done right.

The shrimp cheong fun was followed by the ubiquitous har kow, of course. Once again, the dumpling skin was definitely on the thicker side but it escapes the affliction of a rubbery texture and flavor. Paired with the variety of chili sauces, there’s a certain gastronomic wanderlust one gets with futzing around the different relishes.

And finally, the liu sha bao. I always get a sense of apprehension and trepidation while I await my golden lava bun, because truly, no single liu sha bao is exactly the same really. There are just too many determinants involved: the temperature of the dining area, the length of time it sits on the table before it’s consumed, et cetera. Every phenomenon and circumstances, and every mundane and the non-happening influences the liquidity and flow of the filling, and all…it’s almost entirely possible to taste the best and worst liu sha bao within the same lot. Like the cheong fun and dumplings before, the liu sha bao is also a bit different.

A “good”, “interesting” different as opposed to “rude” and “unwelcoming, the liu sha bao here is defined by the intoxicating aroma of melted salted butter and the liquid almost caramelized syrup filling of the salted egg yolk custard. Purists who appreciate the grainy textures and teases of that powdery saltiness of the salted egg yolk custard might not enjoy this. However, if you enjoyed Victor’s Kitchen’s version, I’ve got a feeling you’ll like it here.

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