Hong Kong - Tasting Court / 天一閣 Review - Cantonese Private Kitchen

I heard great stuff about Tasting Court from various bloggers and on Hungry Onion. So naturally, this place became a must-go since I’m always in search of excellent Cantonese food. From what I’ve read, TC sort of branched off of the more well known The Chairman in Central, which I visited 3 days later.

Note: I apologize for the crappy pictures with banding issues. I really should’ve turned off my camera’s silent shutter function under this particular lighting, but I didn’t know any better until after…

Strangely located in a residential unit

I’ve always found Rioja to pair nicely with Chinese food.

Course #1: Wild Claim Scalded with Sake
Meaty clams with fragrance and mildness of the sake but there seems to be a touch of residual alcohol that hasn’t been cooked off.

Course #2: 21 Day Baby Pigeon Smoked with Osmanthus & Longjing Tea
Exceptional fragrance is imparted by smoking the Pigeon with Osmanthus & Longjing tea. The bird’s got crispy skin and it’s super flavorful with just the right touch of salt. However, the flesh is a touch overcooked. The crunchy pickled ginger, on the other hand, is perfection! It has the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity to offset its gingery spice.

Very Chinese indeed!

Course #3: Slow-cooked Chicken Soup with Fish Maw & Conch
The soup is doubled boiled, a classic Chinese cooking method similar to the French’s bane-marie, which you can clearly tell by the consommé-like clarity of the soup. It’s got incredibly depth, umami, and sweetness from coaxing all the flavors out of a myriad of ingredients like fish maw, pork loin, conch, and dried scallop.

However, since all the flavors are already drained from the ingredients, I don’t quite understand why they’re included in the soup. Aside from the fish maw which retained its snappy texture, all other ingredients are devoid of flavors and chewing on them is much like teething on a tough piece of rubber.

Course #4: Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged Shaoxing Wine served with Rice Noodle
This is my favorite dish of the night and everything on the plate is the star of the dish! The sweet crab is cooked with a healthy douse of chicken fat and aged shaoxing wine which results in flesh and sauce that are crazy flavorful. But the goodness doesn’t stop there. We have a secret ingredient soaking up all that umami-ladened sauce. This secret ingredient is rice noodle, but it’s not just any rice noodle. It’s a more unique and specific rice noodle that hails from Chan’s village in Foshan, that are thinner, smoother, and snappier than the usual rice noodle. It’s also the perfect vehicle to maximize enjoyment of the super addictive sauce.

Course #5: Deep Fried Spare Ribs with Pickled Peel & Plum
Perfectly fried spare ribs with a crispy crust and tender, juicy flesh. The sauce, on the other hand, carries the essence of sun-dried tangerine peels & Chinese salty dried plums: fragrance from the peels, sweet, salty, and sour notes from the dried plums. Think along the lines of a elevated sweet and sour sauce with much more depth. It’s my second favorite dish of the night.

Course #6: Stir-fried Kale with Ginger Essence
Good-ol-veggie dish with a touch of gingery kick. The restaurant peels the skin and trims the tops and bottoms of the each stalk in order to offer uniformity and the softest parts of the kale.

Course #7: Fried Rice with Ginger, Dried Scallops, Sakura Shrimp & Egg White

This is quite easily the best fried rice I’ve ever had to date. Each grain, retaining just the right amount of moisture, is separated and and not oily at all. There’s also the unmistakable wok-hei fragrance that you can only get from a good Chinese kitchen. Meanwhile, the combination of pickled olives (adds crunch), egg white (add fluff), toasted sakura shrimp (adds crispiness), dried scallops (adds chew), and scallion offer a variety of unique savory flavors and differing textures.

Pro-tip: Save the leftover sauce from the Flowery crab dish and spoon them over the fried rice to add yet another layer of complexity to the dish.

Course #7A: Blended Jujube Coconut Juice Pudding
The flavors are as advertised while the pudding is probably made with gluttonous rice flour so it has that chewy mouthfeel with perfect “Q” texture that I love. Think mochi-like texture!

Course #7B: Huadiao with Dried Jujube Dessert Drink
A dessert wine of sort by, I suppose, steeping Huadiao wine with dried jujube. It’s an acquired taste for sure but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I really expected a meal close to perfection since there seems to be universal praise by various bloggers, newspapers, and forums. Nevertheless, my experience of Tasting Court is a mixed bag given its obvious highs and a few glaring flaws. To be fair, The Chairman offers a very similar but much more refined version of this meal for basically the same price, so I find it difficult not to go there instead on my next visit to Hong Kong.

Tasting Court
Shop D, M/F, Bonny View House
63-65 Wong Nai Chung Road
Happy Valley, Hong Kong