Recently, I had dinner with some friends who represent the champagne house, H Blin. We were at Yung Kee and my friend Meei had called the restaurant in advance to order dishes of virgin goose (yes, really, although I'm not sure how they determine that the bird is 'innocent') and steamed egg white with crab roe. I like Yung Kee and eat there twice a year. Meei and her husband, Francois, have at least one meal there every time they visit Hong Kong from France.
The food, as expected, was very good. The virgin goose isn't the normal roast goose the restaurant is famous for - it's stuffed with wood-ear mushrooms, gum jum (lily buds) and garlic cloves, and the meat is very tender. The steamed egg white was topped with so much rich roe we couldn't finish the dish.
Francois praised the food, and asked why some people dislike Yung Kee. I told him that if he ate there on his own, without Meei (who's a VIP), his meal might not be as good.
I wasn't aware that Yung Kee could be so varied until just a few years ago. I've recommended the restaurant many times before, but one time, a group of friends ate there and said their meal was terrible. I asked what floor they sat on (it was the ground floor), how they ordered (from the menu) and who their waiter was (they didn't know), and I realised that I'd forgotten to give them my usual detailed instructions on how to make sure they got the best meal from the restaurant.
I've always eaten on the restaurant's third floor (or on the fourth, where the food is even better), and only once have I actually looked at the menu - this was on a day when the manager I know wasn't working. Usually, I ask the manager what's good that day and order whatever he recommends.
As much as I like Yung Kee, it bothers me that not all the customers have equally good experiences. Yes, I know that with such a large restaurant, there will be some variation in quality, but it shouldn't be so extreme.
This problem isn't limited to Yung Kee - it happens at many of the larger restaurants in Hong Kong. The hostess or waiter quietly determines whether you're a tourist or VIP; if you're the latter, the kitchen gets a heads up and they take special care with the food, while 'ordinary' people take whatever the cooks send out.
It's not always like this - most of the people I've recommended Yung Kee to have had excellent meals, even if they're first-time visitors. But it shouldn't be the luck of the draw - if people are paying the same amount of money, they should be served food that's consistently good.