Family rivals curry on regardless

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 June, 2011, 12:00am

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Ah Long Pakistan Halal Food has fired up palates with its heat-seeking curry missiles for decades in the 'mom-and-pop' neighbourhood of Jordan. Recently, however, interesting developments have had its loyalists divided and up in arms.

A couple of years ago, the eatery closed for renovation, reopening soon after at the same location - 95B Woosung Street. All seemed well, despite a slight change in the Chinese spelling of the name, until the appearance of Ah Lung a few months later, next door at 93A.

On opening, the latter restaurant laid claim to being the real deal by putting 'The original' on its placard. What was happening here?

It turns out the curry house was run by a husband, wife and sister team. After years of trying to get along, husband Ah Ho and sister-in-law Pat decided one of them had to go, but neither wanted to leave Woosung Street or stop making curry. So Pat opened Ah Lung. As unfortunate as they are, family fracas happen often. In the case of Ah Lung versus Ah Long, the question for diners is whether their differences are ones we can taste.

On Friday at lunch hour, we made a beeline for the twin eateries on the sleepy side street to sample the beef brisket curry and roti at each. By coin toss, we decide to start with Ah Lung at 93A, with its white plaque with gold lettering.

We sat at a long, narrow table alongside a steady flow of a dozen other diners; the staff trot back and forth the tiny kitchen and dining areas with an air of purpose and industry. We gave our preference for medium spiciness for our beef brisket (written as breast of beef on the menu) curry (HK$44), and the food appeared within minutes.

The curry, which came in a small, deep oval bowl, had a lovely earthy-red hue and a heady fragrance, thick with melting onion morsels that lent a subtle sweetness. The sauce gave the perfect amount of layered heat and unctuousness. Each chunk of beef was worth two bites, braised long enough to soak up the flavour of the sauce but not to the point of true tenderness. Some membrane and sinew still clung to the meat, which meant the occasional chewy bit, which we actually enjoyed.

Serving much less meat than sauce in the bowl, Ah Lung clearly wants the sauce to shine, and we offer no arguments against that strategy. We scooped up the curry with pieces of sweet roti (HK$14), which was lightly syruped before griddling and more interesting than the bland and dry salt roti (HK$11).

Moving next door to Ah Long at 95B, things were quieter; although from all the media clippings in the shopfront, it seems the couple have been getting a fair number of endorsements for their food.

We were one of two tables having lunch in a roomier setting than at Ah Lung. We placed an identical order, but were not given a choice of spice level. The beef brisket (also written as breast of beef) curry (HK$50) came piping hot to the table, along with salt and sweet roti (HK$9 and HK$12 respectively) straight off the griddle.

The first thing we noticed was the generous amount of brisket, which accounts for the higher price. The portion was also bigger than at Ah Lung. The curry was yellowy brown and had a thick layer of liquid fat on top. While waiting for it to cool, we devoured the fresh, sweet-smelling roti. This flat bread is thicker than next door's, without being heavy. The wholemeal grains gave a lovely texture to each bite, akin to that of cornbread. The curry, by contrast, was a bit disappointing. The large chunks of meat were very tender, a bit too fatty, and the curry lacked the complexity to cut into the heaviness.

The heat level was about par with Ah Lung's but hit the tongue somewhere in the middle without prelude or finish to excite the palate. We found ourselves reaching for the sweetness of the roti to round out the flavours and balance the heat.

The verdict: While Ah Long gets points for its delicious roti, its curry is just not up to snuff compared with Ah Lung's heady yet rounded stew.

Ah Lung Pakistan Halal Curry
93A Woosung Street, Jordan, Kowloon. Tel: 2782 1635
Open: 11am-11.30pm

Ah Long Pakistan Halal Curry
95B Woosung Street, Jordan, Kowloon. Tel: 2385 3382
Open: 11am-midnight