Finding my Shangri-La - good fare at a fair price
It can be sweet to be intimate enough to be able to complete each other's sentences. Well, it would be if you knew each other and weren't just strangers crammed together in the typical Hong Kong restaurant.
Recently, I had a wonderful evening out at a restaurant that made me realise how hard it can be to have such an experience in this city of supposed gastronomes.
The complimentary amuse-bouche of a sharply dressed salad of vibrantly coloured, fresh veggies was on the table within two minutes of our sitting down. The restaurant decor reflected the cuisine as did the music, which was loud enough to ensure we didn't hear our neighbours' conversations, but not so loud we couldn't hear our own.
Service was from a charming waiter with a great sense of humour, a waiter who also let us know that we might be in danger of ordering too much. He wasn't over-attentive either, unlike one keen youngster who once interrupted an attempted romantic moment by leaning between my wife and I and asking, 'Are you comfortable with the temperature of your meat?'
We had no idea who the chef was, so it was the ingredients that were buttered up rather than his ego. The menu didn't list the brand name or provenance of a single ingredient. So while I couldn't name the breed of my lamb, it did come at a reasonable price. The waiter also recommended drinks from a short but reliable list and we found them a great match with our dishes. We lingered over a whisky and could have lingered much longer.
Our bill was HK$150 each.
This venue is no fantasy. Unfortunately, it was a walk up three grubby flights of stairs in Chungking Mansions. (What exactly are those red stains on the wall?) It would be nice to think that places charging 10 times more could learn from this establishment about great service and authentic cooking.
But for all intents and purposes, our restaurateurs often end up working for landlords charging exorbitant rents. When Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying recently said he wanted to reaffirm Hong Kong's core values, how many of us assumed the trained surveyor meant property values?
In the last quarter of last year alone, we spent close to HK$2.4 billion dining out and I am finding it increasingly hard to believe we are always getting our money's worth.