A steaming good time in sleepy Tuen Mun

They don't call Tuen Mun 'the Paris of northwest New Territories' for nothing. But rare is the epicure who cannot declare: 'Between Siu Lam and Yuen Long, Tuen Mun is a real oasis.' Or so I heard . . . For when the crunch came - when I actually had to go to Tuen Mun for a concert and had a few hours to kill - it was necessary to call a good contact to find where to eat.

My contact, a criminal lawyer, makes many a visit to Tuen Mun, for obvious reasons. According to his clients, Riverview is the place to eat.

There is no river in sight, but the steamboat is a good excuse for the name. And in this, they excel.

The steamboat is that pot of boiling stock on the table into which one dunks meat and seafood, fondue-style, along with lettuce, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and other vegetables (diners usually order a variety of meats, but some vegetables are supplied free).

A few minutes later, one uses a ladle to spoon out the cooked meats and vegetables, which are dipped into a variety of sauces.

While this may be fun, the bill usually adds up faster than the thin beef can be cooked.

That, though, is not true at Riverview. In fact, once you enter the premises - gigantic premises seating 200 people downstairs and the same number in their seafood restaurant upstairs - you are greeted by an astounding buffet.

The two tables hold concoctions which range from the inedible to the epicurean. For $108 plus 10 per cent, one can make countless trips to the spread.

First, one can choose non-steamboat appetisers from a dozen heated trays. These include Chiu Chow-style intestines, pork leg, a rather pitiful salad, good roast chicken and roast duck, bean curd, cooked squid and fried rice.

After this, the Great Adventure begins.

Among the greens and other 'fillers' to be plunged into the boiling stock are lettuce, endives, bean sprouts, Japanese udon noodles, rice noodles and wheat noodles, along with bean sprouts and Japanese mushrooms.

Bring these to your table, and pour them into the partitioned pot in which is boiling two different soups. One is the usual clear broth, the other a satay soup: broth with canned satay gravy and fresh milk.

Then go back for the big stuff.

Now you're in Hog Heaven. Delicious fish balls and squid, along with sliced beef and pork. But with this are fresh prawns, octopus and crabmeat (the latter, alas, still clinging to the shell).

You also have Chinese mushrooms, the freshest and biggest in the New Territories.

Don't bring back more than two or three. But put them into the boiling stock, and experiment with the other ingredients.

For instance, the beef goes tastefully into the satay soup, while prawns taste terrible that way. They take the clear broth, afterwards dipping them into a chilli sauce.

Squid tastes unusual in the satay soup, but with soy sauce added, can be delicious.

The Chinese mushrooms should be dumped all over since they make a delicious additive to all the other plates.

The fish balls are good with the clear broth, then dipped in a combination of soy and chilli.

But now comes the greatest revelation: take one of the raw eggs from the buffet table, break it open into a bowl, whisk vigorously as if to make an omelette. And then take your meats, dip into the soy sauce and then the raw egg mixture - the combination is delicate and tasty.

Riverside also has a fairly cheap ordinary Cantonese menu (we had the garoupa with crabmeat at $60), and special dim sum.

For breakfast and lunch, the dim sum comes out the old-fashioned away: on a cart. They make about 50 kinds each day, for $7.50 each. But at tea time, the same dim sum costs $5.50, another real bargain.

After a sumptuous steamboat, though, the only dessert necessary is fruit. After that, Tuen Mun looks lovely and a concert at the Town Hall sounds even better.

RIVERVIEW RESTAURANT Podium, Tuen Mun Town Hall, 3 Tuan Hi Road (to left of Town Hall), Tuen Mun, New Territories, Tel: 2440-0248. Open: 7am-11pm