Scent of the lower Yangtze in Tai Po

The distinctive aroma of the lower Yangtze wafts across Tai Min Lane in Tai Po. Hot oil, fried bean curd, garlic and vinegar; you could be a block inland from the Bund rather than the old fishing port in the New Territories.

Inside the narrow shopfront of Si Wu restaurant, the impression of Shanghai continues, with hardwood booths and stools making efficient use of space to sit 60 hungry diners.

Those seats are needed. Every lunchtime it's a case of musical chairs as staff from nearby offices, shops and computer firms line up for a tasty, affordable lunch.

Diners enter past a glass cubicle where chef Chan Ping-yeung, from Shanghai, is kept busy making hundreds of stuffed pork dumplings. Dipped in vinegar, these hearty snacks are a culinary signature of the great port on the Huangpu River; at five for $18 they make a satisfying starter.

Munching away and savouring the elusive, typical taste of Shanghai, you scan the menu. All the family favourites are listed. That pleasure increases as you relish the prices; the most expensive soup noodle dish is $18 and the fried noodles (with assorted meats or shrimps) soar to $24.

The Si Wu is a family-friendly place, started by four local Tai Po businessmen who wanted something different from the town's usual culinary blend of excellent Cantonese seafood, curries of assorted persuasions (Portuguese to Pakistani) and English pub food.

They hired two veteran Shanghai kitchen experts and set up shop seven months ago. Since then, it's been queueing-up time for lunch, which does not surprise me for this quality at these prices.

Last week, four of us were lucky to find the last empty booth. A jolly, plump waitress poured tea and gave advice. There's a comprehensive English menu but daily specials are in Chinese.

Don't let this worry you; sip your tea, look what's coming from the kitchen and point at what looks good. Most of it is tempting.

Sliced pork with cabbage and garlic is one of the farmhouse staples in Shanghai, and one you seldom find in expensive restaurants. It's delicious. So is the bean curd with mixed vegetables.

But dish of the day was superb, crisp stir-fried green beans with minced beef.

We had sizeable bowls of noodles - one thin with lettuce, the other pencil-thick noodles with cabbage - three main dishes and 10 steamed buns. The four of us wiped the plates clean; only just. Total bill was $204.

It's restaurants like Si Wu (the simplified characters are short for Sichuan and the old name for Shanghai) that are the culinary diamonds in Hong Kong's gastronomic tiara.

Unpretentious, simple, affordable, they offer quality food at common-sense prices.

The menu here is traditional. Dishes are exactly what you find in homes and farmhouse canteens from Chongqing down the Yangtze to Ningbo. The food is sustaining, tasty and satisfying; the good, simple dishes of the Chinese heartland.

Si Wu Restaurant, Tai Min Lane, Tai Po. Tel: 2657-6818. Hours: 11.30am to 10pm daily