Restaurant review: Howard’s Gourmet, Central – opulent food at a price to match
Better known for its celebrity fans than its menu, Howard’s Gourmet in fact offers mostly excellent food with noticeable Chiu Chow influences
I seriously considered not reviewing Howard’s Gourmet. It wasn’t the price that put me off – we pay HK$2,000 and up for a high-end French meal, and traditional Chinese preparation and cooking techniques are just as complicated while some of the ingredients are far more costly. But so many of the reports about the place were focused more on the restaurateur (Howard Cai) and his celebrity clientele than on the food.
When I called to make the reservation a few days before our visit for a weekday lunch, the hostess tactfully probed to see if I was aware how much the meal would be – perhaps they’ve had guests who were surprised that lunch costs about HK$1,000 per person.
The restaurant is beautiful. One of the first things you see when exiting the lift is a gorgeous, opulent bar, and the feeling of luxury is pervasive throughout the space, which is made up of several private rooms and some larger dining areas.
The meal started with “appetisers delight” – small portions of dried fish with peanuts, crunchy pickles with pork, and a demitasse serving of excellent Chinese yam soup. The next course of marinated duck fillet came with white vinegar dipping sauce, one of several Chiu Chow influences we noticed throughout the meal.
The Howard’s Gourmet dish that is written about the most is the signature sea cucumber, and we can see why. It had been braised until tender – so far, so traditional, but then the chef grilled it, giving it a very delicate crunch. Delicious. Double-boiled fish head with tangerine peel was light but flavourful, and just the right thing for a drizzly, gloomy day.
The next pair of dishes was a study in contrasts. Succulent crab meat was made into a square patty, covered in seaweed and then pan-fried – creative and delicious. But the braised pork belly with mustard greens was shockingly bad. The vegetable was overcooked, and while the fat and skin of the pork belly were soft, the meat was dry and hard. It was the only dish we didn’t finish.
The meal was redeemed by the hot and sour soup noodles – by far the best version of this I’ve ever tried – and a dessert of sweet soup with mashed taro and Chinese yam, which was so good we thought about asking for a second helping.
Howard’s Gourmet, 5/F CCB Tower, 3 Connaught Road Central, tel: 2115 3388. About HK$1,000 for lunch without drinks or the service charge. Dinner is more than HK$2,000 per person.