Restaurant review: Lao Xue Yuan – classic Shanghai dishes that are comforting, and generally full of flavour
The decor has some odd touches, such as a painted plate of Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan, but on the plates that matter there is plenty to admire – avoid the xiao long bao with their bland filling, though
As I hurried down the street on my way to Lao Xue Yuan, I saw signage outside that said the restaurant was still in its soft opening phase, although it had opened more than two months ago.
The news of a good new restaurant gets around fast, it seems, and as I walked down the stairs to the basement space, I saw that the large dining area was almost full, and filled primarily with Mandarin speakers.
The room was elegant, with a few odd touches, such as the painted plate with a portrait of Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan waving against a blue sky, and too-large bolsters for the banquette seating, which we had to set aside to make room for ourselves.
Almost every dish we tried had the icon next to it indicating that it’s a speciality. This proved good strategy for the starters. The home-made salty chicken (HK$98) didn’t look like anything special – just ungarnished shredded chicken, with no attempt at presentation, but the subtle seasoning showed off the inherent flavour of the bird.
Crispy eels in Wuxi style (HK$128) were fantastic – crunchy but not overwhelmingly sweet or sticky, while the smoked duck eggs (HK$40 for two) were very well done, with a firm white and runny yolk.
Fried prawns with salted egg (HK$220) was another good dish. The prawns were large, crunchy and sweet, and there was a thick but delicate layer of salted egg. Stir-fried rice cake with Tientsin cabbage and shredded pork (HK$88) was a comforting classic Shanghainese dish.
The oddly named grandmother vegetables with green bean (HK$88) needed more time in the wok – the green beans were too firm – but we liked the flavour, which came from salted vegetables.
Braised pork belly with potato (HK$120) was disappointing. The pork belly was well layered, with a sufficient amount of fat, but some of the meat was hard. Signature pan-fried pork buns (HK$48) and the xiao long bao (HK$48) were let down by the bland filling that was too firm and not juicy enough.
Lao Xue Yuan, Basement One, South Pacific Hotel, 23 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 3705 9136. About HK$225 without drinks or the service charge.