The main reason for our venture to Mongkok was to dine at Lei Garden (利苑酒家), a one Michelin-star Cantonese style restaurant, well known for its dim sum. Cantonese fare is characterized by its use of fresh unadulterated ingredients (especially seafood), and a preference for steaming or stir-frying. Like most well-known Hong Kong restaurants, Lei Garden is a chain with several restaurants throughout the city (and even outlets in Shanghai and Beijing). Reservations came in handy because this place got packed during yum cha (飲茶).
To say the last, my first dim sum experience in Hong Kong set a high bar for the rest of my dim sum meals to come. But it also confirmed my predictions: anything found in the San Gabriel Valley or even Vancouver-Richmond area pales by comparison–overly greased for faster cooking, less meticulous preparation, and the use of industrial steamer baskets, which just takes away from the whole experience. Also in terms of seasoning, all the dishes were seasoned correctly. I came out of the restaurant feeling refreshed, not satiated. P.S. Writing this and editing these pictures makes me yearn Hong Kong’s dim sum, no joke. I can see why Lei Garden is deserving of a Michelin star.
We were seated on the second floor, whose ceilings felt quite low (the photo above doesn’t do justice). Before we were seated, the waiters courteously covered our coats with plastic covering to prevent any unseemly food stains from passersby delivering food. What immediately struck me was that the table didn’t come with any of the requisite condiments found at any American dim sum restaurant, mustard sauce and chili garlic sauce.
Now onwards to the food pics–
The cha siu was succulent, sweet and moist to perfection, with a healthy amount of melted lard wedged between pieces of protein. The sauce was just asking to be slathered on top of a bowl of freshly cooked white rice. I saw a lot of other tables also get the beautifully plated Cantonese roasted pork (燒肉, siu yuk), sliced into cubes, looking a lot like layered cake.
Alvin’s mom also made an order of lo fo tong, a slow-simmered soup prepared over the course of a few hours, with delicate-tasting ingredients and herbs and often used as a medicinal tonic. The magic happens inside that glazed jar, which retains the moisture of the meat. In this case, the soup’s main ingredients were chicken meat, a variety of edible fungi, Jinhua ham, and winter melon, which formed a very light broth. The ingredients were scooped aside for consumption.
Next up came the appetizers, both soaked in vinegar. The first was wood ear fungus, soaked in aged vinegar.
The second was cucumber marinated with vinegar. The dish’s Chinese name (拍黃瓜) literally means “smashed cucumber,” referring to the fact that the cucumbers are hand torn, not sliced with a knife. Apparently this helps the cucumbers absorb the marinade better. It had a light refreshing crunch, almost like a palate cleanser.
Then the main dim sum dishes began arriving in lovely bamboo steamer baskets. We ordered the staples, paying careful attention to avoid any deep fried ones.
First was the fun guo, a type of dumpling native to the Teochew-speaking region of Guangdong. Fun guo are distinguished from Cantonese dumplings by a chewy translucent skin made of wheat flour. The fun guo were quite delicate, unlike their normally overstuffed American counterparts.
I think there’s a common thread in the observations I made of all the dim sum dishes I had. They were beautifully prepared. Judicious attention was paid to both detail and presentation.
Just look at these steamed shrimp dumplings, the way they were meticulously folded. How can you not say food porn does not exist when you see something like this?! And the rice flour skin was resilient enough to hold together after being picked up.
The shrimp rice noodle rolls, basically whole shrimp and diced chives rolled into rice noodle sheets and steamed, were also delicious. The accompanying soy sauce was light and sweet, just salty enough to intensify the shrimp’s natural sweetness.
Each of us got complimentary desserts at the end of the meal. I think it’s safe to say that the pictures speak for themselves. The durian pudding was naturally my favorite.
Lei Garden 利苑酒家
121 Sai Yee Street, Mongkok, Hong Kong