Friday, 9 September 2011

Over the Moon in The Peninsula, Hong Kong

I’m here in Hong Kong. And the most raved-about mini egg custard mooncake in the city is staring me in the face. The immediate question on my mind is: should I gobble the whole thing in one orgiastic mouthful, or nibble it bit by bit to prolong the ecstasy…?

Of late, the Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong has been over the moon in more ways than one. Four hundred and eighty thousand of their mini egg custard mooncakes were sold out within one day. Veteran journalists, columnists, and bloggers of Hong Kong – normally a most jaded bunch – have been enthusing non-stop about it that they’ve received as a festive gift from Spring Moon, the hotel’s celebrated restaurant. There was even an unofficial ‘race’ to see who would be the first to taste and review them! When these cakes were offered on the Internet, they sold out within minutes of appearing, and they have become one of the hottest commodities on Ebay.

So, did they live up to the hype? I’ll come to that later.
Photo by The Peninsula Hong Kong

I’ve been a big fan of the Peninsula Hotel since the 80s. Who could resist the legendary High Tea at the Lobby; The Felix in the 90s, with its oh-so-hip Starck-designed interiors and the famous view from the urinal in the men’s toilet; and of course, venerable Spring Moon. But, with the opening of other international hotels and their in-house restaurants, I had begun to neglect the grande dame; my last visit to Spring Moon was four years ago.

So, as I walked into the restaurant, it felt like seeing an old friend again: the interior remains familiar and warm, and the service was still impeccable. I still love the roasted walnuts on the table, and the XO sauce, served as a dip, has yet to disappoint.

Spring Moon’s Dim Sum Combination
The starter was a dim sum trio. The size of the deep-fried yam roll was just nice, unlike those of other restaurants, which fill your stomach with one serving. The portion of yam was thin enough so that there was balance between lightness and the presence of the yam. I usually associate yam paste with dryness, but this yam roll was surprisingly moist. The char-siew puff was well executed too; and I loved that the minced pork in the scallop siew-mai was crunchy, and the scallop fresh.

Roasted Peking Duck
It may not be the best Beijing Duck I have ever tasted, but I wouldn’t mind having it again on my next visit to Spring Moon. However, I would prefer having the skin and meat served on different plates, as eating them separately with the pan cakes would add a different level of satisfaction to the dish.

Steamed Crab Claw with Homemade Red Pepper Sauce accompanied by Abalone Rolls
This dish looked gorgeous with its understated plating. I went for the abalone/asparagus roll first. The combination of the broth gravy, asparagus, and abalone gave a sense of incredible lightness, yet carried a full-bodied luxurious feel. The red pepper sauce also worked well with the crab claw.

Braised Pomelo Peel with Yunnan Ham, Shrimp Roe, and Bamboo Fungus
This was the highlight of the lunch. The preparation of pomelo is long known to be laborious, and requires patience and skill. The end result would be a bread-like skin with very little taste, but which acts like a sponge to soak in whatever sauce or gravy it is simmered in.

Not many restaurants offer this dish, and those that do, often serve up a fibrous and tasteless dish. But with Spring Moon’s, we were pampered with two delicate layers of flavor. First, the pomelo was stewed with Yunnan ham, giving it a taste that was distinctive and rich; the aroma of the cured ham was really appetizing. Secondly, as I enjoy prawn roe, to bite into the pomelo, which was sprinkled with it, felt like eating pure prawn roe. I was in heaven! This dish was a celebration of skill, tradition, and subtle balancing of tastes. This alone would be worth flying back to Hong Kong for.

Fried Rice with Diced Scallops, Crab Meat, and Garlic
The fried rice was nice; but if I could be forgiven for nitpicking, it would be about the rice grain itself. Being Singaporean, I was raised eating Thai fragrant rice, and this rice was definitely not from Thailand. But then, it’s just a personal preference.

Spring Moon Mini Egg Custard Mooncake
Now, the verdict on the mooncake. Like all odd pairings in food, such as tomato with garlic, and chocolate with strawberry, custard with salted egg yolk, while seemingly strange, is a marriage made in heaven. The Chinese knew this well -- that’s why we love custard egg buns. The combination of custard and salted egg yolk in this mooncake was well executed; and the mooncake skin was buttery rich and fragrant. I liked it very much, but I would stop short of going ‘gaga’ over it. Having said that, I can now proudly boast to my friends back home: that I am one of the privileged few to have eaten THE mini egg custard mooncake!

Spring Moon
The Peninsula Hong Kong
Salisbury Road, Kowloon
Hong Kong, SAR
Tel: 852-2920 2888