Hong Kong son has booked a lunch at a special place in the New Territories today which involves taking a taxi down to the MTR station at Central and a long tube ride out to Hang Hau, followed by another 30 minute taxi ride to One Thirty One, a mediterranean style villa painted in dark red overlooking the sea and the dramatic hills of the Sai Kung National Park.
On the way down , we see large gatherings of Filipino ladies, who work in Hong Kong in the tens of thousands as maids, cleaners and “domestic helpers”. Sunday is the only day off for most of them and they like to gather in any pleasant open space together to play cards, chat, dance, sing and eat home style food. No doubt they feel homesick and help each other along in their economic exile. Especially poignant is the date, 1st May , as today Hong Kong implements it’s latest minimum wage law ($28HK per hour – about £2.10) but excluded from this provision are live-in “Domestic Helpers” .
Our Taxi from Hang Hau takes us through the lush winding country giving occasional glimpses of the sea and low density housing. Eventually when we reach Tseng Tau village, the cab drives through a mixture of small boatyards and allotments to reach the restaurant.
Fine dining is an overused term but this was the real deal. We were seated outside under a canopy with a view of the house, garden sea and mountains beyond. The table was laid with fine linen and immaculate glass and table wear. Service was immaculate and we were soon furnished with a variety of home baked breads , olives, oil, vinegar, mayonnaise and garlic whilst we were served our choice of still or sparkling water. The menu was a four course set lunch with tea or coffee to follow priced at $500HK (around £37.50 per head).
The first course was described on the menu as Carbonara – Iberico asparagus egg 65c . Understatement – the dish arrived followed shortly by the chef himself, Caith Chow, who proceeded to describe the components and techniques making up the course. A poached egg cooked at precisely 65 degrees was placed upon a bed of orzo pasta which had been cooked in a stock made from an Iberico ham bone. Alongside were two very small salads, one of asparagus and Iberico ham, the other of small garden herbs with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. The idea was to break the egg into the pasta and create one’s own “carbonara”. It was superb.
The next course , another understated line on the menu of Cappuccino wild mushroom winter truffle, was a soup of the wild mushrooms laced with truffle oil and topped with a delicate creamy foam over which had been grated shreds of more truffle. The flavours were extraordinary.
By now we had finished our bottle of Viognier, a fragrant white suited to the first two courses and the pouring of the Isabel Pinot Noir 2007 from Marlborough New Zealand heralded the arrival of the main lamb course and another visit from Chef to tell us about his creation.
Limited on the menu to the words: lamb loin, shallot eggplant cauliflower, the exquisite plate consisted of a perfect cylinder of lamb loin, cooked to perfection in a delicate jus, with a confit of dark shallots, then a small mound of intensely flavoured lamb shoulder, almost totally lean , next to a “couscous” of cauliflower and a puree of aubergine with the right balance of smoky tang to it. A small portion of sauteed potato was topped by a “potato Yoghurt” , mashed potato and cream to which had been added an enzyme to create a yoghurt like sauce. Overall , it was outstanding.
Was it possible to follow that? The menu said simply: Flower rose petal chocolate vanilla. Out came five glass plates upon which a creation of vanilla ice cream surrounded by strawberry flavoured cream cheese petals, emerging from a stem of chocolate “growing” from an “earth” of more chocolate and pistachio nuts. There was probably much more in there but it was time to eat not analyse !
After tea and coffee, we took our leave but not before a chat with Caith Chow, the chef who took time out to see us off. His pedigree as a chef is remarkable with a career at the Mandarin Oriental and a spell at the Celler de Can Roca in Girona , another of the world’s top 50 restaurants. Caith even insisted on showing us his own vegetable and herb garden adjacent to the house where he grows some of the more western herbs and vegetables he uses in his outstanding cooking. Eventually we left leaving Caith to continue preparing a small matter of an 8 course wedding meal for 28 guests that very evening.
As a counterbalance to a marvellous afternoon spent masquerading as AA Gill or Jay Rayner , we spent the evening eating pizza in the Peak Cafe under the mid levels escalator and drinking pints of Speckled Hen in the Globe whilst watching the Arsenal versus United game, the one-nil result of which was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect day.