Despite its name, the Hong Kong Old Restaurant is not actually that old. The name is also erroneous in another detail – it’s actually Shanghainese. Founded in 1993, it is unpretentious and unassuming. Last year, its Hong Kong branch moved from North Point to the newly built Nan Fung Tower on Connaught Road. It opened there with minimal fuss and even less promotion. Today, unless you’re actually looking for it, there’s little to guide you to its basement location. Inside, the décor is very basic but, for those in search of reasonably priced Shanghainese cuisine, it is well worth a visit. Reassuringly, the apt regional dialect is heard in conversation among patrons and between the workman-like service staff. While the Hong Kong Old Restaurant might not win style points, it is certainly authentic. As is customary with this cuisine, we start with some appetite-whetting cold dishes. The Diced Chicken in Piquant Sauce ($108) delivers a surprising kick, complete with strong Mala chilli flavours and what appears to be a turmeric base. It wasn’t so much hot as tingly on the tongue, with its moist cubes of chicken and peanuts proving simply delicious.
The Honey Ham Wrapped in Steamed Bread with Crispy Beancurd Sheet ($92 for two) came separate, with the steamed buns in a basket and the ham and bean curd on a separate plate. While it’s meant to be DIY, when asked the server expertly divided the ingredients into little sandwiches right in front of us. Overall, the Shanghainese cured ham is mellower than the Yunnan ham often used in cooking. The ham slices in the buns were also quite thick so, if too salty, they would certainly be overwhelming. Instead, they’re sweet, savoury, crunchy and spongy – a snack that truly boasts multiple textures and flavour profiles. As it’s hairy crab season – and it’s generally accepted that the best pickings always come after the Mid-Autumn Festival – we tried the Hairy Crab Xiao Long Bao ($120 for four) and the Hairy Crab in Tofu ($388). The steamed classic Shanghainese dumplings came with plenty of soup, while the crab roe might have been slightly over-steamed. Rather than oozing and unctuous, it was a little caked, although the crab’s delicate flavour was nicely infused into the soup. If the dumplings had been taken out a little earlier, it might have been more intense.
The tofu with crab roe and meat proved an even better showcase for the seasonal crustacean. This simple combination of velvety fresh tofu coated with an almost creamy crab sauce, though, was truly heavenly. Hands down, the best dish, though, was the Fried Shredded Eel ($148). Many Shanghainese diners stir-fry in a considerable portion of bean sprouts and cut down on the eel. Here, though, we had the choice of just having the eel straight up and they do serve up a generous plate of plump, meaty strands – not dried or shrivelled from too much freezer time. The Shanghainese preference for heavy tastes can sometimes see dishes drowned in cooking wine, vinegar or sugar. Not the Hong Kong Old Restaurant. Rather than drenched in a soy braise, the thick threads of eel could be clearly tasted, complete with just enough caramelisation to elevate its sumptuousness. As a result, we were sorely tempted to soak up every drop of sauce with steamed rice. For dessert, we opted for more delicate flavours in the classic Little Dumplings in Soup with Sweet Wine Sauce ($42). The bowl of soothing liquid nourishes with the flavours of osmanthus and sticky rice wine, as well as some tiny, chewy rice cakes. It’s an elegant end to a Shanghai feast, one delivered with true class and little fanfare. If you need style, go elsewhere. If you’re content with substance and sumptuous food, try the Hong Kong Old Restaurant.
Hong Kong Branch
Basement, Nan Fung Tower
88 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2508 1081
1/F, Prat Mansions
26 Prat Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2722 1812