Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Treading in dangerous waters...

I went to my first blog dinner yesterday! I was invited to join a supreme shark dinner by the charming Cha Xiu Bao, together Sunday Driver and friends.

Being a complete amateur, I was enthused to go along to a one off special event organized by Hong Kong's leading blogger and was suitably nervous. This special shark dinner was available for one night only with the shark specially flown in from Norway.

The menu, as best I can translate consisted of 12 courses, accompanied by some wine courtesy of Mr. Bao.

We started off with the Shark’s Tongue. It was quite nice, with chewy bits (the tongue), crunchy bits (fried wonton wrappers and caramelized sesame walnuts), sweet/sour bits (grapefruit and pickled Japanese ginger) and fresh bits (julienned cukes). The mix was quite pleasant and enjoyable.

Next up was Lingzhi Shark’s Fin Soup. Lingzhi is a special type of mushroom that is revered for its healing properties and is can be found in herbal medicine concoctions. The soup was quite herbally and contained wolfberries to sweeten it up slightly. I love herbal based soups but it may not be to everyone’s taste, being a bit too much like Chinese medicine. The ‘fin’ was not the typical shark’s fin you find at Chinese banquets but more like the bottom bit where it is thick and attached to the shark.

*The picture shows the lingzhi on the left and the ‘fin’ on the right*
It was at this point that everyone started to notice how very warm it had become. Cha Xiu Bao convinced us that this was due to the healing properties of the Lingzhi and we were all impressed at how effective it was….

Moving straight into the next course was the Braised Premium Shark. This was prepared like the traditional abalone, a small piece of which was also served on the side with some green vegetable. The shark itself was quite chewy and could have done with a bit longer braising time to make it softer and more ‘glutinous’ if that makes sense.

Next up was Pan fried French-Style Asparagus and Shark’s Liver with Cognac Sauce. This was a piece of liver looking remarkably similar to foie gras with white asparagus and a thick slice of a type of mushroom we couldn’t identify. The liver tasted similar to foie gras but was more crumbly and gelatinous and much less rich, without the smooth texture and taste of the real thing. The liver was seared lightly so the insides were still pink. The asparagus and mushroom was fine but the cognac sauce congealed quite quickly and was nothing remarkable.

Osaka-Style Skewered Shark’s Spine (sounds painful) was next. This was about a foot long, inch wide piece of meat lightly tempura-ed and fried, served with a brown sauce. I quite enjoyed this bit as it was very tender with a texture like that of fish but more firm with less of a fishy taste. I felt that it was let down slightly by the greasiness of the oil.

The next dish was Steamed Shark’s Skin which was steamed with botan shrimp (thanks for the clarification Cha Xiu Bao!). This was again, grey and chewy. We were, to tell the truth, getting a little tired of the chewy texture and ‘sameness’ of some of the dishes.

We also noticed that we were all still quite warm…

Next was the impressively named Turkish Sauna. This was brought to our table in a bit earthenware pot with a glass of water poured over the top and on the sides at the table so it steamed the dish (I suspect it’s just a bit of showmanship to make the dish look nice). Inside were flash fried and cooked pieces of shark’s stomach with shallots, assorted mushrooms and tender bamboo shoots. By this time I was completely over the idea of so much shark and it was way too salty for my taste.

The following dish caught my eye for the quirkily named Red Date and Wolfberry Classically Steamed That Which Sees Not The Sky. My Chinese not being as good as I would have liked, I was extremely curious to know what this was. My mind, being of a less refined nature, thought it was the shark’s naughty bits (this didn’t put me off although the thought of swallowing a glace cherry took much more convincing). This misconception was due to phrase “where the sun don’t shine”, which is indeed naughty bits. I was informed that this was in fact, a shark’s chin. Unfortunately I did have to reveal to a table full of people I just met what I originally thought it was…. This tasted similar to the shark’s spine in terms of white non-fishy tasting fish.

Shark’s Tail was served next and I was lucky enough to receive bits of fin. This was quite textural with crunchy, chewy and fishy bits but I was feeling quite bored of the shark at this point.

It was at this point things got a little strange in the restaurant. All of a sudden, a man came on the microphone to announce lucky draws and prizes (gift certificates for whole baby roasted pork, fish and lobster). This was to continue throughout the evening much to my amusement.

When the waitress looked at a few of us fanning ourselves with red, red faces, she apologized for the broken air-conditioning. So. It wasn’t the lingzhi after all but in fact, broken AC. D’oh!!!

The next dish was the “Sun Duc” Home-style Baked Intestines. This was baked into a quiche like form. One bite of mine and I could detect a free hand with dried mandarin peel, a taste I am not fond of. Besides, after so much shark, I couldn’t face eating an egg heavy dish of yet more chewy shark-y bits.

The final savory dish was erroneously named Spanish paella with shark’s meat. Cha Xiu Bao took one look at the dish and inquired whether the sauce was thousand island…..not such a leap considering one of Pizza Hut’s most popular offerings in Hong Kong is the seafood thousand island pizza. It was slightly sweet and way too mushy with bit of …yep, you guessed it, shark’s meat. Two bites were enough for me.

As if the fanfare over the lucky draw prizes weren’t enough, all of a sudden, an incredibly loud version of a traditional Chinese hero type song entitled “Men must be strong” came on and the Chef of the night came out in full regalia and went around toasting all the tables. Very strange.

Finally came the dessert of Boiled Shark Soft Bones with Ginseng. Soft bones are the clear joint cartilage bits (deep fried chicken soft bones are a very popular dish in Japan and Hong Kong). This was double boiled with rock sugar, dried red dates, and ginseng to make a very viscous sweet liquid with jelly like knobs of cartilage (edible) and even bits of bone (inedible). It was very nice and smooth.

By this time, we were sweating bullets and very much looking forward to getting out of there. Despite our best attempts, we were yet again, humans defeated by a shark.


janine said...

great pics! it was really nice to put a face to your blog finally. here's to more good eats and jazz :)

Sui Mai said...

Thanks Janine! It was lovely to meet you too! I am very much looking forward to hearing more jazz in HK!

Cicely said...

Wa, what a stunning meal!!! Would you mind disclosing the name and address of the restaurant??

Sui Mai said...

Hi Cicely,

The restaurant is:

King of Dragon
L2, The Empire Hotel
33 Henessy Road
Tel 2866 9932

I believe this was a one-off special dinner but they might do something similar in the future!

They also have a Kowloon branch if you are interested:

41-43 Pitt St
Yau Ma Tei
Tel 2771 5821

This was introduced to me thanks to Cha Xiu Bao!