My dinner at He Jiang was one which brought a host of emotions in me. My meal was shared with old friends and colleagues and I could think of nothing better than to break bread with them.
He Jiang is located at The Cosmopolitan Hotel and brings together cuisines of Sichuan and Shanghai, hence its name “He” meaning “together” and “Jiang” meaning “delta”. Being Shanghainese, I am always hyper critical when it comes to the food of my peeps and being an avid fan of Sichuanese cuisine, I also know a thing or two about it.
My fellow journo friends Bernice, Andrew and Steve joined my son and I at He Jiang for dinner and this particular restaurant was chosen because our dear friend Danny is now the Director of Food and Beverage at this hotel. We’ve known Danny for close to two decades when he was a manager at The Mistral, the Italian restaurant at the Grand Stanford Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East in Kowloon.
Our table is already presented with some amuse bouche — candied peanuts and a ‘pao tsai’ — spicy pickled cabbage similar to kimchi but without garlic which is quite typical of cuisine from northern China.
We began with an array of appetizers, some selected by Danny and some I ordered from the menu. Sliced Pork with Chili and Garlic sauce (HK$68/US$8.70) is a Sichuan specialty and utilizes poached pork sliced thinly and doused with a chili sauce made from the highly potent Sichuan peppercorns. The flavors were complex and the numbing effects were evident but not overpowering.
Assorted Vegetables (HK$58/US$7.45) is a nice calming dish after the spicy one and has three types of vegetables in a light dressing with a hint of sesame oil.
One of my favorite cold dishes is Minced Beancurd with Shanghainese Wild Vegetables (HK$48/US$6.15) but I was disappointed to find it on the dry side. It required a lot more sesame oil than what it was tossed in.
Beancurd skin rolls with vegetables (HK$58/US$7.45) or better known as ‘mock goose’ is a dish my mother prepares at home. Again slightly disappointing as the beancurd is too hard to chew and my son spits it out after it became a little too labor-intensive to work it to a swallow-able level.
I was happy to find Nanjing Salted Duck (HK$78/US$10) to be perfectly seasoned and texturally pleasing. This is one of those dishes which is very typically Chinese and not something easily found on menus in the West.
Braised “lion’s head” with vegetables (HK$88/US$11.30) is a ubiquitous Shanghainese dish and one which should be familiar to most people. I make this at home too when time permits. The meatballs were beautifully prepared and the use of Shanghai bok choy is also traditional. My only gripe with this was the intensity of its flavor. You might say “what?”, however, the sauce is not meant to be this strong and thick, but rather more of a brothy consistency.
Deep fried spare ribs with garlic (HK$88/US$11.30) was quite a hit with the kid and he managed to eat more than his fair share. It was not fatty nor was it grisly and the garlic added an extra touch to the crispy exterior.
Everyone loves Dry Sauteed String Beans (HK$78/US$10) and the one here is no different. Well prepared, perfectly shriveled with diced preserved vegetables to give it the flavor we are so familiar with.
Spicy Bean Curd with Minced Pork and Mushrooms (HK$78/US$10) or mapo tofu is done the right way here with ample Sichuan peppercorns to give it its numbing after-effects. It is flavorful and best eaten with hot steamed rice.
My favorite dish of the evening was Pan Fried Yellow Fish with Garlic (HK$48/US$6.15 each) these little yellow croakers are something I grew up eating. It is my father’s favorite and my mother used to braise it in dark soy sauce. Here, they are fried and very crispy on the outside while remaining extremely moist on the inside. I could’ve eaten a few of these on my own.
Steamed Pork Dumplings (HK$44/US$5.65/4pcs) or better known as xiao long bao or XLBs were decent, but honestly, we get better at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia so I wasn’t all that impressed with these. The wrapper was a little too thick for me.
The end of our meal saw two desserts which brought bittersweet memories for me. Osmanthus Pudding (HK$38/US$4.90) was a work of art with artistically jello-pieces dotted with the Osmanthus flower and so pretty I almost didn’t want to eat it. Osmanthus is also one of my grandmother’s favorite dessert ingredients.
The second dessert was one which reminded me of my grandfather. Deep Fried Egg White stuffed with Mashed Red Bean Paste (HK$48/US$6.15) was something my grandpa would always order at the end of a meal. He would always eat too much of this and when we pointed it out, he would laugh loudly and eat another piece just to make a point.
It brought back memories of my childhood spent sharing meals with my grandparents and it also made me remember how much I missed my friends here in Hong Kong. This was indeed one of those dinners which made me remember my life here, and maybe, miss it a little.
at The Cosmopolitan Hotel
387-397 Queen’s Road East
Tel: +852 3167 7833