Lai Bun Fu (CLOSED)
Time Out says
It’s difficult being the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Every day you’re plagued with woulda-coulda-shouldas. ‘I woulda said this if I had more guts’. ‘I coulda supported that bill’. ‘I shoulda suggested this for the budget’. But, love your CE or loathe him, it can’t be an easy job. However, there are clearly some perks. And one of them is having a world class personal chef at your disposal. For CY Leung, that means Chung Kin-leung, an awesome talent who’s held the post of head chef at Government House for almost a decade. And now he’s struck out on his own in the commercial sphere with Lai Bun Fu, a traditional Chinese restaurant that aims to serve up head of state-worthy cuisine to the citizens of Hong Kong.
Aptly named Government House in Cantonese, the quaint 52-seat space at a new building in Central is decked out with both traditional and quirky surrounds. There are tables adorned in white cloths as well as a gramophone that’s perched in front an Asian-inspired art piece. Then there are bowler hat light fixtures lining the walls, and the chandelier at the centre of the dining room looks like a collection of overturned ice buckets. On entering the space, it all seems rather fun but it also distracts from the fact this is a fine dining establishment.
So, hats and gramophones aside, on to the menu. And, fun aside, this is where it gets serious. The signature dishes like crispy chicken with five sauces and foie gras prawn toast get us salivating immediately. However, because there’s a ban on fresh chicken due to the latest bird flu scare on our visit, we’re unable to order the signature chook. We can only grin at the irony of government decisions encroaching on our meal. Shaking that disappointment aside, though, we’re glad to find that the bird’s nest stuffed chicken wings ($168 per piece) are available. And they’re divine. Fried perfectly crisp, the deboned wings are stuffed to their limit with soft, moist bird’s nest and, as an added bonus, they’ve been pre-marinated with chicken stock, adding cohesion to the two ingredients. Having said that, though, this dish is actually the signature at a Michelin-starred eatery across town that only charges $120 a wing. We need uniqueness at a place like this. The next starter is the foie gras prawn cutlets on toast ($240 for three), which features luxurious tiger prawns from Australia. They’re superb and fair in size but, sadly, come with precious little foie gras, which is a deal-breaker in our books. The whole fresh prawns on the cushion-soft bread are award-worthy on their own, though. Just don’t tempt us with foie gras.
Hoping the mains will be more consistent, we dig into the traditional-style crab claw stir-fried with egg white and milk ($328) and this changes our tune. It’s stir-fried to a creamy texture and is chock full of crab. The crustacean-to-milk ratio is astounding and briny ocean flavours shine through in every bite. We’re truly impressed. And we’re initially impressed with the strawberry pork ribs ($198) too. The sauce is superbly rich and tart with fresh berry flavours and the quality of the pork is top notch. However, there are a few overly chewy ribs which leave us feeling a little deflated. We round things off with a starch and choose the Lai Bun Fu fried rice ($328), which is packed with goodies like lobster, abalone, truffles and Yunnan ham. Each grain is dry and separate, and it all boasts a fine flavour. The proteins are cooked to the same consistency, making every bite equal in texture. As it should be, the execution is masterclass quality.
We’re filled to the brim so we opt for a simple walnut and lily bulb sweet soup ($68) for dessert. However, it isn’t simple at all. It’s wonderfully complex. The soup itself is light, and comes without any added thickeners. And the aroma of walnut, clearly pan-fried, hits the nose as the sweetness hits the palate. There are layers of flavours here, making for a creative finish.
When you look at the prices, there’s no doubt Lai Bun Fu is fine Chinese dining at the top end. The ingredients are luxurious and, mostly, executed to the highest culinary level, as you’d expect from a chef who’s cooked for dignitaries for years. But the operative word here is ‘mostly’. This should read ‘always’ at a place like this. It seems we’ve been plagued with the same woulda-coulda-shouldas that the Chief Executive has to deal with every day. Our prawn toast woulda been great if we could taste the foie gras. The strawberry ribs coulda been fantastic if the chef chose better cuts. It’s a shame, really. We were hoping for a five-star experience. Still, hopefully chef Chung will get it up to governmental standards soon. We don’t need another fine dining spot to be a ‘shoulda’. Lisa Cam
Lai Bun Fu 5/F, 18 On Lan St, Central, 2564 3868; laibunfu.com.