This project was sold to us as a grand adventure that would rival Aqua and Hutong. With its two-storey ceilings, 180-degree views of Hong Kong Island and designer dining room, the brand new Nanhai No.1 is a fine establishment indeed. And even more surprising is that the menu contains a humble collection of classic Chinese dishes, all moderately priced. Given the opulent setting, and the helpful and attentive service, we started to understand what people mean when they refer to a place as having “the full package.” The dishes may have been mainstays you can find in many other fine Chinese eateries, but here they have added their own touch of class.
Historically speaking, Nanhai No.1 has a certain resonance beyond its traditional culinary offerings: the restaurant was named after a treasure ship that had its heyday during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but sank on its way through the South China Sea with a remarkable amount of porcelain on board. It is the regions that the ship passed through some 800 years ago that have influenced the present day menu. And we couldn’t help but choose a dish that had already garnered a lot of praise: braised garoupa’s fin with bamboo shoots ($368). In an earthenware pot, the garoupa’s tail and fins sizzled with bean curd skin, bamboo shoots, and shitake mushrooms (fins and tail are generally considered the best part of the fish). They were cooked with the bones intact, meaning the gelatin from the bones kept the flesh soft and fatty.
Everyone at the table who tried the tea-smoked chicken (half, $130) fell in love with this bird. Chinese dishes may not vary from menu to menu all that much, but the quality and technique is where restaurants can differentiate themselves from one another. Here, however, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it was one of the best smoked chickens we’ve eaten. The technique of cold smoking offered the dish a subtle scent, while the meat was soft and evenly cooked. Served with a side of dark soy sauce, this is definitely one to order. On a previous visit, we had tried the three-cup chicken ($98) to illustrate a menu that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but one that takes on classic recipes and perfects them. Though the three-cup chicken was wonderfully flavoured with ginger and onion, the tea-smoked bird is the one we are raving about.
The soup rice vermicelli with garoupa ($128) has become another personal favourite, often sampling on consective visits. Slippery tubular noodles sit in a fish bone stock and are loaded with enoki mushrooms.The chef then waits for your entire meal to be eaten before he fires up the pot to assemble this dish (the noodles can easily grow gummy if left in the hot soup too long). The milky broth was so full of flavour it lingered in the mouth long after swallowing.
One word of warning: the dishes are greasy, and the head chef is not afraid to use oil. And while we tend to like that, others might be put off by the sight of grease.
Some naysayers may dismiss a restaurant that serves food you can get almost everywhere else in Hong Kong, but there’s something special about this place. The technique here is manifested from a staff of well-trained chefs who not only understand their clientele (the tourists and the well-heeled, mainly), but who also spend the right amount of time getting things right before attempting to reinvent the wheel. All the best to them in their venture. We’ll certainly be back soon.
30/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2487 3688. Daily 11.30am-11.30pm.
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30/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
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