Parking is terrible, traffic is frequently a nightmare, and recent construction has only made the situation worse. Changkat Thambi Dollah, the street for provincial Chinese food, is a whole lot of bad news for people who like their food fast, convenient and relaxing. But persistence pays off, especially if your destination is Hong La Qiao.
To either side of the restaurant you’ll find alternatively Teochew porridge shops or a man grilling frog legs on the pavement, and though it may look imposing from outside, it’s barebones and functional inside. Hong La Qiao executes authentic mainland Chinese cuisine (primarily Shanghainese and Sichuan) in admirable fashion, mixing it up with other more pedestrian Chinese fare. It’s often a hard battle between the restaurant’s famous steamboat and their dishes (but if you are going for the steamboat, try the preserved vegetable and fish head soup stock).
We start with the deceptively simple-sounding warm salad of julienned celery and firm beancurd, tossed in a slick of sesame and chilli oil. It’s a great palate-opener for what’s to come: a parade of the restaurant’s heartiest dishes. Like the pork tripe and pepper soup – packed with surprisingly fresh, clean flavours, as well as tender shards of bamboo shoot, crunchy wood ear fungus, slippery strands of glass noodles and the bonus: mini delicate meat-filled omelettes.
We’ve ordered a restaurant specialty, the two-flavour fish, which emerges as a huge, deep-fried tilapia. Half the fish is coated in a regulation sweet and sour sauce, while the other half is blanketed in a savoury, textural mince of black bean, spring onion and ginger. It’s a perfect marriage of textures and flavours – the fish is sweet and firm, with a crispy, slightly floury coating, and then the added bite of the black bean topping.
A contender for supremacy of the tabletop was the crispy duck, which in past meals has been a feat of juicy meat and crispy, fragrant skin. This time it was just short of its usual flavour, the dense meat slightly dull, though the skin was still beautifully crispy. Other notable mentions: sautéed sugar snap peas studded with flecks of savoury ham, a crispy, flaky scallion pancake, and steamed dumplings packed with chopped chives and minced pork. We eschew dessert (though the tang yuan is famously good) in favour of leaning back with a toothpick.
Apart from the duck, the kitchen hadn’t put a foot wrong with the dishes. So even if the atmosphere is a little Spartan, the service a touch brusque, and the parking not even worth talking about, the family-style food is definitely worth the inconvenience.
|Venue name:||Hong La Qiao||Contact:|
53 & 55 Changkat Thambi Dollah