Hong Kong is a city punctuated with sky scrapers. From the ground they pierce the horizon like needle points, each a place of work or home for people who don’t mind not having a garden. The highest of these concrete high points is the ICC tower, ninth tallest building in the world, to be found via a maze of ground level building sites that will one day be the new financial district. The top floors of the building belong to the very swish Ritz-Charlton hotel, itself home to this afternoons lunch at the two Michelin star Tin Lung Heen, which must be the highest starred restaurant on the planet. It’s trivial, of course, and the height should hardly matter, but there can be few places on the planet where the view is quite as spectacular.
The restaurant is a pretty one; ornate and comfortable, elegant and demure. Tables are dressed in thick white linen, spaced well apart over the thick cream carpet. There are flourishes of red that cut through the glossy black walls, whilst the back wall is reserved for Chinese wines and sakes for those whose budget is non-existent. Indeed, this is a place to splurge; we had to search the wine list for a bottle under £75.00 and held our breath when the bill showed mineral water to be £11.50 per bottle. Those dining here come for Catonese food with the most precious of ingredients – they do not come expecting a bargain.
We start with two dim sum: Excellent cuts of Iberico pork shoulder, barbequed to a dusty pink and glazed with honey, are stunning – the meat dissolving on the tongue without any effort. The other was a steamed dumpling with dried scallop, fish maw (dried bladder, if you really want to know), and shrimp. It was the taste of the sea if the sea had curled up and died, all wrapped up in a soggy polythene casing. This won’t be the first time that I say this, and I am sure this was exactly how it was supposed to be prepared, but it wasn’t for me. The flavour was too stagnant, the texture too alien. It was lost on me, and I’m quite happy for everyone to know that.
My face said it all on the next course. A murky soup with lumps of boiled pork shin so grey they could have passed for British summertime, with winter melon of no distinct taste and more of the dried scallop. There was dried longon, a bit like lycee, which added the faintest of acidity. It was not nice and none of us got close to finishing it. Our waiter, the brilliant and affable Leo, tried his best by offering an alternative soup, but by now we just wanted to move on it from it all.
We moved on to accurately cooked scallops, with souffled pastry pieces and a finely chopped salsa of green onion and ginger. On the other side of the plate was Chinese kale, which tasted a lot like tenderstem broccoli, and pine nuts. The precision of all the elements was two star cooking; the veg precisely prepared and cooked, the scallops with a gently caramelised crust. It was just dull. Nothing slapped you around the chops or gave you a hug. The morsels of duck that followed were so tender that canines nor molars were required to work, sat in a deeply flavoured black bean sauce to which we piled in rice full of interest with bits of goose, abalone and shrimps. Lovely, yes, though hardly two star worthy.
We finish on a dessert that would divide the table. A set milk cream (panna cotta, if you so like), with a gelatinous peach compote and a fat slice of black truffle. Whilst my dining companions hated the way that the truffle bullied its way through the dessert, perfuming the milk and overpowering the peach, I actually quite liked it and ended up with three lots to eat. The honeyed bit of pastry on the side was a nice sweet note to end on, the over set grapefruit jelly less so.
I’d read a bit about the dubious nature of Michelin in Hong Kong prior to my trip and this meal confirmed pretty much all I read as true. Maybe I’m wrong, but nothing struck me as truly two star cooking. Yes, its precise and yes they use luxury ingriedients, but many of those ingredients added nothing to the meal other than an increased cost. Maybe it’s me and my uncultured western palate. We indulged a little in the wine list and left with a hefty bill that quickly soared into the hundreds. For that we had the loftiest of views in a lofty city and a distinctly average meal that left me feeling a little cold all over.