Tender cubes of Wagyu is scented by thick slices of Yunnan matsutake. [Photo by Pauline D. Loh / China Daily]
Eating Cantonese is an indulgence for any well-traveled gourmet, but when it comes to eating Cantonese at Man Ho, it becomes sheer decadence. Pauline D. Loh lunches at the exclusive Chinese restaurant at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong.
Business travelers are the envy of others because they seem to enjoy all the privileges of luxury that shoestring backpackers forgo. My argument is that you have to have a sense of occasion. For example, when you are signing a multi-million dollar deal with a client, you do need to create an amiable atmosphere and a conducive environment.
Listen to mother. The way to a man's heart is always through his stomach, and Man Ho Chinese Restaurant at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong should be bookmarked for those important pre-signing meals.
Executive Chef Herman Ip Kwok Fai rules the roost, and his broad spectrum of experience cooking for the top 10 percent all over Asia has served him very well here. He's taken the best of Cantonese and lightened it up with presentation touches borrowed from classic French and chic Californian.
Take his seafood and tomato soup, for example. It comes to the table deceptively plebian looking. A whole peeled tomato sits on a soup plate bathed in clear broth. When you cut your spoon into the butter-soft fruit, surprises spill out - luscious seafood in the form of crabmeat and fish, fresh, sea-sweet and succulent, its richness nicely balanced by the slight acidity of the "love apple".
Then there is his humble pork dumpling, the ubiquitous siew mai, topped with one whole abalone.
"The abalone comes from South Africa, where the best are found now. Those from Mexico and Australia " His voice trails off, the unspoken criticism eloquently expressed by the lift of his eyebrow. The chef wants the best of ingredients, and there is no doubt he is out to get it for his kitchen.
That's why he is so happy to be back in Hong Kong despite brief adventures in places as far south as Singapore and as far north as Beijing.
Hong Kong is home to the chef and his cornucopia of fresh ingredients, including the best quality seafood on which Man Ho's main menu is built.
But there is also meat, and again Man Ho uses the best. A lovely platter of Wagyu beef is placed before each of us, and the chef chews thoughtfully on a piece and tells me: "This is Grade 5 Wagyu." Top grade.
I'm not answering because I am too busy enjoying my portion, tongue tender and redolent of all those mysterious seasonings that the chef had lovingly bathed it in. Thick slices of matsutake mushrooms are stir-fried with the beef, making it a dish with an extremely heady perfume that will tempt even vegetarians.
Again, Ip's food presentation wins the diner at first glance. The Wagyu is served in a potato net that the chef has specially ordered. He is like a boy with a toy as he gleefully shares how the net can be shaped to contain the beef like a basket, and his enthusiasm is so infectious you want to go out and buy some of this net so you can go home and play with it yourself.
It is a pleasure chatting with the chef, who is married to a Singaporean, and that makes us connect even more, since his in-laws live literally down the road from my apartment.
We share anecdotes about food in Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing, and tips and complaints about getting or not getting the right ingredients.
But there is no doubt Ip is passionate about his calling. And there is no doubt his culinary skills are recognized and appreciated.
Man Ho is not a cheap restaurant, but I would not advise dropping in for dinner without a reservation.
Man Ho also serves dim sum as well as creative a la carte. It is located on level three at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, on the lobby level.
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