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Celebrate Cantonese

By Rebecca Lo | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-05 07:38

 Celebrate Cantonese

Crispy chicken is tender and moist with a thin, crisp skin just the way it should be. Photos by Rebecca Lo / China Daily

 Celebrate Cantonese

Crab claws are prepared in three ways: winter melon, egg white and deep fried.

 Celebrate Cantonese

Garoupa with asparagus balances out the meal.

Tim's Kitchen remains one of the city's undisputed leaders when it comes to traditional Cantonese fare exquisitely executed. Rebecca Lo learns why it is a Michelin guide staple.

Tim's Kitchen has a huge following in Hong Kong. Its stellar reputation in such a fickle foodie city spoke volumes long before Michelin doled out its first star. Incidentally, the restaurant first won one in 2009 and continues to maintain it, dropping back down this year after hovering at two stars for a few years in between.

The establishment began as a retirement project for chef Yau Tim-lai, who previously worked for 33 years in Hang Seng Bank's banquet department.

He opened Tim's Kitchen in 2000 in Sheung Wan, an area that still retains its traditional Chinese characteristics despite consistent attempts by up-and-coming entrepreneurs to gentrify it with wine shops and Italian trattorias. It was such a hit that he opened a branch in Macao at the request of Stanley Ho in Hotel Lisboa, followed by another in Shanghai.

Whenever I mention Tim's Kitchen to friends, they rave about how they have been going there for years.

Practically salivating, they wax lyrical about traditional, lovingly prepared Cantonese standbys such as snake bisque, braised pomelo skin, fish maw and sea cucumber. For my birthday, I decided to give it a try and invited some of my foodie friends to join me in a celebratory meal. I had been advised that it's best to pre-order a few items to avoid disappointment. In hindsight, I was glad that we did. Lunch and dinner menus are conveniently posted online and the latter is extensive with 16 pages of choices.

There are numerous items that require a minimum of one day's advance notice for preparation, such as its double boiled soups, roast suckling pig and steamed fresh fish. We decided to pre-order fresh crab claws prepared in each of the ways available: with winter melon, egg white, and deep fried.

The two-story restaurant is bright and tables are well spaced for undisturbed quiet conversation. Our place settings included gold-colored napkins folded to resemble formal dinner jackets.

After being seated downstairs, we noticed a number of vaguely recognizable local celebrities making their way up and down the rear staircase during the course of the evening. But our attention was much more focused on the plates of colorful food presented before us in banquet-style succession.

Corkage is a paltry HK$80 ($10) per bottle, so we brought our own bubbly to toast. A plate of complimentary century eggs was served with thin slices of pickled pink ginger. Though I've never been a fan of these delicacies, they were excellent with soft, melting yolks nestled in firm translucent amber.

We started with a silky eggplant smothered in scrumptious sesame and peanut sauce served cold that was plate-licking good.

Celebrate Cantonese

Then we moved on to a combination plate of honey glazed barbecue pork and roasted crispy baby pork belly. The succulent char siu was perfectly balanced between sweet and savory, while the pork's crunchy skin and delicate hint of five spices was delicious with or without the side of hot mustard.

Next came the crab claws three ways. I loved the squishy winter melon that set off the sweet crab with its clear glaze and found it the best of the bunch. However, my friend with the egg white swore by it to the extent that he duplicates the dish at home now.

Crispy chicken was tender and moist with a thin, crisp skin just the way it should be. Our choices of garoupa with asparagus and kale with garlic were both good ways to balance out the meal with some fresh greens. But when it came to dessert, mango pudding was fairly pedestrian and sago cake with lotus seed paste was just plain weird.

Perhaps we should have brought along a birthday cake instead. Despite the disappointing sweets, I will be back to try out the other 15 pages of mouthwatering dishes.

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