Last week we had the third bad meal in Hong Kong in less then two months and it was the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Considering the amount of times we eat out here this should not be a bad ratio, however, considering the amount of excellent food that is available it was about 2 times too many. Something had to be done to restore our faith in the local eateries so I decided to abandon my instincts, which have been kind to me until recently, and let “the red book” guide us to what are possibly the best Hong Kong noodles we’ve had so far. The book in question is of course the 2011 Michelin Hong Kong and Macau Guide and the noodles were discovered at Wing Wah, the restaurant where noodles are made upstairs, by hand.
I have had the good fortune to eat in a few Michelin starred restaurants in Europe and have always enjoyed the experience, food and service of the restaurants visited. Although I like to keep tabs on my favourite chefs and their ascend and decline along Michelin star’s walk of fame, I never considered buying the guide as I did not realise until recently that it offers heaps of useful information not related to starred restaurants alone. Most of all I would never have associated a cheep & cheerful noodle shop in Wan Chai with the group that can make or brake a chef. A few weeks ago I received the 2011 Michelin Hong Kong and Macau Guide as a gift and was amazed at how few starred restaurants there are in fact in Hong Kong and Macau. Amidst thousands of restaurants, only 3 three were deemed to reach Michelin’s three star levels (one more then last year), nine obtained 2 stars and 48 have one star. What is most surprising is that many of the one starred restaurants are large, crowded and noisy places that have been around for decades and I would not be at all surprised if the owners could not give a hoot about being listed in the “red book”.
The culinary ambitions of many local restaurants seem to be more focused on having full tables rather then gaining international recognition and acclamation. This was particularly visible during our visit to Wing Wah on Hennessy road in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. As I said, we had one bad meal too many and were now resorting to the Michelin Man to enlighten our culinary path. He did so through his alter ego Monsieur Bib Gourmand. Taking the name of the company’s nickname for the Michelin Man, “Bib Gourmand” has been around since 1955, advising readers on places they can eat “good food at moderate prices”. This year’s edition for Hong Kong and Macau seat the limit at HK$ 300 or less for a 3 course meal excluding drinks. Experience has taught me to avoid Dim Sum restaurants on a Sunday as it is a favourite with large Chinese families so getting a table for 2 is nothing short of impossible. A quick look in the excellently laid out Michelin guide suggested there was a restaurant specialising in noodles not far from our destination in Wan Chai. Arriving at 12:15 meant we had a choice of tables in this restaurant that I imagine does not attract many westerner’s unless they are on a mission to find it as there is an almost complete lack of English signs, menus or offers anywhere in sight. Once seated however it is easy to order as the menu (located under the table’s glass top) is translated into English.
“Bamboo Noodles” are clearly “the thing” here as they are not only home made, but are prepared using a very traditional way that employs the use of a huge bamboo stick to knead the dough. If you’ve has seen Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Hong Kong episode you will know what I am talking about. If not, it is worth looking up on You Tube. On our visit to Wing Wah, only one waitress spoke a few words of English and we were the only westerners there, bar the Chinese Australians who’s broad, loud Aussy accent managed to upstage the noise of the restaurant that filled up with locals within 20 minutes of our arrival. The menu is simple: Noodles dry style or Noodles in a bowl (meaning broth). We opted for 2 dry noodle “combinations” which allowed us 2 types of toppings on our noodles and a Beef Tendon noodle soup.For our combos we chose Shripm Wonton / BBQ Pork and Hot Chicken Sauce with sliced Pork / Wanton Noodles with Oyser sauce. The combo meals are large plates of noodles served over green vegetables and with the 2 toppings of choice served on top or next to the heap of noodles.
Although the service is typical of many of the local restaurants we’ve eaten in (fast, minimal and easily perceived as “rude” by westerners”) the food was very good and the noodles really are delicious even on their own. The beef soup is amongst the best we ever had with nice big pieces of meet and a broth that was so tasty you wanted to lick the bowl. I never thought I’d say that about a broth, but clearly Bib Gourmand knows his food. My learning of the day was that I should stop associating Michelin guides with elegant, pricey, celebrity chef restaurants and look to them for recommendations of good food. For now Wing Wah has passed Chatty Brain’s restaurant which is simply based on achieving a positive response to the question “Would we eat here again?”. this might be a simplistic approach but with such a large choice it is easy to get a no. In the case of Wing Wah however, Bib Gourmand and I are on the same page and we will be back. Wing Wah, 89, Hennessy Road, Wan CHai, Hong Kong. tel 25 27 74 76Total bill HK$ 186 for 2 combo meals, 1 soup and a dessert