Hong Kong: From garden gate to plate

By Shandelle Battersby

A restaurant that prides itself on organic freshness allows Shandelle Battersby to go to the source of her dinner

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Avibrant and lush organic farm is not the first thing that springs to mind when you're contemplating Hong Kong cuisine, but for one of the country's best-known chefs, Margaret Xu Yuan, a little slice of paradise in the New Territories district of Yuen Long is key to her culinary approach.

Here Xu grows a wide range of fruit and veges, from kumquats to Japanese mustard greens, from Thai basil to golden beetroot, all of which wind up in her cooking and inspire carefully crafted menus at her acclaimed Wan Chai private kitchen, Yin Yang.

Xu also shops daily at a wet market (fresh food market), an interesting place to visit regardless of whether or not you're picking up something for dinner, though it's not for the faint-hearted. Live chickens, fish and shellfish sit alongside cuts of meat, fruit and vegetables, in a bustling marketplace constantly being hosed down for cleanliness and freshness.

Dining at Yin Yang is a special experience.

Housed in a historic three-storey building, the restaurant seats only 30 people at any time. The tiny kitchen is on the middle floor, and houses Xu's famous terracotta urn made of two huge flower pots joined together. She uses this to create her signature dishes, slow-roasted "yellow earth" chicken and "red hot" baby pig: the terracotta has the effect of keeping skin of the meat crispy on the outside while the meat inside is succulent and juicy.

She uses an old stone grinder to make organic tofu and rice pastries, and makes her own pickles and preserves.

Lunch (about $60) has five courses, dinner 10, and each is a modern, cosmopolitan take on traditional Chinese cooking with a Hong Kong twist, with its groundings in Hakka cuisine.

There are two sittings a day designed for tables of six, though this can be altered to suit.

Our "summer forest" starters come on an attractively presented platter made up of steamed golden beetroot and baby carrots (picked earlier on the farm), deep fried local fish, mustard greens and squid, and a plate of "naked" open wontons with sashimi, Thai basil and papaya.

The yellow earth chicken is simply cooked with a marinade of ginger, curry leaves, salt, olive oil and mandarin wine and comes out whole so we can admire it before it's cut up. It melts in your mouth and disappears far too quickly.

A thimble-full of Xu's "soup without water" popping with flavour from its chicken stock, which was steaming for eight hours, and served with lotus root and a lychee-style fruit, acts as a digestive before a seasonal hairy crab dish. This features rich meat from both female and male crabs, served on a bed of organic egg.

The tender slow-cooked red-hot baby pig is served with a kumquat sauce and crackling to the side, and has a delicious smoky taste from the terracotta oven.

Seasonal greens straight off the farm are the last main course course before the grand finale - a sweetly subtle Thai basil icecream with a white sesame doughnut. Each course is beautifully presented and we know it's as seasonal, fresh and healthy as it can possibly be because we saw Xu hand-pick many of the ingredients.

The advertising agency executive-turned- chef has travelled the world sharing her simple food philosophy with others: "When I put something on the table I want to know where it came from."


HONG KONG CHECK LIST

GETTING THERE: Cathay Pacific offers up to three non-stop flights each day from Auckland to Hong Kong.

WHERE TO STAY: The Langham - 8 Peking Rd, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Ph + 852 2375 1133


Yin Yang is at 18 Ship St, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. yinyang.hk or ph +852 2866 0868. Shandelle Battersby travelled to Hong Kong with assistance from Cathay Pacific and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

- NZ Herald

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