I still have a couple of meal reports from our recent trip to Delhi to come but I thought I would start on our Hong Kong meals as well. We stopped in Hong Kong our way back from Delhi. We were supposed to be staying with friends but due to a family emergency we only ended up staying in their house—they were back in India while we were there. We had a lot of eating planned with them but managed quite well on our own. Hong Kong is one of those cities where, if you like Chinese food, it is kind of difficult to not eat well. It helped though that I was armed with a lot of recommendations. We ate across the price spectrum while we were there, and one of the very best meals was one of the cheapest and certainly the simplest: at Yat Lok on Stanley Street in the Central district.
Yat Lok has other things on their menu as well but they’re known most for one thing: their roast goose. It’s a family owned operation and apparently there’s a secret family recipe for the goose: whatever it is, they know what they’re doing. Pretty much everybody at the restaurant while we were there (and it was packed to the gills) was eating something that involved their roast goose. And man, that goose is dynamite, and completely justifies the hype.
A quick word on that hype: Yat Lok now has a Michelin star. Some say that this is because Michelin is trying very hard to respond to criticisms of elitism in their prior Hong Kong rankings (this is also the reason advanced by some for the star given to the no-frills dim sum purveyor Tim Ho Wan). That may well be true but I can tell you that we enjoyed our simple lunch here more than dinner at a much fancier Michelin starred Sichuan restaurant a few days later. But let’s not get too hung up about the Michelin star. It certainly shouldn’t lead you to expect much by way of ambience or even comfort.
The restaurant, as you will see in the pictures below, is almost literally a hole in the wall, and unless you’re paying attention, or can read Chinese, quite easy to miss even if you’re right on it. Once you’re confident you’re there you enter through a small door and realize that there isn’t very much more to the restaurant beyond it. A small, somewhat cramped dining room with a not very dry floor and tiny tables very close to each other. You sit down and a harried waitress who speaks almost no English comes to take your order. You point at the things you want to be sure you’re communicating effectively (luckily the menu has English translations on it) and wait for it to arrive, which it does quite soon’ish. If you want water you pay for it; if you want napkins, you pay for them. But once the goose arrives it’s hard to care about these things (if you cared about them to begin with).
It’s hard to describe the goose. Well, that’s not true; it’s easy enough to describe it: perfectly lacquered and crisped skin with melting fat under it that has further tenderized the succulent meat below. But the description, accurate though it is, doesn’t quite convey the perfection of the goddamned thing. I don’t know how they do it, I don’t know what goes into their brine and marinade, I don’t know what the quality of the birds they use is, but I would have been happy eating that goose every day that we were there—and it took some effort not to as we passed close to Yat Lok every evening on our way home. It’s a different matter that my heart would have given out if I’d eaten that goose every day for four days.
But the goose is not all we had (and we got a quarter of a bird from the bottom): we got a soy sauce steamed chicken for the boys and that was pretty damned good too. We got some greens to cut the fat of the birds and a giant bowl of noodle soup just to be safe. The noodle soup was probably completely unnecessary but then again noodle soup in Hong Kong is rarely unnecessary (we’d learnt this early that morning as we ate a rather hefty breakfast on arrival at the airport location of Crystal Jade—more on this next week).
All of this came to HKD 340 or maybe a bit less. I can’t remember the exact amount as the restaurant is cash only. It should be said that this isn’t cheap per se: almost $50 US. But it’s worth every penny and then some (well, maybe not the noodle soup). I hope to stop at Hong Kong regularly on my trips to India, which are going to become annual rather than biennial, and I think it’s going to be hard to not come back to Yat Lok on the next visit as well (especially as their roast pork is said to be excellent as well).
That said, as one of my friends noted, there’s a lot of excellent roast goose in Hong Kong and it might be worthwhile to check out the competition as well. I should add that the original location is not the Stanley Street one that we ate at—one of the things we discovered is that every successful restaurant in Hong Kong seemingly has at least one branch elsewhere in the city; will it count as diversifying my roast goose exposure if I go to the mothership on the next trip?
Coming next week: a dumpling and noodle soup-heavy writeup!