Lung King Heen: 3 star dumplings

lung king heen
Scallop and prawn dumpling, Lung King Heen

It’s a strange thing to live in the bottom half of the planet that has no Michelin stars. In some ways, it has an internal logic for Michelin: the guide’s ostensible purpose was to get people out into the provinces by car and thereby burn through more Michelin rubber. Awarding stars to somewhere that can’t be accessed by automobile does not sell more French tyres. Hong Kong is one hell of a drive from France: it’s a possible but improbable journey, but the stars, they be there.

Maybe Michelin makes tyres for planes these days.

With low-cost carriers now offering flights for roughly the price of buying a beer onboard said plane, I thought that it was about time that I did some serious offshore eating and start collecting stars like a proper, credentialed food critic. Maybe it would convert me to the lifestyle of a high-end eater and my days eating delicious soup in the gutter would be over. I could credibly complain about foie gras and table linen like somebody that works for a serious but doomed print publication.

So I booked in for at Lung King Heen, Hong Kong’s only three Michelin-starred restaurant. I’m probably not making the most of the experience by eating dim sum but then again, what have I got to prove to anyone? I love dumplings. If I could take the chance at having a meal at the only Cantonese restaurant that Michelin has awarded three stars to, and have them make me a selection of dumplings I would. And did.

Critics probably like writing about serious dining because it gives you much more to write about. Filling a thousand words is easy when you eat twenty courses and you’ve got much more leeway to pick faults when you’re paying a huge bill at the end. They seated me five minutes late. The linen on the table was not perfectly flat. Service is obvious, cookie cutter silver service. English is great. The room is simple: wood panelling; huge windows frame Hong Kong’s harbour which is the “View of the Dragon” to which the restaurant’s name refers. These things are utterly meaningless when it comes to food, but maybe they’re supposed to matter to someone.

Physically, Lung King Heen’s menu has weight and silken texture. Inside, it’s much the same, classic Cantonese dishes subtly tweaked with premium ingredients and new presentation. It is a menu that plays with your memory of other Cantonese food from your past – if you don’t eat much of it, you’d never notice but if you’re an aficionado, I imagine that Lung King Heen’s head chef Chan Yan-tak is permanently winking at you from the kitchen.

There are both vegetarian and organic vegetarian options on the menu which must seem abhorrent to the average Cantonese chef, but if it’s bringing in the stars, maybe it matters. I skipped most of it for the dumplings but ordered roast suckling pig. On with the dumpling porn.

Lung King Heen Xiao Long Bao

Xiao long bao come served on individual baskets; minimising the chances of puncturing the soup filled dumpling as you extract it from the steamer basket.

lung king heen roast pork

The roast suckling pig is presented separated; squares of rich meat topped with a square of pancake and a larger, thin pork skin hat. It’s tough to tackle with chopsticks and keep together in a single bite.

Lung King Heen Goose ball

Sesame balls, unexpectedly filled with chunks of roast goose. Scallop dumplings have two whole scallops in them; spring rolls with sea whelk crispness on the outside and gooey interior with chunks of whelk that taste like the fresh sea. The pastry on the beef and morel dumplings tasted like unadulterated butter.

About ten dumplings in, the whole experience reminded me of Maytel from Gut Feeling’s assessment of Thomas Keller’s food:

I know that if I was to put an oyster with a big dolllop of caviar and cover it all in a butter sauce people would probably applaud me too

Top end dining seems to be caught in a self perpetuating cycle – you get lauded by Michelin, you ramp up the use of premium ingredients, you get lauded further. Lung King Heen’s use of luxury ingredients is still restrained and judicious amongst the dumpling menu but it could go awry very quickly.

Does Hong Kong need Michelin’s external validation? The locals already know that they’re onto a good thing and somehow quantifying that experience into a range of zero through three stars seems to do it a grand disservice. I’ve always found anonymous food reviewing somehow dishonest. We all bring our prejudices to the table and stating those prejudices brings out the best in critics; even if that prejudice is unadulterated dumpling love. I’m not looking forward to Michelin stepping south of the equator. We have our own laughable hat system.

Price: ~HK$400 a head
Location: Four Seasons Hotel, Fourth Floor, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Telephone. (852) 3196-8888

9 Comments Lung King Heen: 3 star dumplings

  1. Maytel

    well given that I had just finished a terrible experiment with a pre-made frozen chive dumpling, I was thoroughly jealous and bemused to read your post….and all the more so when I scrolled down and found a quote from me!!!

    Ultimate form of blogger flattery I say

    As for the unadulterated dumpling love, high brow, low brow, frozen or Michelin, I just can’t go past a dumpling

    (oh and can I just make an “oooooo” sound for the the scallop dumplings)

    Hock??? Scallops? HK? November?

    Reply
  2. Ed

    It’s a funny business. Having just interviewed half a dozen “High-end” chefs including Thomas Keller everywhere I turned people were quoting Michelin stars myself included. Do I have to validate these people by quoting Michelin and that silly Top50 restaurants list (which is out again tomorrow, the 20th)? Reflecting on these interviews, the genius of Keller was that he was the first person to take an ice cream cone and make a tiny savoury dish out of it. And that enabled him to get into the business of the juxtaposition of expensive ingredients and inflate the cost of the final product.
    What I really want to do is eat somewhere where the chef has taken something really shitty and made it brilliant. Although if someone else is paying I’m not going to turn down a huge dollop of caviar.

    Reply
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  5. Phil Lees

    Maytel – You’re eminently quotable. AirAsia has cheap ass flights at the moment via KL: less than the price of the meal to get there

    Ed – I entirely agree with the elevating of something shitty. It’s much, much tougher, which is probably why I’ve been getting keen on charcuterie at the moment.

    Reply
  6. Unimpressed

    Very very unimpressed with Lung King Heen. Had the executive set menu lunch today. At $430 per head, the food, the service and the decor are all very average. The dim sum is not any different to any other ‘good’ restaurant. The scallops fried rice was dry. The goose was fatty. The soup was tasteless. The service was poor (did not refill teas, and tea pots were not on the table). There is no effort on presentation and no effort on explaining what each dish is.

    An absolute disappointment. There is nothing special about the place. How did it ever get 3 stars?

    Reply
  7. very impressed

    been a few 3 stars in europe and this one doesn’t really match them in style or presentation, but the service was fine and the price was ridiculously cheap. There were three of us and we had around 15 courses for only $3000… Can’t even eat per head in any 3 star anywhere else. I disagree with the above comment, the service was just right. Not intrusive and not invisible. tea was always refilled and there were 2 waiters specifically for our table, which I thought was excessive but nice. Anyway, good cheap 3 star… would recommend.

    Reply

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