Friday, 15 April 2016

Eat Like a Gourmand

Fine Chinese dining in a very classic English environment
Howard's Gourmet opened in Central last November and it has generated positive and negative buzz. While many rave about the food, there are critics who scoff at the high prices for the set lunch and dinner menus. But I have been entranced by the dishes here, and find them innovative and above all, delicious.

Stewed sea cucumber was the highlight of the meal
Howard Cai is the restaurateur behind it, having opened Howard's Gourmet in Guangzhou for 10 years. He quit his job as a civil servant and studied in the United States. While he was there he didn't like the food he ate in restaurants and began cooking his own.

For him the temperature of the food is very important and even calculates the amount of time it would take for the dish to go from the kitchen to the diners' table, because the food is still technically cooking on the way there.

Not only that, Cai tries to create interesting flavours with a dish. He doesn't want to cook, say abalone in the typical Chinese way; he decides how he wants the ingredient to taste and the figures out how it should be cooked, mainly to bring out the natural flavours and not hide it under heavy sauces.

Deep-fried crab meat cake with seaweed was creative
The end result is modern Chinese cuisine that has a more scientific basis, and also rooted in traditional culture in terms of the quality of the ingredients and how to balance them in a dish.

I took my mom and aunt to try the set lunch menu because they would not be able to taste anything like this in Vancouver.

We started with small appetizers in small bowls. One was fish cakes sliced into mini diamond shapes with also miniaturized beans, the other mountain yam with wood ear fungus, and a small cup of full-flavoured vegetable broth .

Delicate simmered seasonal vegetables in bouillon
Next came two relatively small slices of mackerel cooked and marinated Chiu Chow style with a dab of a miso sauce that was very refreshing and delicate.

Stewed sea cucumber was next and was the highlight of the meal. It was braised for such a long time that the pieces practically melted in the mouth they were so smooth. The thick broth they came in was fantastic and full of flavour too that we finished it to the last drop.

An intriguing dish came next -- deep-fried crab meat cake with seaweed. Perhaps it was meant to emulate home-style steamed meat cakes, but with a crunchy outer layer, in this case made from seaweed. The result was a slight crunch and soft on the inside, with a hint of crab taste in the middle. Again the broth here was cleaned up.

The slice of braised pork belly was good, though we preferred the accompanying large piece of bitter melon, while simmered golgi berry leaves in bouillon were so delicate and had subtle flavours from the garlic.

Homemade noodles are in this hot and sour soup
A signature dish is the hot and sour noodles, and we were forewarned they could be spicy. The noodles are homemade and have a bouncy texture, while the sauce is a slow-burn spicy with a strong sour taste. The spiciness is such that it entices diners to whet their appetites and eat more.

Finally to balance things out, dessert was almond soup with lotus seeds, but not what one would expect. Instead they were cooked to the point of melting into a kind of jelly that we found at the bottom of the bowl.

At the end of the meal I was just full, and this is the point Cai wants his diners to be at -- not too full and their taste buds sated.

It was such an elegant treat to be eating such a fine meal in a traditional English-style surroundings designed by David Tang. Who knew he could be such a great interior decorator?

For dessert, almond soup with lotus seeds that are like jelly
Howard's Gourmet
5/F, CCB Tower
3 Connaught Road Central
Central
2115 3388





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