Sunday, March 4, 2012

Restaurant Review: Tin Lung Heen 天龍軒

Location: ICC
Type of food: Cantonese
Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Property developer Sun Hung Kai is screaming in our faces: “Look, guys! We built the IFC in Central and now we have the ICC in West Kowloon!” For why else would the ICC choose to name its signature restaurants “Tin Lung Heen” and “Inakaya,” when there are already places called “Lung King Heen” and “Inagiku” at the IFC? Yes, Mr. Kwok, we get it: the ICC is just as snazzy as the IFC. What he needs is an edit switch to filter bad ideas from his staff.

The dramatic interior at Tin Lung Heen

Already turned off by its poorly chosen name, I walked into Tin Lung Heen with predisposed skepticism. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Working off a crimson and beige palette, Japanese design firm Spin Design Studios – the same firm that ruined Tosca on the other side of the 102nd floor -- created a space that is lush and dramatic without being tacky or overdone. My guest and I were seated at an enormous rectangular table meant for six people. From my seat I could see all of Kowloon and Hong Kong West sailing in and out of the evening clouds. What ruined it, however, was the cash register placed inches from our table that kept spitting out receipts and making shrill printing noises throughout the evening. Whose brilliant idea was it to put a cashier counter in the middle of a restaurant?

The extensive menu was designed by Executive Chef Paul Lau who left The Peninsula’s Spring Moon to take up his new job a short taxi ride away. We started with the chef’s signature roast Iberian pork. You would be seriously mistaken if you thought all cha siu (叉燒; roast pork) tastes alike, for what I had that night was the thickest, juiciest and tenderest cha siu I ever tasted. Then again, I don’t remember the last time I paid $220 for eight cubes of pork either! After the appetizer came the beef sirloin and the minced squab in lettuce wraps, either one could easily be my favorite dish of the evening. The only vegetable dish we ordered, mushrooms wrapped in winter melon, was somewhat bland for the Cantonese palate.

Roast pork to die for

Just when I was raving about the food and still buzzed from my riesling, the fried noodles with abalone sauce arrived. It was a dish I specifically asked the waiter to hold off until we had finished all the other food. I scratched my head wondering why even the top restaurants in Hong Kong couldn’t get the timing right. After we paid the bill (I could see it being printed right next to me), we waited 20 minutes for the petit four to arrive. “Sorry, sir, there must have been some confusion in the kitchen,” our waiter apologized for the second blunder in one night. The staff at Tin Lung Heen are friendly and courteous; but they are also very young. Some of them look like they part-time at the Apple Store during the day.

Even though we didn’t order the most expensive dishes – the grouper, the bird’s nest or the shark’s fin soups, we were impressed with we did try. I would have given Tin Lung Heen a five-star rating had our experience not been marred by the somewhat uneven service. It begs the inevitable question: how does Tin Lung Heen stack up against its three-Michelin-star sister Lung King Heen across the harbor? The answer is simple: the prices are just as steep and the food is every bit as delicious.

IFC vs ICC: mirror image across the harbor

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