Type of food: noodles and congee
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)
Opened in 1946 in Wanchai, Ho Hung Kee went from a husband-and-wife noodle shop to one of the city's most trust names in wonton noodle soup, the ultimate Cantonese comfort food. In 1974, the restaurant moved to its current location in Causeway Bay near Times Square. For decades, eager customers -- many of them Japanese and Korean tourists -- congregate outside the modest store front waiting to taste their famous fried noodles with beef (乾抄牛河). But it wasn’t until the hole-in-the-wall clinched a Michelin star last year that Ho Hung Kee achieved international fame. Since then the long line has gotten even longer.
|Always a line outside Ho Hung Kee|
Seating at Ho Hung Kee is limited and uncomfortable. It is one of those local joints where you are expected to vacate your seat as soon as you finish your food, or risk getting dirty looks from the staff. But neither the discomfort nor the abrupt service would stop me from going, for they used to have this one dish I absolutely loved: vermicelli with shredded pork and pickled vegetables (雪菜肉絲窩米). The mai fun is served in an 12-inch porcelain cauldron and can easily feed a family of four. Every time I ordered it for myself, the waitress would look at me incredulously and remark how a skinny guy could have such a big appetite.
|My favorite seat in the far right corner|
But the restaurant stopped serving my favorite dish about a year ago – probably because not many customers would order it – and I stopped going there ever since. Then last Saturday afternoon, I decided to pay them a visit for old time’s sake. I took my favorite seat at the two-person booth in the far right corner next to the Taoist shrine. I ordered a wonton soup and fried noodles with beef, two of their best known dishes that I used to order all the time. The wontons tasted alright but they were noticeably smaller than they used to be. The fried noodles, on the other hand, were an absolute disappointment. There was barely any beef in it -- probably a response to rising meat prices -- and the noodles were stale and over-cooked. Judging from the lukewarm temperature of the dish, it must have been prepared by the chef in one big badge and brought to me after it had been sitting on the kitchen counter for a while. I get better quality fried noodles in New York’s Chinatown and that, for a respected noodle house in Hong Kong, is about as big an insult as it comes.
It is clear that somewhere in the past 12 months the quality of food at Ho Hung Kee took a sharp turn for the worse. Their signature dishes suddenly became barely edible. Ho Hung Kee is a classic example of how a good restaurant can be ruined by a Michelin star. The tiny mom-and-pop shop was unprepared for the sudden surge in customers that came with the fame. In order to cope, the restaurant must find ways to cut corners and the quality of food became the first casualty. I now understand why so many Tokyoites complain about the way The Michelin Guide has spoiled their favorite neighborhood restaurants. It has spoiled one of mine.