My Mother’s friend took us to Liu Yan Pavilion – a Shanghainese restaurant in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong – which he personally held with very high regard. After a long day of trawling through the seemingly endless Citygate Outlet mall, a big traditional meal was exactly what I craved.
The first dish of the meal were smoked eggs. The eggs themselves were done fantastically, and I tend to be unnecessarily particular about my eggs. The smoked flavors were prominent but not overwhelming, the yolk was still runny and the white firm and springy, leaving it soft but chewable.
The pork balls are a staple Shanghainese dish and otherwise known as Lion’s Head meatballs (狮子头) stewed in a claypot in chicken broth featuring soy flavors and Chinese cabbage (bak choy/白菜). The pork balls were very tender and packed with flavor, drizzled in a Chinese gravy and tasted almost comforting.
As I had no idea what had been ordered, I was pleasantly surprised to see a crab appear on the table. The shell was placed on top of a mountain of glutinous rice – a comfort food of mine – tossed with generous slices of crab meat and claw. Glutinous rice is always on the heavy side, but also very very tasty. The almost sweet spicy flavors in combination with the luscious crab was phenomenal. But I have to admit there were a couple occasions where I found myself trying to hide my grimace as my teeth crunched down onto small pieces of shell which became a nuisance to pick out.
The fried fish was nothing spectacular, it tasted exactly how you think it would – fried, and a fish. It was well cooked, and tasty, but nothing to rave about.
To be eaten alongside any of the other dishes, we were also served a small loaf of steamed Chinese buns (man tou/馒头). However the ones we were served were a different variation, consisting of many different layers within the bun as compared to a standard uniform man tou. The layers made it very light (and also very entertaining) to eat, and were not too sweet or tough as they can sometimes be.
A small bowl of light broth was served next, with a little pork and shrimp dumpling (wan tan/云吞). The dumpling was brilliant, the was elastic but strong and the filling was generous and flavorful. The broth was very homey, but still very light.
After that came the part of the meal I was most excited about – steamed Shanghainese dumplings filled with minced pork and soup (xiao long bao/小笼包). They were good, but not the best I’ve had. The soup was slightly on the bland side, but the meat was done well, and very importantly (from personal experience) the skin strong enough not to release the filling all over the table and subsequently my pants.
To finish off the meal we had a rice flour dessert ball with black sesame filling (tang yuan/汤圆) served in a sweet syrup/soup. I didn’t particularly enjoy the soup as it was far too sweet for my liking, but the osthamus flowers in the soup gave it some depth and complexity in flavor. The tang yuan however, was marvelous. It was warm from the soup and had a slight melt-in-your-mouth feeling, with the sesame not tasting overwhelmingly sweet with the dough. It’s a shame I only got one.
All in all, Liu Yan provided us with a very satisfying experience and left me feeling elated and very, very full.
Liu Yan Pavilion
54-62 Lockhart Rd
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2804 2000