Posted 24 July 2006 - 09:30 PM
One absolutely definite "non-recommendation" for Hong Kong is Po Toi O. This is a little "fishing village" in HK, way out on the end of the Clearwater Bay peninsula, near the golf club. It is still picturesque in the 30 years ago HK kind of way, and they have a few fish farming ponds floating in the small bay, but its main business now is appearing to be a hidden gem sort of seafood destination for tourists - mostly scads of locals who are looking for a bit of nostalgia, and a bargain which is what the location would suggest.
The food goes from ordinary to bad. There is the usual shtick of choosing your seafood, but the selection is nowhere near what you get in Sai Kung or Lei Yue Mun, and most of the livewells look a little suspect, and not terribly clean or bubbly. There used to be an old routine in HK and elsewhere, that you would choose your beautiful, live crab (fish, lobster, or whatever) and they would duly take it into the kitchen, then drop it in a tank back there and cook you up something out of the freezer. After you left, they put your fish back in the tank in front. The old saying was that some of the prettier lobsters actually did this so many times they were trained to jump into the net. There's not much of this left - HK people are too prosperous and too busy to fool around with pennies now, and the competition is too great to risk it. Plus, you can actually be prosecuted, and in super honest HK these days it's a real deterrent (a good thing, BTW).
Anyway, you can guess what comes next - they pulled this one on us with the crab we chose. What we got was obviously not what we bought or paid for, and had clearly been frozen, then overcooked. The clams were the one bright spot, nice with black bean, garlic and chili, but the rest was very forgettable. The really memorable part was the bill - $600 HK (US$75) for 4 dishes, which is more than you would pay for a real quality meal in even the best places in Sai Kung or Lei Yue Mun.
An important understanding these days is that practically none of the seafood in HK is caught by the local picturesque fishing boats. It's almost all imported and arrives on an airplane at Chek Lap Kok, or it comes over the China border in livewell trucks. Most of it ends up at the seafood wholesale market at Aberdeen (proximity to harbour a now unrelated historical consequence), where it is then redistributed all over HK. So, those fishing village dinners by various harborsides in HK are more or less romantic contrivances at this point. The crabs are from Sri Lanka, prawns from pens in China, lobsters from Thailand or Australia, and oysters from the USA. I guess what this suggests is that you are just as likely to have a good Chinese seafood meal right in Central as you are if you drive way out to the NT. Which is more or less the case, although it certainly is a good night out with a bunch of beer (or Sauvignon Blanc) and seafood at one of the local places in Sai Kung, in the Autumn when the weather can be beautiful.
So, give Po Toi O a miss. Kylie Kwong shot a bunch of footage there for her most recent TV season, and the implied recommendation is misleading. There are better places to be sure, but not hidden gems as HK has almost none of these anymore. Keep in mind also that there are no bargains - a good chinese seafood repast in HK will cost at least $60 US per head, regardless of how rough & ready the place appears.
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