Sep 5, 2013

Refined Chinese at Hong Loong, Sofitel The Palm

Chinese food was always on the top of my list as a young foodie growing up in suburban Massachusetts.  It is universally appreciated by all generations of my family, so we call it the "go to" cuisine of choice.  Mind you my palate has developed quite a bit since those days as I began to explore other Asian delicacies.  Since moving to Dubai around 3 years ago, Chinese food really began to fall off the radar as an option because there really weren't many quality restaurants of this type in town.....until now!

When I first learned about Hong Loong (translation: Red Dragon) restaurant at the new Sofitel on The Palm, I was intrigued.  This hotel brand is synonymous for quality and is heavily driven by their F&B outlets.  Having already experienced modern French at Studio Du Chefs, it was evident they paid immense attention to detail, so I had a feeling the Chinese concept was going to deliver in all respects.  

At the entrance we were greeted by the Happy Buddha statue, that gave me a feeling of warmth and excitement. We then proceeded to the hostess, who walked us into the restaurant, which was quiet on this particular evening.  Due to it's soft opening phase the hotel has been slowly working at promoting their F&B concepts, and have said they want everything to be perfect before they have their official launch of the hotel in November2013. 
The very talented Malaysian chef Eddie came out to greet us, and gave some of his recommendations for the evening. He briefly informed us about his training and explained that after many years in the industry he had mastered the art of Cantonese fare, particularly perfecting his craft at Zheng He  in Madinat Jumeirah. We didn't waste much time to order and decided to go with a variety of tasting size portions to maximize on this authentic Asian experience.  

First to arrive at the table was this simple amuse bouche, a fried lychee topped with sweet prawn. I am fond of lychee but have only enjoyed them in dessert or drink form.  It was unusual to see it in a savory dish, and deep fried on top of it.  Texturally it worked and paired beautifully with the sweet prawn.  The light touch of spicy honey and coriander brightened it up even further and prepared our palates for the delightful meal to come.
Next up was a medley of dim sum,  we ordered a selection of the most popular items from the menu. Served with three different sauces, a light soy, vinegar & ginger, plus chili, we were spoiled for choice on where to begin with these little dumplings. I started with the prawns with black truffle, my favorite of the four, then came the crispy taro root with shredded duck, which still lingers in my mind. The last two were the XO beef and chicken with quail egg, in both cases the meat was over powered by the sauce and other ingredients. I wasn't crazy about either of these two, but the with a little more work and experimenting in the kitchen, no doubt they have the potential to come together. 
This seafood broth with crab and enoki mushrooms came highly recommended by Chef Eddie. He informed me the broth takes nine hours to develop and consists of everything from lobster claws to prawn tails and crab shells. The rich taste had so much depth and with a velvety smooth texture, it was a great example of the chefs skill set coming into play. Not to mention his quirky creativity when it came to plating this exquisite soup which floated on a cloud of dry ice to the table.
From the next course, the item that really stood out to me was the Mantis shrimp with a garlic and spicy chili sauce, a pop of flavor and the most unexpected tender texture.  This particular crustacean is consumed in select parts of the world including Japan, Vietnam, China (Cantonese cuisine in particular where it's called *"pissing-shrimp"), the Mediterranean, Philippines, and Hawaii.  These interesting looking sea creatures are a unique breed.  A cross between shrimp and lobster the cooked flesh of this shellfish is oh so delicate and delicious! Paired with this deep fried bun, this was a melt in your mouth dish reminiscent of the famous Singaporean Chili Crab.

* apparently the shrimp shoots a jet of water when it's picked up emulating the act of urination.
Our main course consisted of a couple of signatures including the black bean shrimp.  One of the most popular styles of Chinese food preparation is using Douchi, this fermented, salted, soybean sauce.  Commonly paired with seafood and vegetables this flavorful ingredient is sharp, but with bitter and sweet undertones. The jumbo shrimp coated in the delectable sauce was cooked well and this dish allowed both of these key ingredients to compliment one another.
However, the star of the evening was the black pepper beef, another quintessential Chinese favorite.  Marinated for over 12 hours and cooked to a perfect medium temperature this tenderloin was just heavenly.  The cubes of beef were tossed in the pungent pepper sauce and wok seared which allowed the beef to be slightly charred on the outside yet remain with a pretty pink center, which I rather enjoyed, but also came as a surprise (Perhaps in the future, the waitstaff could communicate this point to the patrons to avoid any complications).  Plated carefully on this long oval platter with the delicate green tendrils, crispy garlic chips, and a drizzle of herb oil, chef Eddie had thought every detail through.
 The last part of the meal was of course dessert, and from this evening's dining experiences so far, I was too full to be able to enjoy dessert wholeheartedly.  However, my guest did catch a glimpse of something which he enthusiastically planned his evening around, the mango mousse with champagne jelly, pomelo, coconut cream, and sago pearls.  Consisting of all his favorite items, this bowl of sweetness really hit the exotic dessert spot for him.  I enjoyed the medley of flavors and appreciated the creativity, but it didn't really do it for me. When it comes to Asian food, I always prefer the savory over the sweet.
Hong Loong over all was a treat! I really had no idea what to expect walking into this chic new Chinese restaurant on The Palm, but what a pleasant surprise indeed. The staff genuinely take pride in their work and represent the establishment with flying colors.  Chef Eddie in particular not only understands the importance of modern technique paired with traditional flavors, but he also takes into consideration the presentation which essentially completes the dish.

Hong Loong is a newcomer to the Dubai culinary scene, but it will quickly make its mark amongst the classics very soon.  The over all quality is top notch with a divers menu and appropriate price points for an establishment of this caliber.  This restaurant has a lot to offer, so whether you are staying at the hotel or making a special trip out to this part of town, you won't be disappointed with your dining experience here.