Hunan Garden, Central: A 60′s Psychedelic Torture Chamber
Continuing in my quest to find a good Sichuan restaurant in Hong Kong I have widened the scope to also include Hunanese establishments.
I took myself to Hunan Garden in Exchange Square last week, and having made the connection only now that it’s a Maxim’s restaurant, I’m even more baffled by the decor and ambience.
I probably wouldn’t go back to this branch, but would try the outlet in Causeway Bay instead as it looks like it might be a bit gentler on the eyes and ears.
Ambience: On entry, the first thing that strikes you is that the restaurant looks very dated and tired.
On striking out for your table, you are visually assaulted by both the garish, over-patterned carpet that swims before your eyes, and the violent pink table cloths, as well as being aurally assaulted by the piercing piping of a Chinese oboe player.
So eyes squinted, teeth gritted we made our way to the back of the room, enduring this psychedelic torture which was strangely reminiscent of the Ipcress File.
Once seated, we were presented with about 12 different menus of specials, seasonal dishes, signature dishes, michelin guide suggestions, and rather annoyingly a complex menu from HSBC of pick and mix dishes that when ordered in certain combinations, gave you different discounts…
…At least this is what I could gather having been thoroughly cowed and bamboozled. Menu overkill is just plain irritating, I felt like frisbeeing them across the room.
Having spent the next 15 minutes scrutinising the menus (apart from the HSBC one out of principle), we plumped for a good mix – a couple of signature dishes, which were the minced chicken soup and the fish with yellow bean; hot, shredded potato; stir-fried bitter gourd; stir-fried beef with onions; and stupid-gweilo chicken a.k.a chicken with dry chilli, garlic and sichuan pepper.
Now that we had ordered, we were able to take a bit more of a look around, and thankfully the oboe player had swapped his instrument for an erhu which was positively soothing in comparison. The decor is rubbish -
1) Patched carpets using cuttings from a slightly different pattern.
2) Colour scheme – pink, green, red, brown, grey, gold.
3) Materials – marble/granite, varnished wood, lacquer, frosted glass, chromed partition frames, pearlescent wallpaper, crappy cardboardy white/grey ceiling tiles.
All the varnish, polished stone, glass and lacquer throws back so much reflected light that the whole impression is just jarring and awful when coupled with the colour scheme used.
This is why I’m so surprised to find it’s a Maxims. They have some fantastically designed restaurants, and this one is the pits. It’s so huge that if they did decide to redecorate they needn’t even close the whole place, they could redo in halves. Anyway. Onward to the food.
Food: We enjoyed the food, all of it was good apart from the fish with yellow bean which was slathered in so much sauce it made me nauseous after a couple of bites.
It is actually a very badly thought out dish, as there is nothing to cut through the cloying sauce. Lovely piece of fish, and the yellow bean paste is tasty enough, but together it’s an unbalanced mess – I would avoid.
The chicken came in large, boneless hunks (not quite enough chilli for me, but as I got a Sichuan pepper berry caught in one of my sinus tubes, this provided enough entertainment, numbness and eye-watering for one night), the shredded potato with peppers and chilli was beautifully cooked and not greasy, the bitter gourd was cold and crisp and super bitter, and the beef was tender and tasty.
Service: Service was fine. Efficient and discreet.
Price: We spent $550 for two which we thought was verging on expensive for the whole experience. Note that we did only drink tea.
Location: 1F, The Forum, Exchange Square, Central, Hong Kong. I would definitely suggest trying the Times Square outlet (13th Floor) over this venue though.
I would choose Peking Garden (another Maxim’s restaurant) over Hunan Garden 9 times out of 10, the food is comparable (in fact I would say that Peking Garden is slightly better) and I can just about satisfy my craving for chilli there. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’ve been to Times Square.
Oh well, the hunt for the ultimate Sichuan continues…
Update: I have found my old favourite Sichuan restaurant. It was called Man Jiang Hong in CWB and then moved to Central and changed it’s name and number !*@%. It’s San Xi Lou in Coda Plaza. Review here.