Monday, October 31, 2011

Aunt Or Private Kitchen (Ngoh Je) - Ngoh, Ngor, Or...

Deep fried shrimp toasts
Private kitchens (think speakeasies for food) have been "in vogue" for a while. Some attribute its rise to the financial crisis of 1997 when Asia was in a craphole and a lot of people got fired from their jobs. It would appear that a lot of these people wanted to cook, and to sell their cooking, because private kitchens sprung and spread as quickly as mould in a Hong Kong summer.

Smoked duck breast
These cooks, or maybe ex-chefs who were fired, would rent apartments, or units in commercial buildings and start cooking for whoever came to eat. Basically, they were restaurants without licenses in places that have lower rent than ground-floor shops with proper frontage. They could do this because of a legal loophole that basically allows people to do whatever they like as long as the place is a "club" that welcomes "members only".

Salad to go with smoked duck breast
There are rules, of course, as to how one becomes a member, which the licensee submits when submitting their application. There are a couple of points to note here. Firstly, this "rule" could be as simple as writing down one's name on the back of a coaster, and secondly, its enforcement is hardly, if ever, checked by the authorities.

fake shark's fin in scrambled eggs
Now that it's been so many years, the novelty of private kitchens has worn off, or well, at least for me. You try really hard to dig up places that often don't publicise, call and arrange bookings (often months ahead), round up a decent number of people (usually there's a minimum charge), painstakingly fax draft menus back and forth, only to find that the food is no better nor more unique than what you'd have in a 'normal' restaurant, and oftentimes, it even costs more.

Sang Choi Bao with laap cheung (preserved sausage) I think

Aunt Ngor, or Ngor Je ("Or Je" if you're lazy, or a tween who doesn't like to pronounce consonants) epitomises that description. The food is not bad, per se. It's mostly Cantonese by the book (with some late 80's Hong Kong "fusion" thrown in - of which smoked duck breast salad is a sad, but prime example. Shrimp toasts are another matter - they're from way back, and I'd consider them retro-cool. Hehe).

Sang choi bao close up
The stir-fries in particular were hard to fault (not that I'm purposely nitpicking, y'know). Nice and light, never greasy, with a faint touch of wok hei. The scrambled eggs, for example, stuck nicely to the fake fin, never falling apart into crumbs.

Soy sauce chicken
The inclusion of gizzards was a nice touch, most mainstream restaurants nowadays are too chicken (ha, pun) to serve them up together with the meat. Unfortunately the soy marinade wasn't intense enough to go be soaked right into the flesh and I felt it could have been a little sweeter, for that classic sweet-soy balance. I didn't think much of the chicken itself either.

Steamed eel
It was all like an elaborate home-cooked meal, which I guess, for a lot of people, is a good thing. After all, you can come here safely knowing they don't use MSG (or at least, make sure they don't), that they don't go crazy with the oil, you'd be getting relatively fresh produce and you get to meet the lady who cooks it all for you.

Soup (pork? and dried bok choi)

But honestly, for me, Aunt Ngor is still lacking something. A spark, a wow, a reason to come back. Maybe I'm just spoilt with what I can get at home...

"Golden" crab
Golden crab is crab coated in a batter made with preserved egg yolk and deep fried. Quite popular in HK nowadays, done mostly with prawns. The first time I had at Shanghai Garden, I fell hard in love. Aunt Ngor's version is a little heavy (as you can probably see from the picture). If the batter had expanded more, it would have felt less dense.

Rice steamed in lotus leaves
Finishing in true banquet style, with rice at the end. But this really was no fancy banquet...

Sweet soup

Sweet soup - paw paw, lotus seeds, snow fungus (tremella fuciformis)
This was, with all due respect, simple, unpretentious stuff, served like a banquet. Yes, it's great they don't charge corkage (by the way, I thought that was the whole point of private kitchens? Some of them now do - call me stubborn, but I consider that cheeky) or a service charge, but still, at HK$500 per head, I can't say I'd be rushing back. I could eat much, much better for that price at somewhere like Manor. (I'd be paying in cholesterol readings at Manor though.)

Ngor Je (Aunt Or) 金門莊 (娥姐私房菜)
Lai Wai Ngor (Lai Jong Catering Ltd)
+852 9013 0686 or 2543 2202
Flat 01, 3/F Des Voeux Building
19-25 Des Voeux Road West
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong

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  1. because of this, and your blog in general, i have a long list of to visits when i go to HK next time. i'm scared.

  2. I agree completely with your opinion on private kitchens. I have only been to Da Ping Huo and was not impressed despite the raves. In NYC, the Sichuan restaurants I frequented tastes better than Da Ping Huo.

    At 500HKD, I would rather spend it at a nice restaurant. Unless of course it is something really unique like your post on the African food.

  3. I was also reluctantly 'dragged' to this private kitchen place 1 night to celebrate a birthday. At $500 a pop I think I had expected more than fake shark fins and a caesar salad... (endangered sharks issue and agar agar strips aside, but they could have substituted it with something else altogether!)

    Grossly overpriced, although in hindsight I did like their drunken eggwhites crab a lot. Hits and misses overall :D