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db eats: Duddell’s

Hong Kong’s dining scene is so dizzyingly diverse, you could quite happily eat out three times a day for a week without putting so much as a prawn ball or a steamed dumpling in your mouth, but visiting Hong Kong without trying out the city’s dim sum offering would be like a trip to London without taking high tea.

Among the swankier dim sum palaces to have popped up in recent years is Duddell’s, housed on the top floors of the Shanghai Tang Mansion on Duddell Street. Designed by Brit Ilse Crawford, the 1950s-inspired space is clean, light and bright, complete with pale green walls lined with Chinese ink paintings, marble floors, mustard banquettes, low hung white lights and a plethora of house plants.

The high-end Cantonese venue was founded in May 2013 by men about town Alan Lo, Yenn Wong and Paulo Pong. Both Lo and Wong are high profile restaurateurs in the city, the former in charge of Tom Aikens’ ambitious three floor project The Pawn and the latter Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships in Wanchai. Pong meanwhile, is a wine distributor who runs boutique wholesale merchant Altaya in addition to a series of small shops specialising in different regions of France.

truffle dim sum
Mushroom dumplings with black truffle

Keen to indulge their passion for art, the trio have installed a small art gallery on the lower ground level and a casual cocktail bar/brunch spot on the roof terrace.

Head chef Siu Hin-chi specialises in Cantonese classics. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, Hin-chi plays it safe via well-loved crowd pleasers, such as abalone puffs, shrimp dumplings with capsicum, pork dumplings with scallop and steamed barbeque pork buns.

Visiting one buzzy Saturday lunchtime, I got the impression that over and above the food, people flock to Duddell’s to see and be seen. Dressing up for the occasion, unashamed voyeurism abounds to a frantic Latin soundtrack, with the majority of guests looking like they’ve sauntered off the society pages of Asia Tatler.

Keen to sink my teeth into the dim sum offering, among the highlights was the mushroom dumpling with black truffle, its iridescent globe housing a piping hot mouthful of decadent truffle. The über rich goose liver in a finely spun taro nest was also a winner, as was the umami-rich scallop parcel, though less successful were fatty, chip-like slabs of crispy fried rice with chili.

The dish of the day came in the form of tiny squares of slow cooked crispy pork belly in a sweet and sour sauce that arrived glistening with promise. Fatty, juicy honey-sweet and impossibly tender, the flesh dissolved on the tongue like a Communion host. The restaurant’s signature dish: crispy salted chicken, failed to reach such divinity, though did delight with its wafer-thin, melt-in-the-mouth, succulent salty skin, which when devoured revealed shards of juicy white meat.

Sweet and sour pork belly
Sweet and sour crispy pork belly

While Pong has put together a commendable, fairly priced wine list, having come to the end of an indulgent week in the city, I felt more in the mood for one of the restaurant’s specialist teas.

My pretty pot of chrysanthemum was floral, feminine and fragrant and seemed to pirouette across the palate. A lime cordial, rose water and elderflower mocktail was equally thirst quenching; perfect for a hot spring day.

The meal took a nosedive with the appearance of a dish involving crispy noodles, prawns and mushrooms, the latter two so gelatinous in character they looked like they’d been left out all night in the rain and tasted woefully bland.

A trio of desserts was equally uninspiring, the nadir being a wobbly, heart-shaped mango and coconut concoction. Also letting the restaurant down is the service, which ran the gamut from brash to near terrifying. Perhaps I’m unused to the style of service in traditional Cantonese restaurants, but smiles were in short supply and on a number of occasions plates were practically thrown on the table.

I’m in no way against the Duddell’s concept and enjoyed elements of the meal hugely, but there appear to be glaring errors in the experience that need ironing out, from the service and the prices – small servings cost HK$250 to $300 a pop and the tasting menu will set you back HK$980 per person – to the quality of some of the dishes, particularly the puds.

But perhaps I’m missing the point – the restaurant clearly has its clientele and as a buzzing brunch or dim sum spot, it’s hard to beat, particularly the all you can eat dim sum and bottomless Perrier-Jouët weekend brunch offering for HK$580.

Duddell’s, Levels 3-4, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Hong Kong; Tel: +852 2525 9191

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