dbHK eats: Fu Rong, a crowd-pleasing Sichuan restaurant

It’s not exactly the type of fiery spicy Sichuan restaurant that would bend your palate into submission with heaps of formidable chilies, yet it’s not really a dumbed-down Chengdu restaurant that has dressed down spiciness into oblivion. Sitting somewhere in between, Fu Rong, the newly opened Sichuan restaurant in Hong Kong’s mega shopping centre Harbour City, is a crowd-pleaser with plenty of potent flavours and charms.

Water Boiled Fish

To say that opening an upscale Sichuan restaurant in a city like Hong Kong is risky and ill-fated is like asking a late-stage diabetes patient to guzzle down a gallon of coke without thinking through ramifications. The only difference being: the latter at least will die on a sugar high, the former will most certainly suffer a painful and humiliating death with a lifelong debts to catch up. Such is the reality of restaurant business in Hong Kong. 

And to think that Fu Rong can compete alongside with grander Hu Tong restaurant in the same Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood on the 28 floor of the One Peking Road high-rise would be a tad sinister, given Hu Tong, owned by the flushed Aqua Restaurant Group is unapologetically haughty and has been in the game for years. This is not to say that Fu Rong, named after Sichuan province’s capital Chengdu’s sobriquet, Rong City (蓉城) – meaning the ‘City of Hibiscus’ – does not stand a chance at all. 

Chicken consommé soup

Opened in late January this year by head chef and general manager Ren Tao, the 4,000-square-feet restaurant is the kind of place that will surely attract a steady stream of suit-clad businessmen, designer bag-carrying shoppers, and deal-hungry bankers, with the right kind of build for this high-octane clientele: full floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open up to the unobstructing panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, airy seating plan, sleek interior design and ivory-coloured leather chairs that huddled neatly around each table. 

Different from other Sichuan restaurants that have sprung up in Hong Kong, Fu Rong sets itself out to focus solely on the more delicate and milder Chengdu cuisine, decidedly opposing the bombastic, fiery, and diarrhea-inducing hot spicy dishes that many Sichuan cuisine enthusiasts and loyalists come to fear as betrayal of Chengdu’s rich and nuanced gastronomy.

This unfortunately has become the sort of dilemma facing outposts of Sichuan restaurants when expanding overseas. Menus are either “fine-tuned” to local tastes with something-for-everyone kind of vagueness, or worst yet, one-dimensional, tone-deaf interpretation of Sichuan cuisine, when success of the food is narrowed down to the amount of chilies a chef can pile on one plate.

Bon Bon Chicken or Bang Bang Chicken got its name because of the banging sound from hitting the back of boiled chicken to tenderize the meat

This is why Fu Rong, the third branch of Xin Xiang Hui Group, following openings in Xi’an in northwestern China and Beijing, is a pleasant and true-to-its-form eatery that should be commended for not over-reaching for stardom like Hu Tong or conveniently simplifying nuanced Sichuan gastronomy.

The ‘water boiled fish’, one of the signature Sichuan dishes, is a good example of chef Ren’s delicate Chengdu cuisine. True to its form, the dish is an all-round darling. Chilies and numbing Sichuan peppercorns are incorporated , but it’s the fragrance of the spices rather than the lethal redness that was emphasised. In what normally became fillets of fish doused in spicy broth, buried under a thick blanket of chilies that instantly shoot up your blood pressure, this version at Fu Rong purged most of the chilies and empahsised on the vibrancy and depth of the flavours. The result is heroic, tender and succulent fish that does not intimidate.

The dry aged beef sauteed with Chinese leeks, mushrooms is smoky and rubbery as it intends to be reminds me more of a Hunan-style dish, rather Sichaun. The beef is chewy and requires a bit jaw strength but is very tasty although a bit salty.

Red rice porridge

One of the most skillful and nuanced dishes is the chicken consommé soup, a century-old Sichuan dish that often got lost in crowded Sichuan menus populated with spicy sellout hits. From its appearance, the chicken breast could be easily mistaken as Tofu, with the same colour and texture. The chicken is battered repeatedly and pureed into paste to resemble Tofu, and served in a restorative chicken soup. It’s light and caressing in the mouth with a mousse kind of texture. It’s pure delight.

Then to the more conspicuous chicken dish: Bon Bon Chicken, which got its name from the sound of using a stick or hammer banging the back of boiled chicken to tenderise the meat. The dish is spicy but not overwhelming, and the degree of hotness is moderated by the trapped chili oil in a container made of sugar. For diners who are itching for the extra kick, one can break the sugar container and mix the oil well with the shredded chicken.

Stuffed cherry tomatoes with walnuts and mayonnaise

For rice dishes, go for the healthy and restorative red rice porridge, using red rice and shrimp from Lugu Lake, bordering Sichuan and Yunan provinces. The richness of the dish is broadened with the luscious golden broth cooked with shrimp soup for hours. The sizzling sound of the broth hitting the hot stone bowl is just mouthwatering, but don’t ask us how the Lugu Lake shrimp tastes different from any freshwater shrimp.

For dessert, the roasted sweet potato is a safe bet, but for a more satisfying option is the fried sticky rice cake (actually rice ball) with caramalized brown sugar sprinkled with soy bean powder.

The wine list, curated by Ian Wo – a veteran sommelier who had worked at Hong Kong’s eclectic two Michelin-starred restaurant Amber and Hong Kong Jockey Club – has plenty of bottles to offer from Bordeaux blue-chips to more vibrant Rieslings. And of course, there’s a page dedicated to China’s famous Baijiu, the sorghum based fiery liquor, with some rare aged vintage Baijiu as well.

For budget eaters, Fu Rong offers a few compact set dinner menus in addition to a la cart selections. But like mentioned before, its spacious venue in Hong Kong’s expensive shopping centre doesn’t sign off with a small bill. Service here is attentive but still new as fine-tuning is expected in the opening month. 

It’s early to judge Fu Rong’s consistency as it’s still a new venture. And we hope that the restaurant will survive long enough for us to judge its consistency, but based on what we tasted and experienced on our first visit, it surely looked promising. The tantalizing stuffed cherry tomatoes with walnuts and mayonnaise is found under the starter section, but can be ordered as dessert as well.

Address: 201, 2/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 3-27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30am to midnight 

One Response to “dbHK eats: Fu Rong, a crowd-pleasing Sichuan restaurant”

  1. canvus says:

    I can! I”ve been watching your videos for a while now, and love all your China Vids! Ever since watching your vids my mouth has watered for Sichuan cuisine so bad, I love all the chille”s they use!

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