Friday, January 21, 2011

Luk Yu Tea House : Hong Kong

Luk Yu Tea House
24 Stanley St
Hong Kong
Ph : +852 2523 5464

Luk Yu Tea House gets its name from the Tang dynasty poet Lu Yu, who wrote the legendary 'The Classic of Tea'. An establishment dating back to 1933, its decor hasn't  really changed since.  It has three levels and the first floor is said to be reserved for its loyal customers. This story seems to have been repeated so many times that it has gained currency through sheer decades long repetition to develop an almost myth-like status. Based on my personal experience, regulars have 'their' tables on 'their floors', and that this 'first floor only' story is just that, a story.

Although the basic menu stays the same (there are menus in Chinese, English and Japanese, to my knowledge), there are regular 'specials', so this menu, which you fill in yourself and hand to the waiter, changes weekly. 
The receptacle on the left is a very traditional one, its purpose being to rinse your tea cups (in  hot water) before pouring in your tea of choice.

For those who haven't used/ seen one before, the lidded 'bowl' at the back is actually an individual 'teapot'. This allows for each person at the table to choose a different tea leaf according to personal preferences. The pouring of the tea into one's cup is, to me, an art form, as it involves angling the lid to create an opening of sufficient but not too large a size, and then quickly pouring it into one's cup without spilling tea all over the table. Inevitably, I leave a small trail of tea on the plate or table. I just can't seem to get the hang of it.

 Glutinous rice in lotus leaf

I'm not a yum cha fanatic, but one of the dishes that I like to order, if I am having it, is glutinous rice in lotus leaf. The rice has to be piping hot, as if it has just been cooked, with a decent amount of non-rice filling. Although not elaborate, nor contained large chunks of meat etc, Luk Yu's is a solid, tasty example of this dim sum regular.

This was a special for that week whose name I forgot to note down, but it's a type of 'soup dumpling' in the sense that there was soup contained within its filling.  I never actually figured out what the orange component was, to my complete embarrassment - it was ordered because we were told that it was a special and was good, and it seemed somewhat wrong to then ask "ahh what exactly have I ordered?".  Hot and delicious, at any rate, except the skin of the dumpling was a bit too hard in one or two places at the pleats of one of them. I suspect that this is because they'd been exposed to air for just that moment too long before they were cooked.

Jia Jiang Mian ( literally 'fried sauce noodles')

Over the years, this is the one dish that I always order at Luk Yu. The taste has changed somewhat, no doubt because of changes in kitchen staff (though one of the enduring things about Luk Yu is the floor staff, who have, largely, worked there all their lives, even those now in their sixties). It is a little sweeter than it used to be, and in a way a little bit more concentrated, but this is a nostalgia dish for me, and one which I always enjoy.

The ubiquitous egg tart. These seem to have shrunk in size over the years, but the pastry was light and flaky, just as I like it. It was served at room temperature, I admit that I like them best when they are just a little warmed, as if straight from the oven.

Luk Yu features in many tourist guides as a 'must do' when in Hong Kong, and I suppose that as a representative of a long bygone era, and a time warp of an old fashioned tea house, it is. Many people speak about the price (yes it is more expensive than average), that the qualify of the food is not fabulous, and that the service could be improved.

This is a place which is proud of its heritage, has a fair number of loyal (as in decades and generations) customers and yes, the wait staff aren't chatty (I do not think that they are rude), it's not terribly trendy, nor does it serve the best dim sum in town, but it is an experience for those visiting Hong Kong, and for locals, it's one of those places which, if it wasn't there, I think there would be a sense of loss about...

There is another tea house with a similarly long history in the same area which I haven't visited (I simply didn't know about it) called Lin Heung Kui. Although of a similar vintage, I am told that it is quite different - much cheaper, a lot more informal, and that eating there is a case of finding yourself a table (or seat) where you can. You will not be shown to a table, and if you do not speak Cantonese, you cannot be shy about getting food.

LHK opened a second branch in Sheung Wan a few years ago, and I did pay a visit here, but forgot to take my camera. I can say that it was by far the most chaotic yum cha experience I have ever had; people were getting refills of water for their teapots and not bothering to ask the floor staff, and there were several trolleys (in particular the steamed cake 'Ma Lai Go') which were swarmed upon before they had barely entered the room. The trolleys themselves travel in the same small elevator as the customers, which lends for a cramped experience.

It became evident that a sort of self-service was the way to go - grab your table's card, go up to a trolley, get dishes, have your card stamped, go back to your table. 'Your' table could also be the table of three other groups of people unknown to you, of course.

That all being said, the food was great, the Ma Lai Go was a cracker and one of the best I've had (they were steaming hot, and everyone who thronged around the trolley got a minimum of two plates each), and for all the high energy madness, I would go back, and regret not knowing about this place until my second last day in Hong Kong.

Lin Heung Kui
2/F-3/F 40-50 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel 2156 9328

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel 2544 4556



5pandas said...

always a pleasure to read your pieces AP. This time I felt I was there in HK with you. very descriptive. thank you.

Anonymous said...

yum!!! will try next time in HK

The Sydney Tarts said...

@5pandas - thank you, pandas. I think you'd like both these places.

@anonymous - do!

joey@FoodiePop said...

I have to agree with you, but at least it's still fairly traditional.

The Sydney Tarts said...

@joey@FoodiePop - Yes it is, and that's one of its strengths.

Mim said...

I also like the beef brisket and tendon noodles you can get at Luk Yu... 3 months and counting!!

kewpie said...

hey AP

the egg tarts look devine! i dunno why i never venture further into HK whenever i'm there. i need to really take some time to appreciate the city more next time.

The Sydney Tarts said...

@Kewpie - Hey, Kewps. You should venture a bit. You'd like both these places. Esp the mad one.

yygall said...

mystery dumplings might be 灌湯餃...most places serve it in soups, but it should actually hold the soup in the dumpling. so i've been told.