If you can stand the heat, get into The Kitchen: Review – The Kitchen, Mui Wo

Pizza

A few weeks ago we headed off on one of our walks – on Lantau, the largest island in Hong Kong – between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo. But this time was different. We normally take an easy route, partly along the coast via Nim Shue Wan and then over the hills via the Trappist Monastery. There are some steep stretches but it’s pretty much all paved. It takes around one and a half to two hours depending on how fit you are.

This time, we decided to attempt the alternative route via the Tigers Head. We’d seen this route while hiking around Discovery Bay and thought “how difficult can it be”? We headed off on a Saturday morning with the tops of the peaks still covered in cloud. It turns out it’s quite a long way, it’s very steep, it isn’t paved in key parts and, well, it’s knackering. Now all this is relative – we were passed as we struggled up a steep slope with lots of loose scree by one guy jogging along, carrying a bike. If you’re fit, this won’t be too difficult. But for us it was exhausting.

When you reach the top (465m above sea level) you’re rewarded by amazing views to both sides of Lantau and beyond. Or you would if you weren’t in the middle of a cloud. The first minute or so of this YouTube video by some guys with a drone gives you some idea of the views you get on a fine day – they don’t show the knackering climb to get there though.

So we arrived in Mui Wo after lunchtime having misjudged the time, missed the ferry back we were targeting and very hungry. We had taken over four hours to do seven miles or so. And we headed to what has become our eating place of choice in Mui Wo – The Kitchen.

The Kitchen isn’t much to look at from the outside. It’s small, facing onto a car park near the ferry piers, and is a little bit scruffy. It doesn’t have a menu outside or a website as far as I can tell. When I’d seen it before, I’d wrongly got the impression it was more of a bar with some snacks than a proper restaurant. Checking out TripAdvisor and, especially, OpenRice hadn’t encouraged me. OpenRice has some terrible reviews of the place. On closer inspection, they are old and there is mention more recently of much better experiences and changes in management. But there aren’t many reviews and so it seemed a bit risky. The first time we tried them, it was because the Nepalese restaurant not far away bizarrely decided they were going to shut on a Saturday lunchtime – surely one of the busiest times for a Mui Wo restaurant aimed at visitors.

Anyway, we somewhat dubiously tried The Kitchen and it was a revelation. Their name comes from their open kitchen and they were cooking a range of mainly Italian dishes from scratch in a traditional way. The pizza, when it arrived from their specialist pizza oven, was great. If you’re a fan of deep-dish pizzas, then this is not for you. Their pizzas are wonderfully thin, they’re crispy and they stay crispy – in the picture at the top you can see the amazing cornicione (to give it the Italian term for pizza crust) which had a snap like the thinnest crispbread. This one was a spicy chorizo. They do two sizes – small and large – and this was the small one. Everyone who goes there is surprised by the sizes – they should really call them large and giant. The small one ran for around HK$138 so maybe not cheap for Mui Wo but good value compared to the likes of Pizza Express.

Pasta

Mrs CookWithNoName had a black truffle pasta which was a deep combination of flavours. My iPhone picture doesn’t really do it justice. They have quite a range of pizzas and pastas plus a few standbys like burgers. We were astonished to see one guy who was eating a pizza have a burger and fries to follow – we weren’t around to see if he managed to finish it but, if he did, it was quite a feat.

They have just a couple of choices for dessert. We tried the tiramisu which was OK but, to be honest, nothing special. They have the usual drinks and what looks like an interesting choice of wine although I never saw a wine list.

It’s quite small so you might have to hang around at the bar for a table on weekend lunchtimes but the staff are friendly. They deserve to be better known – a bit of effort to put a menu outside and have a website would probably do them a world of good. But then we might not get in next time we arrive exhausted from some remote peak on Lantau.

Details
The Kitchen
Shop 1, G/F, Scenic Crest, 18A Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road, Lantau Island
大嶼山梅窩碼頭路18A卓濤軒地下1號舖
Tel. 5991 6292
OpenRice (for map)

Conserve Conundrum: Jam from the mysterious yangmei fruit

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It’s not often you come across a new fruit. I’ve lived in Asia for 12 years and thought I knew pretty much all the fruits available. But, walking through Graham Street Market, I saw something I’d never seen before. About the size of a large strawberry but almost perfectly spherical, a dark red verging on black colour and the look of a berry, a bit like a very large round raspberry. What is it, I asked but my language skills and those of the stall holder were not sufficiently in sync. Try one, he suggested. They were deliciously sweet to my taste and had a stone in the middle (a bit like a lychee) so not a berry. Another stallholder told me it was a blackberry which it definitely wasn’t – I ate plenty of those as a kid and they certainly don’t have stones.

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Well a bit of research showed what fruit it was and explained why I hadn’t come across it before. It goes under various names – the Mandarin name seems to be yangmei. The late Pam Shookman renders it as yeung4 mui4 in her useful guide to the wet markets of Hong Kong. The only English name is bayberry but there seems to be some confusion with some other similar western berries of that name. Other names include yamamomo in Japan and Chinese strawberry although, again, there’s some confusion with other plants there. The botanical name is myrica rubra.

I think pretty much all the Asian fruits have gravitated to UK markets by now. I remember reading the produce manager of Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the UK a few years ago saying that he had successfully sold all exotic fruits with the single exception of durian – the pungently-aromaed fruit from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia which was a step too far for English nostrils apparently, despite its actually rather creamy taste. I’m pretty sure they’ve never sold yangmei though.

So why not the yangmei? Well it seems to have a very short growing season (as short as a couple of weeks according to some sources) and it doesn’t keep well – maybe only a day or two. I suspect that all that could change with some attention from breeders but it’s not currently an attractive proposition commercially in the west despite its very pretty appearance. Supermarkets favour selling fruits under-ripe that stay in “good” condition for weeks. There are though attempts to market the juice in the US under the trademarked name Yumberry – good luck with that!

I said that I found it sweet but it seems to get mixed opinions on that – some people describe it as sour-sweet – I think it depends how much of a sweet tooth you have as to how far the sourness comes through. They have a consistency which is weirdly reminiscent of citrus fruits when you bite into them – slightly fibrous but in a pleasant way. Apparently the dark coloured ones are sweeter than the redder varieties. it’s supposed to have all sorts of health benefits.

They are quite cheap – in the Graham Street market they were running for around HK$12 a punnet and I’ve seen them since for $10 but I have yet to see them in our local Park n Shop supermarket and only a few market stalls seem to have them. The season is right now – late May to early June.

So what to do with them? You can just eat them raw or juice them. But I like making jam so here goes with an almost novel form of jam. There’s not much to go on on the internet about making jam with yangmeis so I took a punt and used the standard benchmark of equal weights of fruit and sugar with just a little less sugar because they seemed so sweet.

The tricky thing is how to handle the stones and the flesh. I de-stoned the fruits by hand which was not too difficult – I guess something like a cherry pitter might help if you wanted to cut down on the hassle. One approach then would be to just use the juice and strain the fruit at some point to get rid of all the fibres. But I like some bite to my jam and figured the citrus-like fruit might make something a little like a coarse marmalade so I didn’t strain it at all. Some people say that you need to wash the fruits thoroughly because of the possibility of bugs although I didn’t see any.

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I used four punnets and after de-stoning the fruit had about 1.2 kg to which I added 1kg of jam sugar. The results are a wonderful colour but the jam is quite thick – I’m not sure if that’s because of high pectin content in the fruit or because I left in all the flesh. If I we remaking it again I think I would boil the fruit for slightly less time and use ordinary sugar to achieve more of a soft set.

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Yangmei Jam
 
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A lovely deep red jam made with the unusual short-seasoned Chinese fruit the yangmei or bayberry
Author:
Ingredients
  • About 1.2 kg yangmeis, after de-stoning (approximately 4 punnets)
  • 1kg ordinary white sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon
Method
  1. Mix together yangmei flesh and sugar and leave for 2 hours or overnight to infuse.
  2. Sterilise jars for 30 mins at 130C fan.
  3. Heat yangmei flesh and sugar over low heat for 5 mins to melt sugar, stirring.
  4. Raise heat to high heat for 20 mins stirring.
  5. Add lemon juice.
  6. If there is a lot of scum on the top of the jam, either remove it with a slotted spoon or add a knob of butter which will naturally disperse it.
  7. Decant the hot mixture into the sterilised jars almost to the top. Seal and briefly invert the jars to sterilise the tops. Take care with the hot liquid.
Notes
This made 3 jars.
If you want a smoother jam without the flesh then strain the mixture after step 3.
These should keep for several months unopened and then several weeks in the fridge.
Read the guidance in tropical jam session for some general tips on jam making.

 

 

 

 

Getting in hock: Ham hock and broad bean slow-cooked soup

 

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Our favoured local value meat supplier at Mui Wo Meats has a classic budget cut on their lists. A mere HK$40 gets you a tasty Spanish ham hock – the part of the leg below the ham itself. As with most budget cuts, this doesn’t look that promising – it’s got skin, fat and bone and not that much meat. But with hours of slow cooking it turns into something magical. The skin and bone add a rich flavour (you get rid of the actual skin and bone before serving after they relinquished all their goodness) and it’s actually not that fatty after all.

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The classic soup combination for hock is with peas – the saltiness of the hock combining with the sweetness of peas. Niki Segnit is the queen of flavour pairings and in her wonderful Flavour Thesaurus she reports that Swedish institutions use to favour a thick pea and ham soup called arstoppa on Thursday evenings to ward off the hunger pangs during Friday fasts.

We’re going for a slight variation with broad beans whose chunkier nature I think suits the dish and the other vegetables we’re adding in. Broad beans are available frozen from many local supermarkets. Some people peel broad beans – the skins do have a slight grey drabness about them and supposedly are bitter. But I just throw them straight in frozen – either broad beans are getting less bitter through cultivation or the savouriness of the ham is working to counteract it.

The choice of vegetables is up to you but you do need beans or peas or something close in there to get the classic flavour combination.

Soup is something of a misnomer for this recipe- it’s more of a stew although I suppose you could put everything bar the meat through the blender if you want a smoother result.

It’s actually a very easy recipe with the only slight faff being the need to skin and bone the hock towards the end of cooking. I used a slow cooker and cooked for about six hours – as you can see, this made the hock very tender and the skin came away easily in one piece with the meat easy to shred from the bone.

 

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If you don’t have a slow cooker (or a rice cooker or something similar with a low setting) then you could cook this, covered, on the stove-top in a heavy bottomed pan or in the oven on a low heat. In both cases it would need less cooking time and you would probably need to add a little more liquid – the slow cooker keeps the liquid in.

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Watch out for the seasoning – the ham hock is already salted so go light on added salt until you’ve tasted the final result.

Getting in hock: Ham hock and broad bean slow-cooked soup
 
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A slow cooked delicious soup using a budget cut.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 ham hock – about 550 – 600g (defrosted if it comes frozen)
  • 1 onion – finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
  • 1 carrot – diced
  • 2 sticks celery - diced
  • 2 medium potatoes – diced
  • Broad beans 125g (frozen)
  • Stock – about 750ml (from a cube is fine; water makes an adequate substitute)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
  • I small leek or 2 large spring onions, thinly sliced (optional for garnish)
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1. Heat a glug of oil and add the onion. Cook gently for about 15-20 minutes until it starts to take on some colour. You can do this in the container you are eventually going to do the main cooking in if it will go on the stove-top or alternatively in a frying pan or wok.
  2. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes and ham hock and heat gently for a few minutes.
  3. If you’re using a different container to the main cooker (like a slow cooker), transfer all the ingredients from the pan to that. Add the stock and some ground pepper. You want the liquid to almost cover the ham hock. Don’t add any salt at this stage
  4. Cook slowly, covered, for about 4 hours in a slow cooker; about 2-3 hours on the stove top or in the oven. If the stove=top or oven, check periodically whether you need to add liquid if it is going dry.
  5. Add the broad beans and return to the heat for about one hour more.
  6. Check the meat is tender. If not, cook for a little longer.
  7. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary.
  8. Remove the ham hock to a chopping board and use two forks to strip the skin. Then shred the meat away from the bones. Return the shredded meat to the soup.
  9. Serve, garnished with the optional thinly sliced spring onion or leek if desired.
Notes
Serves 4 generously.
It’s great served with some crusty bread or you could serve with rice if you’d prefer.
Extra can be frozen. If freezing, re-heat thoroughly before serving.

 

 

 

 

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