Claiming to be the only Manchurian restaurant in Hong Kong (readers, do tell us if you know of any others!), Bistro Manchu offers an interesting mix of hot and cold dishes in a cosy setting right on Elgin Street. As we plod our way through winter in Hong Kong, temperate though it may be, this restaurant’s hearty comfort food of the cold-accustomed north makes it worth popping into.
Red lanterns, antique mirrors, lacquered furniture, and old black and white photographs of what seems to be occupied Manchuria welcome you as you take your seats – sober and cheery at the same time. Ask for some tea as soon as you sit to warm yourself up. It arrives in a pretty teapot besprinkled with pink petals.
On to the food: the pan-fried lamb dumplings with scallions are a bit too gamey, but the vegetable ones are mild, healthy, and delicious. At $68 for ten pieces, one dish of dumplings is more than filling for an average appetite. Try the North-eastern soup pork dumplings as well, very like xiao long bao, though not as delicately made because of the thicker cover (think less folds). The sautéed aubergine with garlic is excellent, well cooked with green peppers, leaving no space for complaints. This saucy dish goes well with rice, which you have to order separately.
The menu also offers cold dishes like spinach sesame salad and bitter melon salad which may be more appetising in warmer climes, smoked and marinated meat and vegetable dishes, filled pancakes, soups, stews (all manner of robust potato and meat varieties, designed to take the edge of anything remotely wintry), and several types of fried rice.
There’s almost always some space available at lunchtime, an anomaly in this part of town. Yes, you may have to make do with a table near the draughty doorway if you just walk in, but nevertheless, reservation-free is a pleasant way to be. The inner sanctum of the restaurant is usually reserved. The bill arrives pre-divided per person, convenient if you’re eating with a group of friends.
An added plus for the health conscious: no MSG, per the menu.
Bistro Manchu G/F, 33 Elgin Street, SOHO, Central
Open daily, from noon-2:30 and 7-11 p.m.
By Sai Pradhan