Hungry Lawyer: Man Wah, an elegant alternative for dim sum at the Mandarin Oriental

I last wrote about one of my long-term favourite dim sum restaurants in Happy Valley, which got me thinking about where else I have truly enjoyed Hong Kong’s emblematic food experience.

I have always been partial to the old Mandarin Oriental on Connaught Road; as the flagship of this Hong Kong-based hotel group, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong has been the epitome of elegance and class in our ever-changing city since its opening in 1963. At that time, the hotel also stood as the tallest building in the city.

From a culinary perspective, the 25th and top floor of the Mandarin Oriental was, until the hotel’s 2005 renovation, notable as the home of Vong, the classic fusion restaurant of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Indeed, Vong was named best restaurant in the world in 1998.

“The Mandarin”, as it was called then. Photo: Mandarin Oriental

Lesser known but a longtime presence on the back side of the 25th floor is the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, Man Wah, which takes its name from the Cantonese for “Mandarin Oriental”. If ever a taxi driver doesn’t understand the hotel’s English name, saying “man wah jau-dim” should do the trick.

Man Wah serves a full Cantonese menu for lunch and dinner but today we will focus on dim sum only. On the weekend, the menu includes a selection of about 30 choices divided into steamed, baked / fried, rice flour roll and hot dish / appetiser options.

For weekday lunches, a more limited menu of 11 dim sum items is on offer. I eagerly anticipated my return to Man Wah last Saturday, and again for a Monday lunch, with its views of the city, elegant ceiling lanterns, silk paintings, retro pink tablecloths and beautifully prepared, delicious dim sum. 

The items from the steamed menu consist mainly of dim sum staples prepared well, with fine ingredients and in some cases something extra. For example, the siu mai black truffle (HKD90, four pieces) present as classic siu mai topped with a slice of black truffle. The addition gives the hearty taste and meaty texture of the siu mai some extra richness and depth.

The barbecued Iberian pork bun (HKD88, three pieces), the tiger prawn dumpling with bamboo shoots (HKD90, four pieces) and the Shanghainese soup dumpling (HKD88, three pieces) were also well executed classic dim sum items. These buns and dumplings were delicately prepared and served steaming hot from the kitchen. The addition of the Iberian pork into the pork bun and bamboo shoots into the prawn dumpling did not, however, substantially alter the usual flavours. 

More original was the crabmeat and pumpkin dumpling (HKD90, three pieces) which appear as cute little orange coloured, pumpkin shaped dumplings. The combination of the soft pumpkin and shredded crabmeat make for a subtle and original dumpling with neither flavour predominating over the other.

Glutinous rice dumplings (with extra portion)

Similarly, the steamed glutinous rice dumping with abalone in lotus leaf (HKD98, two pieces) was a beautifully presented, fancy version of the typical lotus leaf sticky rice dumplings found all over the city. Each lotus leaf packet was topped with its own whole shelled abalone and, on opening the packet, the glutinous rice itself was steamed with more abalone rather than the typical, heavier pork combination. The packet retained the richly aromatic flavour of the sticky rice derived from the lotus leaf that is the hallmark of these dumplings, while feeling lighter on the palate.

Parsnip bacon puffs

What really set apart Man Wah from other dim sum venues, fancy or otherwise, were the fried / baked items. One can be fairly certain that the Mandarin Oriental is not using gutter oil. The parsnip bacon puffs (HKD88, three pieces) were shaped like little parsnips, complete with thinly sliced scallions for stems. The outer coating of the puff was just slightly crunchy, giving way to a smooth mash inside with the strong and distinctive taste of parsnip and a light flavouring of bacon. This was definitely one of the highlights, which I tried on both of my recent visits.

Scallop pomelo puffs

Also standing out were the scallop pomelo puffs (HKD98, three pieces). These were beautiful little spring roll packets with a delicate deep fried shell of thin layered wrappers topped with a pulpy pomelo glaze and filled with scallop. The crisply fried exterior was light in flavour and an excellent counterpoint to the perfectly cooked scallop inside. The pomelo glaze provided just a bit of sweetness for the finishing touch.

For the rice flour rolls, I also tried the barbecued Iberian pork (HKD158) filling and, as with the Iberian pork bun, the taste was excellent but one might question if this very typical barbecued pork rice roll dish is worth the price tag at the Mandarin Oriental. I had a similar reaction to the roast pork belly (HKD188) from the hot dish / appetiser menu. The pork belly was rich with perfectly crisp skin and altogether excellent, but the portion seemed somewhat small for the price of this fairly standard dim sum order. 

But, saving money is certainly not the reason to come to dim sum at Man Wah. Come for the signature creative dishes that are elegant without ostentation, for the excellent view, the beautiful room with the pink tablecloths, the high quality ingredients, and the frying skill that could impress a master of Japanese tempura.

Osmanthus jelly

To top it off, come because Man Wah ends each meal with a rotation of tasty treats. On Saturday, it was warm, crisp walnut cookies and during the week it was an attractive, perfect osmanthus jelly studded with goji berries. Come to impress your guests, your clients, your parents, or your date with confidence that, whether it’s a standard item or something new, the quality here has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. 

Man Wah: 5 Connaught Road Central (Google Maps).

About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for nearly 20 years with 13 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network, and previously chaired the Nomura Gay & Lesbian Network, Asia. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, eight half-marathons and completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker.

Other columns from the Hungry Lawyer:

Hungry Lawyer: Beefbar, a Monte Carlo meatery that does beef right
Hungry Lawyer: La Cantoche, a hipster bistro in Sheung Wan that needs to up its game
Hungry Lawyer: Indian Village, a hole-in-the-wall in the heart of Mid-Levels
Hungry Lawyer: Bashu Garden, a Sichuan gem in a quiet part of Sai Ying Pun
Hungry Lawyer: Amigo, the French Restaurant with a Spanish Name Where You Can Dine Like it’s 1979

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