Outside, ferries silently sailed beneath the haze-covered skyline of Hong Kong Island. The glare on this particular autumn afternoon was strong.
Not just from the sweeping view of Victoria Harbor, visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Hexa at Ocean Terminal, but also from the dead eyes of the baked mud crab, which sat before us, all delicious, atop a salt cake.
Filled with melted yellow roe, the brightly-colored crustacean, with a reddish hue reminiscent of a sun-scorched retiree, was by the aesthetic standards of seafood, a rare beauty. No doubt her male crab counterparts would have been devastated when they woke to find she’d been snatched away.
But, with the mid-autumn festival less than a week away, the restaurant, billed as “traditional Cantonese with a twist,” has sought to focus strongly on seasonal produce for its new menu to celebrate the occasion.
And, suffice to say, with September the best month for female mud crabs, it was her time to go. All that remained was one question: baked, steamed, or served with congee?
A verdict on all, sadly, could not be rendered. Our small dining party (Coconuts HK and another reporter from Milk, which we hear is a reputable dairy industry publication) were brought the first of the three options. The baked version did indeed yield a “creamy and luxurious” roe, as promised. No complaints, no surprises.
Easily distracted, Coconuts HK caught sight of the next dish, the Kuruma prawn — AKA the Japanese tiger prawn — and was immediately faced with another tough question.
Heads or tails? The Duality of Prawn
For this dish, which Hexa sous chef Kan Wong has deemed his favorite, the succulent little seafloor dweller has been divided in two: head from tail, brains from prawn.
While the meat, traditionally the best part, has been tended carefully — cooked with butter, garlic, broth and Nepali wild rice — the head, too often cast aside in distaste, has been given a makeover, emerging from a deep fryer wearing a tastebud stunning outfit of soy sauce, XO sauce, and prawn head oil.
The result? As a prawn head, objectively uglier. As food, crunchy and unquestionably delicious.
In a delicate operation lasting about 15 minutes, Coconuts HK used surgeon-like precision to extract every edible morsel, harassing the flecks of chewy Nepali wild rice spread through the sauce with all available utensils at our disposal. Plate licking was very seriously contemplated. Luckily, along came…
The Skin of Pomelo, a gentle fellow
Underneath the hanging lights above our table, which can only be described as looking like large, classy Mentos discs, the pomelo skin arrived. It had been through a journey, a two-hour simmer session with chicken meat, chicken feet, ham and, lastly, dace, which, as food connoisseurs know, is a fish that rhymes with face.
Infused with the essence of these three powerful food groups like some sort of composite food superhero and stewed with sea cucumber, the pomelo skin melted away in the mouth, becoming almost a puree — a perfect contrast to the accompanying crispy Japanese leek bathing together in the abalone sauce.
Speaking of Abalone…
Preceding the appearance of the next dish was a waft of airborne flavor so strong that, had we been cartoon characters, would have caused us to float through the air, nose first, toward the source/sauce.
Sincerely dear reader, the first mouthful of South African abalone-braised chicken made us cry. While we’ve been in a fulfilling long-term relationship with chicken for many years, meeting this sticky, tangy, precious poultry was like was falling in love again. We plunged enthusiastically into the casserole, seasoned with chili bean sauce and Japanese miso paste, and, as a rusty old fishing boat passed by the window, a Goddamn earthy chestnut emerged from the sauce and was like HEY!
It was a total moment. Verdict: Bravo.
Kurobuta Belly with Water Caltrop(s), can you eat it?
The answer, stripped back, is yes, yes, no. The first yes refers to the pork belly, which, sitting all juicy and tender in a little hidey hole, was just an adorable piece of meat packing an outsized flavor punch. Now, we should qualify, that there was a mention, somewhere from the table, that it may have been too oily.
But isn’t that the point of slow-cooked-over-12-hours pork belly? No seriously, we’re asking. Ah, nevermind — back to the second yes, an affirmative referring to the whole water caltrop which came, together with a puree of its caltrop cousins, in the dish. Totally fine to eat and, as a bonus, it’s considered lucky as it symbolizes blessings from the elders to children.
The no, inauspiciously dropped at the beginning of the section, is directed only at the decorative caltrop, which, Coconuts HK discovered, is too hard for human teeth. You could probably gnaw at it from the sides for a while, but then you could miss out on the…
Crispy Black Cod in (Magical) Yuzu Vinegar
For a while, we tried to Shazam the background music, which was mostly politely played acoustic guitar, kind of like the type used for a montage in the second half of a feel good movie or a TV ad for outdoor furniture which shows a family having a splendid twilight dinner under the stars.
Alas, we couldn’t get a lock, so we moved on to pan-fried black cod, served with a sauce of yuzu and apple vinegar, a sweet and sour slap in the taste buds that’ll make you think of a small happy anime child riding a magical fish down a rainbow.
Well, that’s what we thought of and, damn, was that imaginary anime child having a great time on his magical fish, leaving trails of tingling flavor in his wake.
Verdict: pure cartoon happiness.
Finally — Dessert, Fruit n’ Mooncake
Firstly, let’s get the fruit out of the way because, well, it’s fruit. We mean no offense. The “Deluxe Japanese Fresh Fruit Platter” was dictionary deluxe, pre-cut and chilled, but there’s else something we need to talk about. Foodgasms. Now, it goes without saying that many foodies are fakers, always purporting to be in eating ecstasy. This, however, is different because we’re talking about the love between a man and a Mini Lava Custard Mooncake, something sacred and special and, in this case, served with ice-cream.
Verdict: This, we shamelessly confess, was the second time we cried during the meal.
Hexa’s Mid-Autumn Festival menu is on until September 30. It’s pricey stuff (there’s a 10 percent service charge added to the bill, too) — but it’s great if you’re 1) into really nice views, 2) genetically blessed seafood served in classic Cantonese flavors, 3) ‘deluxe’ fruits, and 4) the possibility of crying over your food.
Hexa is at OTE 101, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui
Reservations: +852 2577 1668
Mon-Sun, 11:30am-3pm and 6pm-1am, until 2am on Sat & Sun
MRT: Tsim Sha Tsui