Would you believe me if I told you that this restaurant was famous among Hong Kong locals as well as celebrities?
What if I told you that the celebrity mentioned above just happened to be this person?
Yep, that would be the one and only Anthony Bourdain, who just happens to be the host of the Emmy Award winning Travel Channel series No Reservations.
[You can watch this clip from Youtube, the segment about this eatery appears around the 3:31 mark]
This celebrity chef went to Hong Kong in 2007 and one of the restaurants that he went to and was on the show was 四季煲仔飯 Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant. It’s located on Temple Street, Yaumatei (廟街, 油麻地) Its exact address is 46-58 Arthur Street.
To get there: Take the MTR to the YauMaTei Station and take Exit C. At the exit, take a right at the fruit/juice stall and keep walking until you reach Temple St. When you reach the end of the block, turn left and the restaurant will be on the left hand side.
We knew that the restaurant had to be good when we saw the line to get into the small eating establishment.
There is another famous claypot restaurant in Temple Street called Hing Kee Restaurant that is adjacent to 4 Seasons, but there weren’t that many people inside so we opted to wait in line for 4 Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant. (The length of the line is almost always directly proportional to the quality of food served.The universal test for the quality of food in Hong Kong is to go to a restaurant where there’s along line of people waiting outside. You know the food has to be amazing if people are willing to spend 40 minutes to get into the restaurant.)
While we waited, we chose our selections from the outside menus that were thoughtfully written in both Chinese and English.
We were also able to observe the kitchen, where dozens of claypots emitted the most amazing smells as they cooked away on the hand-fed charcoal grill.
After a surprisingly short 20 minute rate (they had a very efficient system in place) we were ushered into the restaurant where we were seated at a communal table.
The first thing that arrived were the Oyster omelettes (20 HK for a small order, but the order was pretty big)
These were spectacular. The omelette was crisp and crunchy; there was a generous serving of fresh oysters scattered throughout the batter. The handful of fresh spring onions made the dish taste very fresh. Paired with the salty chili sauce, these were a fantastic appetizer.
But of course, what we were really here for was the claypot rice: 煲仔飯 “Bo zai fan” in Cantonese. I ordered the salted fish with chicken (26 HK) and my friend ordered the sparerib claypot.
So what is claypot rice exactly? The rice is cooked in the claypot over a relatively high heat (preferably over a charcoal fire to impart a smoky taste). This cooking method steams the toppings (which can range from eel to chicken) and burns a rich toasty layer of rice onto the bottom of the pot. It’s nothing fancy and the presentation is not spectacular, but it is a delicious comforting dish that fills you up.
You’er supposed to open the lid of the pot as soon as it is delivered to your table. Then, using a wadded paper towel or another makeshift over mitt, you grasp the knob of the cover (take caution as it will be quite hot). You’re then supposed to take the nearby bottle of soy sauce and pour a generous dollop on top of the rice. Then, quickly mix everything together thoroughly and quickly cover the pot with the lid for a few minutes to let the flavors develop.
After waiting, you then open the pot back up and dig in with a spoon.
To be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. There was a generous amount of chicken in my portion and the velvety flavor and robust flavor indicated that it had been well marinated. The thinly sliced ginger provided a nice contrast against the salted fish and gave it a very good balance.
However, I felt that the salted fish could be cut into tinier bits so that it would be easier to eat. The rice was nicely permeated with the flavor of the toppings, but the flavor just didn’t scream “claypot” to me. It was very good, but not spectacular. However, if time permits, I might have to come back and try their sausage rice; the fat of the sausage might flavor the rice a bit better than the lean fish that I had.
Afterwards, we went to another little shop for dessert.
To get here, walk from 4 Seasons down the small street that slightly veers to the left of the restaurant. A short block later, you should reach Temple St. At Temple St, turn left and keep walking to the end of the block. It will be on your left hand side.
This restaurant specialized in traditional Hong Kong desserts such as dessert soups and doufu fa (tofu pudding). I was pleasantly surprised to find that this menu was both in Simplified Chinese AND in English. After pondering the menu, I got the original tofu pudding (12 HK) and my friend got a Cantonese dessert soup.
I really liked this dessert shop. It had a very homey feel to it, but the desserts were simple and refreshing. I might just have to come back and try their delicious-looking black sesame soup to redeem the disappointing one I had at Honeymoon Desserts.
We were hoping to buy some fruits at the famed YauMaTei fruit market, but it doesn’t open until midnight.
And in the words of Anthony Bourdain:
“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas – fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”