Hong Kong is one of Asia’s veritable food paradise – from the sidestreets selling all manner of finger food(fishballs on sticks, pig innards, egg balls, ten different types of fruit milkshakes, waffles) to the cha chan tengs to the best of Cantonese cuisine. Part of the difficulty in a short trip is deciding what to eat, and when to eat it. If you are like me, you try your best to squeeze in breakfast, lunch, tea, some more lunch, dinner and supper all through the course of a day and still leave HK with the distinct grouse that you have missed trying something yummy in the midst of all that food.
This is surely a happy conundrum for any foodie – there is never a moment of dullness. Tasked with finding a newplace to dine at, one of the places that came to mind when I made this trip in December 2009 was The Square located at II Exchange Square. Featured in the much talked about Michelin guide, The Square is run by the Maxim Group in Hong Kong and was awarded one Michelin star. Indeed, the publicity surrounding the Michelin guide did not go unnoticed; at the entrance of the restaurant, one instantly sees a special Michelin menu of the restaurant’s best gastronomic offerings.
What strikes you as you walk in is that the Square is not your atypical Cantonese restaurant – if anything, the feel of the place is decidedly more modern and this is perhaps a reflection of its menu as well. A trio of singers, one on an acoustic guitar played softly admist the diners. We chose to order from the a la carte menu and began with the recommended BBQ suckling pig with sweet sauce, on top of rice cakes.
I am of the view that while roasted meats can be found at any Cantonese restaurant, the test of a good Cantonese restaurant is how well executed the roasted meats are – whether it is roast duck, roast goose, char siew, roasted pork belly or bbq suckling pig. This suckling pig did not disappoint with the outer crispiness of the skin delicately contrasted with the coolness of the cucumber below. A sweet tangy sauce was sandwiched between the cucumber and the skin and this was a subtle refinement of the more commonly used sweet sauces. The rice cake at the bottom tasted firm and was a reflection of how The Square tends to adapt traditional dishes with a slight modern finish. I would have preferred if the chef had used a simple crepe or wafer thin skin but this was still very tasty.
The next dish we ordered was the lai tong – nothing beats a good double boiled soup, and the Square utilised water chestnuts, corn, pork, pork bones to produce a delightful concoction soozing to the throat, and at once sweet and rich.
After this, our foray into the main dishes began with The Square’s tangerine prawns. It’s quite easy to find battered prawns in any Chinese restaurant- but this was quite an outstanding dish by all accounts. A light crisp batter coated large tiger prawns, with a delicate tangerine sauce. The tangerine sauce was both sweet and sour, with the remnants of orange peel still apparent.
Following this, we decided to sample one of the Square’s dim sum offerings- in a menu of nearly 50 dishes and part of the Maxim group, the Square has a surprisingly modest dim sum menu with only four offerings. The Jumbo Prawn and Asparagus Spring rolls were beautifully executed- housed within a wafer thin spring roll, the fillings of the spring roll left us wanting more. Aside from a jumbo prawn, there were stalks of asparagus, mushrooms, chilli oozing out of a brown sauce.
The next two dishes were equally well executed: the first, crispy pork in dark vinegar sauce with almonds, was a subtle update of the conventional sweet and sour pork. The pork was fried lightly in batter and then doused with a honey dark vinegar-ish sauce and then crisp almonds were added to the top of it. The second, steamed cod fish with tiny salted fish, was drizzled with the common fish sauce used in Cantonese fish dishes but the little pieces of salted fish provided more bite.
By the end of the meal, we were convinced that The Square was adept in executing traditional Cantonese dishes with a slight modern twist but still preserving the original flavours of the dishes. Nestled among its sombre corporate cousins, The Square is an excellent choice if you still like your food traditional but with an updated spin.