ALLAN REID: Nondescript Chinese restaurant all about the food

Monday’s food reviewer discovers a hidden gem in Hong Kong West

By Allan Reid

Monday Magazine columnist

One of my hosts at Hong Kong West, Jai, is from China’s Hainan Province and she swears this Fort Street restaurant has the best Szechuan in Victoria.

It feels like a zero-budget, pop-up restaurant about to pop-out. Little effort has been wasted on decor. Aged red-top wooden tables are surrounded by cheap banquet chairs with well-worn upholstery. A red counter, built utilitarian style from scrap wood, stands at the back and serves as both the bus and pay stations. Cream-coloured walls are mostly bare.

Hong Kong West restaurant in the Jubilee neighbourhood of Victoria offers authentic Chinese cuisine, writes Monday Magazine reviewer Allan Reid.

At least the horizontal blinds covering the window are even: my other host, Robbie, claims they are usually askew. Asian diners occupy most tables, which I take as a good sign. Jai takes charge of our order, for efficiency and because the English and Chinese menus differ. She lists off six dishes in Mandarin to the young waitress, relaying that one of us doesn’t like spicy food or cilantro. The rest of us haven’t a clue what’s coming.

The dishes that arrive are not typical Chinese restaurant fare. The first is Pan-fried Prawns. Peeled and deveined and fried golden brown but not battered, they are served with an assortment of julienned vegetables in a thin sauce, subtly employed, that adds a touch of vinegary sweetness.

Spicy Beans follow. Fresh green beans are tossed in another thin vinegary sauce full of little black specks for which neither Jai nor the two waitresses can give an English name. They describe them as a “pickled Chinese vegetable.” Whatever they are, the beans are perfectly steamed to a brilliant green.

A heap of short, meaty squiggles intermixed with segments of green stalks is not Ginger Beef with Asparagus, as we guess, but Garlic Beef with Garlic Shoots. I’ve never though about eating garlic shoots, but why not? Garlic is an onion and we eat the green stalks of chives, scallions and leeks, right? This becomes the favourite dish around our table: Jai excluded.

Jai describes the Imperial Chicken as Kung Pao, though it lacks the diced vegetables. It is an impressive dish of golden pan-fried chicken tossed with coins of wine-red peppers in a one-to-one ratio, topped with a handful of peanuts and drizzled with another dark rice-vinegar sauce. The peppers, while imparting subtle flavour and no heat to the chicken, have tough skins leaving me unsure whether to eat them. Jai doesn’t, so neither do the rest of us.

Her favourite is the Fish Hot Pot. Two-bite fish fillets lightly fried yellow are arranged like scales across a fragrant broth filled with crisp vegetables. I love this dish too and return for seconds, and thirds, and … wow, fish descends deep within the broth. This is value and if ever return alone, I will surely order nothing more than this.

Our final dish is Shredded Potatoes. They’re a Szechuan version of hash browns, but instead of being fried, they are marinated in vinegar and soy and lightly warmed. I was struck by the intense potato flavour.

Hong Kong West is an easy place to miss. It is on the south side of Fort at the far end of a nondescript half block of old low and grey storefronts. Parking is in back, off Richmond Road. There is no lighted sign, just a painted board over the front window and another on the glass before blinds usually closed, but don’t let the apparent poverty of the place discourage you. This place is all about the food.

Hong Kong West

1807 Fort St. 250-598-1352

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