Mott 32: A Fresh Look at Flavors Past
Hello! Here's the last post of our October 2016 trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Sorry about the backlog, it took a lot of research putting together some of these reviews. I've already started on the Japan restaurants so look out for those shortly (you guys are in for a treat - we have a lot of great reviews coming up). But, today, we are going to talk about a pretty dope restaurant in Hong Kong. I'm a huge fan of Yardbird and when my friend Liza found out about my love for their wings, she recommended that I give Mott 32 a try. With her stamp of approval, I knew I had to taste Mott 32 for myself.
Upon arriving at this... bank!? I was confused. I later realized that the restaurant is located in the basement of a Standard Chartered Bank office building. It's not too hard to find given that there is a receptionist in the lobby of the building under a sign that says "Mott 32". But, it did have that speakeasy-esque feeling as we descended down a long escalator about 50 feet down. Still, the restaurant was nowhere in sight and we were instructed to continue our journey to the center of the earth via a convenient staircase ahead of us. As we continued our descent down the spiral staircase, we were enveloped by trippy mirrors with the only light source coming from the gleaming bulbs connected to large metal chains hanging from the ceiling.
FUN FACT: Mott 32 is named after the address of NYC's first Chinese convenience store that opened back in 1851!
Finally, we arrived out of breath and hungry (just kidding - there weren't that many stairs). I loved the set up of the restaurant. Not only was it trendy and intimate, but it was also spacious and functional. They had a gorgeous bar, a respectable main dining area, and even a dedicated air-drying cellar for their special Peking Duck. This subterranean paradise evoked lavishness through its contemporary and industrial decor. The chic vibe of the restaurant strategically complemented their menu of Dim Sum and other traditional Hong Kong specialties with elevated flavors of truffle, wagyu, Berkshire pork, and hairy crab.
PRO TIP: If you want to try the signature Mott 32 Peking Duck, you need to pre-order and reserve ahead of your visit. The website says you can only do this for dinner but you might be able to swing it for lunch. It doesn't hurt to ask!
Address: Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road Central, 德輔道中4-4A號渣打銀行大廈地庫, Hong Kong
Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck
Barbecue Pluma Ibérico Pork Yellow Mountain Honey
Signature Crispy Sugar Coated BBQ Ibérico Pork Buns
Flaky Egg Tarts
Shanghainese Soup Dumpling, Hairy Crab Roe
Okay, let's start talking about the food. We started with a few Dim Sum plates (Chinese food in small bite-sized portions - imagine a Chinese version of tapas). Some were noteworthy and some could be skipped. Keep in mind that they are all worth a try but given that these dishes are on the pricier side, I wanted to share the key ones worth ordering. To begin our meal, we ordered a pot of Aged Pu'er Tea. Why? Because it's healthy and supposedly helps with digestion for all the food we were about to eat. Pu'er is a special black tea that is fermented and then aged under humid conditions. This gives the tea a super strong, musty taste. Pu'er has also shown potential to improve cholesterol levels thanks to its cleansing abilities!
So, first things first, their Signature Crispy Sugar Coated BBQ Ibérico Pork Buns (what a name!) were incredible. A lot of Dim Sum places have this dish but Mott 32 upgrades it by making it extra crispy and by using Ibérico Pork. Given its crisp factor, I have no idea how that thing didn't fall apart in my hand. I postulate that it is because the buns were not completely filled with pork so the fragile exterior could be maintained. At first bite, the exterior essentially shattered in my mouth, exposing the sweet and savory goodness of the BBQ Ibérico Pork to my palate.
Ibérico Pork is a game changer. This tender meat has the ideal level of marbling, which means it doesn't have any weird clumps of fat but also does not sacrifice the flavor. These Spanish Ibérico pigs are well-known for producing some of the finest hams in the galaxy. You can read more about Ibérico here.
Next, I suggest the Shanghainese Soup Dumpling with Hairy Crab Roe (see above). Was it one of the tastiest soup dumplings I've ever had? Yes, probably. Was it worth $10 (USD) for a single piece? Maybe. Would I order it again? Nah. I definitely recommend everyone to try it at least once but simply to cross it off the list.
I did like the their Flaky Egg Tarts though (see above). They warn that there is a 20 minute prep time for this dish so make sure you order it in advance instead of waiting until the end of the meal. These ere the puffiest, freshest egg tarts I've ever had. I'm guessing there is a wait time because they make them on the spot per order. Man, these totally just dissolved in my mouth. I have never seen anything that flaked harder than that egg tart. It definitely lives up to its name.
We also ordered the Barbecue Pluma Ibérico Pork with Yellow Mountain Honey (see above). I could see how this dish might be considered a bit too sweet but, personally, I was into it. I thought it showcased the true greatness of Ibérico Pork in a respectable way. Cooked Ibérico should be enjoyed in larger bites, kind of like the way you would with wagyu beef. You would never dice up wagyu beef because this might lose some of the juices that are trapped within the seared surface.
This goes the same way for Ibérico. By eating it in larger bites, you can fully enjoy the enhanced marbling of the pork and you might even notice the slight nuttiness (thanks to the pigs' acorn diet). This dish does have a daily limit so, if you can, I suggest ordering it. For about $40 (USD), it's a bit pricey but I think it's worth it.
So, the other appetizers and small plates were underwhelming. This included the South Australian Lobster Har Gow with Yunnan Ham. It came with a little tube of lobster oil that you could drip on top of your dumpling. Cool? The taste wasn't anything special. Their Black Truffle Siu Mai was also nothing to brag about. They made it with a soft quail egg and Ibérico pork then sprinkled a bit of shaved black truffle on top. Sure, this is way more gastronomically advanced than other siu mai dumplings but I really don't think it's worth the hype.
Lastly, I want to end on a good note: The famous Mott 32 Peking Duck. So, I've heard good reviews and bad reviews of this duck but I have nothing but good things to say about this one. At 650 HKD (or $83 USD), this duck is an absolute STEAL. In NYC, there's a place called Peking Duck House that sells it for $39 per person at a 4-person minimum. That's almost $160 for a single duck! I don't see any case where Mott 32's duck is not worth the money. Let me tell you why. First of all, this duck comes out looking as beautiful as an Italian sunset. This full-breasted, perfectly roasted duck got me with its alluring aroma as soon as it arrived at our table.
The waiter was kind enough to let me take a few photos before they cut it. As you can see above/below, the Peking Duck was cut three ways: Lean, Semi-Fatty, and Skin. The duck was aged for 42 days, which helped intensify all the ducky and savory flavors into a more tender product. As a result, the lean cut (above on the left) was tender and not at all dry. If you click the Semi-Fatty cut (above on the right), you'll notice that there is a small lining of fat that is much less compared to other ducks. Again, this can be attributed to the dry-aging of the meat. The moisture from the fat has been released, providing more concentrated flavors. And, the tougher parts of the muscle and tissue start to break down thanks to the enzymes that are naturally found in the animal, which means the meat will be more tender.
Lastly, the duck skin was the best part. With the amount of fat reduced and the flavors strengthened, it would've already been a great duck. But, Mott 32 decided that they could achieve true greatness by roasting the duck with Apple Wood. This imbued the duck with hints of caramelized sweetness. I could have eaten just the skin all day. It was that good.
As with any other Peking Duck, you could build your own wraps based on your preferred ratios and combinations of the three different duck cuts. You can also choose from three different sauces: Puréed Garlic, Sweet Fermented Bean Sauce, and Sugar. It also comes with sliced cucumbers and sliced scallions to include in your wrap. Add some vegetables and you're basically eating a salad!