I’m afraid this post goes slightly against my plan to only try out restaurants I have never previously visited. There is a reason for this, however: every Lent, I like to challenge myself by giving up something (food related of course) which I love. I’ve done the clichéd chocolate before and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it isn’t actually that hard once you’ve managed to get past the first four days or so (in these first four days, believe me, you see chocolate EVERYWHERE). Last year I gave up cheese which was torture. This year, living in Asia, I thought it most fitting and even more of a challenge to give up Asia’s staple diet – rice. Aiyaaa it was hard! I would even dream about rice. With frequency. Most people thought I was crazy: “How can you give up rice when you live in Hong Kong? What on earth do you eat?!” The most difficult thing about it was that it wasn’t just rice, but all rice-related foods; so no rice noodles, no cheung fan. In fact I had to miss out on several dim sum classics. Nightmare.
The first time I tried out this Taiwanese restaurant, The Night Market (also located in the amazing building on Stanley Street that is almost completely dedicated to restaurants, which by the way I still haven’t completed my task of trying every single one, so if anyone fancies helping me, please do get in touch), was a few days after Lent had started, and pretty much everything on the menu involves rice or rice noodles! Fortunately I was with a girl who speaks Cantonese, so she explained my situation to the waiter who arranged a special dish for me with egg noodles. It was fine, but the whole table around me, or in fact the whole restaurant around me was eating rice and I cannot deny the serious food envy I suffered.
Needless to say I made a vow to come back once Lent was over. I don’t think I can explain my excitement without once again referring to the child-like state I revert to on Christmas Eve. My stomach was howling, my eyes were bulging and I had a ridiculously cheesy grin I just couldn’t wipe off my face. I had already decided (am I predictable?! Just a little bit) what I was going to order: the dish that caused me to suffer the most food envy on my previous visit, which also happens to be one of the house specialities - stir-fried fillet mignon in sha cha sauce.
The lunchtime set menu offers a bento-box with your choice of main dish served on a bed of rice (yay!) and three little side dishes (which you can’t choose). On this occasion they were: tofu with spring onions, grilled aubergine, and a kind of scrambled egg with tomato. All a little oily but at least they don’t use any MSG. Other mains include fried pork chop (a little plain and the fact that it’s fried in batter might make it less appealing for some. My friend devoured it though), three cup chicken (cooked in equal measures of rice wine, sesame oil and soy sauce – also apparently a success as my other friend didn’t even offer me any!), stewed pork belly and spicy sweet and sour kung pao prawns. My fillet mignon was perfectly tender, without a trace of fat and the sha cha sauce with lots of ginger, chilli and yummy chinese vegetables was delicious, although, again, very oily and left me feeling uncomfortably full all afternoon. By no means gourmet food, but (as suggested by the name of the resto) they are aiming for the kind of food which is typical of Taiwanese street markets. I have never been to Taiwan, let alone a Taiwanese street market, so am not sure how near the head they hit the nail, but it works fine for a simple lunch.
Decor-wise, The Night Market is fairly minimalist, with bare wooden tables and unfinished clay pots on the 6th floor, whilst the 7th floor is brighter, with aqua-coloured walls and more stylish lighting. The one interesting design point on the 6th floor is the lamp-shades: above the long tables hang huge lampshades made up of bits of rolled up magazines. Interesting to look at and a great way to recycle methinks.
Service was basic and they served each meal a five-minute interval from the next. Fortunately mine arrived first but unfortunately I’ve been brought up not to start until everyone has their food. Damn you, manners! Our meal, including a drink (a selection of several different types of tea, the signature being the Taiwanese bubble tea) came to $105 each including a charge for the basic service. I can now cross it off my list of places to try (or try properly) but it will stay on my list of places to go back to for a simple, hearty lunch, particularly when I’m craving rice.
The Night Market
6-7/F Stanley 11
11 Stanley Street
Tel: +852 2810 1121
Date visited: Wednesday 27th April 2011