Date of review: May 1, 2012 | Reviewed by:
The big retro neon sign of Loyal Dining, a cha chaan teng that draws on our collective nostalgia for days gone by, has become a landmark on Wellington Street, drawing a diverse crowd that consists of locals, tourists and business people from Central and beyond. Once you step into the multi-story building, diners are greeted by an ensemble of old Hong Kong signifiers : checked wallpapers, black-and-white floor tiles, hanging pendant lamps and old-school photos lining the walls. The ground floor is bustling with an open barbecue kitchen, while up the wooden stairs there are two floors of more quiet and intimate spaces with booth seats along windows. The restaurant opens until 2am on weekend days and 4am on Friday and Saturday night, which makes it a new favourite for the late night crowds at Lan Kwai Fong.
In colonial Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s, European elements and ingredients were infused into the domestic cuisine and resulted in a uniquely Hong Kong “soy sauce Western”-style of cooking, which were most commonly found in tea restaurant or cha chaan teng . Loyal Dining is a more upscale and modern-retro version of the typical cha chaan teng, and its menu consists of comfort food that will be familiar to anyone that has grown up in Hong Kong. Here, the authentic local dishes are made with quality produce such as organic egg and daily imported fresh poultry. We embarked on the nostalgic meal with an order of seafood soup with puff pastry, one pigeon, one vegetable dish and a barbecued pork rice. Surprisingly, the seared foie gras with barbecued pork and sunny side egg is the first thing to arrive at our table. Although we are delighted by the succulent barbecued pork and runny egg on top of the huge bowl of rice, we decided to exercise some self-restraint and set this aside to save room for the dishes to come. We had really wanted our soup to come, but instead the pigeon and stir-fried garoupa with broccoli is next. The pigeon is one of Loyal Dining’s signature dishes and there are two styles to choose from - crispy deep-fried or simmered in homemade sweet soya sauce. We enjoyed our deep-fried bird, neatly cut into four pieces with a crispy skin and a melt-in-your-mouth layer of fat. The tender, juicy meat fell off bone easily and has a strong robust flavour, thanks to the marinade. The stir-fried garoupa with broccoli uses garlic and XO sauce to boost the flavour, which is much needed as the garoupa fillets were rather tasteless. When we are almost full and ready to order dessert, the creamy seafood soup in puff pastry finally arrives. The soup is bland without much seafood and the puff pastry is too thin: in general, it is not worth the wait. For dessert, we were keen to try the freshly baked soufflé that requires 15 minutes of preparation time as stated on the menu. With that in mind, we tried to order the dessert as soon as we had finished our main courses but we were told that the kitchen was working beyond its full capacity and the soufflé would actually take more than 30 minutes to deliver. Resigned, we ordered the egg custard with caramel sauce and a banana crêpe. Neither dessert tastes freshly made and the dry, thick crêpe is most disappointing. For those who want a lighter meal, the Loyal thick toast is a crowd-pleaser with choices of topping ranging from condensed milk, peanut butter and preserved beancurd with sugar.
While local diners are most likely to order the quintessential cha chaan teng drinks or a pot of Chinese tea here, Loyal Dining also offers a short list of wines to go with its classic meat and seafood dishes. There are three choices of red and white respectively, available by glass or by bottle, and the house wine is priced at HK$55.
With warm greetings upon entering and being seated in a timely manner, we found the service has improved compared to our last visit. It’s not hard to flag down the waiters’ attention and they are attentive enough to offer us wet towels to wipe hands just when we needed them after devouring the pigeon with our hands. However, the serving of dishes in such a peculiar order: first came the rice, then main courses and the soup at last when we have almost finished our meal; is problematic and reveals that the kitchen may not be run quite as smoothly as the dining room.
A meal for two including starter and dessert will cost about HK$250 per head, which is more expensive than other restaurants of its genre. There are also set menus featuring the signature pigeons and beef Wellingtons available from HK$200 per person; while a lighter meal with order of cha chaan teng staple foods such as a sandwich and a cup of milk tea should cost less than HK$50.