Saturday, 18 April 2015

ManMo Cafe - interesting but pricy dumplings

When we were looking around Hong Kong for a place to live, Sheung Wan was on a relatively short list of areas that I wanted to live.  We had a pretty demanding list of requirements, and as new residents to Hong Kong, didn't really have the right requirements on the list.  As it turned out, we  didn't move into the area, which in hindsight is a shame...  I really love the vibrancy and energy in Sheung Wan, oh, of course I love all of the the little laneways that are full of funky little cafes and restaurants.

It's not as if we live a long distance from Sheung Wan, in fact, we live just up the mountain in the Mid Levels, so it only takes us ten minutes to walk down the hill (up the hill is another matter). We spend a lot of time wandering around the area, just soaking up the vibe and last weekend, we checked out the Portobello Markets (unfortunately not the same as the Notting Hill version). Apart from meeting some really cool peeps (that we will be hanging out with for dinner soon), we found a little dumpling cafe that looked the goods.

ManMo Cafe bills itself as a 'contemporary dim sum with brilliant flavour in Sheung Wan' and serves up a contemporary mix of fusion and eclectic vegetarian friendly Chinese.  Normally, with a title like that, I'd run for the hills, but given we were pretty hungry and the cafe really did look inviting, we went in to check it out.

ManMo is an interesting name, and is labeled after a famous neighbouring temple and was conceived by Swiss-born Nicolas Elalouf to serve a burgeoning crowd of East meets West foodie.  Throwing everything into the menu, Nicholas has scoured the dining scene looking for input from chefs with pedigrees that includes Robuchon and Din Tai Fung.  As a result, ManMo boasts a menu that is contemporary and quite different from any other dim sum place around.

Sitting down at our table perusing the menu, we couldn't help notice the clean lines and hipster vibe which flowed through to the contemporary art for sale along the walls.  Yes, there were a couple of pieces that we had our eye on! Focussing back on the menu, we noticed some quite novel options available, but also noticed that the price was a little on the high side... In fact, for dumplings, the prices were pretty exorbitant.  Not deterred, we figured that the clear use of high quality ingredients would justify the price.  We ordered and waited.

First up were our drinks, a fresh orange juice for myself and cocktail that was reminiscent of a mimosa (in fact, it might have been a mimosa).  We were off to a good start, with the juice freshly squeezed and the champagne and juice cocktail hitting the spot after wandering around on a steamy HK afternoon.

I'd had my suspicions that ManMo was 'too cool for school' and once our first set of dumplings were delivered in a square steamer, my suspicious were confirmed.  The shape of the steamer and the colour of our duck dumplings (a shocking black) further concluded my thought that we were indeed in a hipster joint.  Our duck dumplings were not too bad, with a rich duck flavour coming from the shredded (and likely confit) duck, my only gripe was that they were a little dry and a bowl of dipping vinegar / soy sauce would have been appreciated.

While I love steamed dumplings, I'm also partial to deep fried wanton, so we'd ordered the crispy shrimp wanton.  Rustically presented with chopped lettuce and carrot (which did look a little out of place), the wanton were actually half the size that I was expecting, each being bite sized.  Tasty, with the shrimp flavour coming through, again I found the dish to be a little dry but this one was served with a side of sauce.

Interestingly, while not given sauce for the dumplings, we'd been presented with some salt and pepper!

Next up was the king spring roll, which was cooked in a style that I'd never seen.  Usually neatly cropped at the ends, the ManMo spring rolls were just the sheets wrapped and deep fried, which looked cool.  We usually like soy sauce to dip our spring rolls, but the aioli that was provided worked surprisingly well with the crispy coating and the expertly cooked prawns that were ensconced within.  A+ for this one.

You'll normally not see me ordering much from vegetarian menus, but I must have been caught up in the hipster vibe of ManMo when I ordered the mozzarella and tomato dumplings from the vegetarian segment of the menu.  What really attracted me was the prospect of a dumpling filled with melted mozzarella, which surely would have been spectacular?!  With a skin made with pesto and almost translucent, the combination of cheese and tomato was pretty nice, my only problem was that the mozzarella wasn't properly melted, so it felt a little pasty on the palate and again, no dipping sauce.

I was terribly excited by the prospect of our last two dumpling sets.  We'd ordered the foie gras xiaolongbao, along with the scallop xiaolongbao.  I've had some of the most amazing 'soup dumplings' since landing in Hong Kong was was hoping for more.  The scallop version was up first, and I wasn't super impressed by the look of them.  The dumpling covering looked quite thick, and I couldn't see that pool of sweet broth that normally sits at the bottom of xiaolongbao. Undeterred, I went for my dumpling, bit the corner to suck out the soup.......  Only to find that there was none!  It looked as if the broth had leaked out.

The foie gras xiaolongbao were next and it was really clear that the broth had also leaked out, that funky square steaming basket was the lucky recipient of the broth.  I have to say that xiaolongbao without the broth is a big let down and while the foie gras and scallop filling were both pretty nice, they were dry and lacking as a consequence.

We'd been a little disappointed with the last couple of dumplings, so decided to pass on dessert. I'd also been a little stung by the price of the dumplings as well, so didn't really want to dig any deeper for a sweet end to the meal.  I guess, if we'd been blown away by our meal, we probably would have considered dessert (despite the price).

Service on the other hand was first rate, we never had to wait long between courses and our waiter came across a number of times to check that everything was ok (as did the Manager at one point).  The service, those amazing king spring rolls, combined with a funky environment in a cool part of Hong Kong meant that the meal was a pass overall (just).  We reflected on the meal as we were walking away and felt that the price was probably the main issue.  If we'd spent a third of our (over) $600 on the meal, it might not have hurt so much and we'd have been happier.

Look, we love funky places and think that there is a place for ManMo in the dumping market, it's just that you can't price yourself out of the market.  If you head to Tim Ho Wan, you could get the same meal (maybe not as colourful) for waaaaay less, and Tin Dai Fung wouldn't be much more expensive.  Maybe it's worth adding extra dumplings for the $$ or reducing the price.

If only the mozzarella had melted more!
Yep, would eat this one every day of the week!
The chairs reminded us of one of our favourite dining spots in Brisbane
Quite the funky crew working - service was good
All of the art around the walls were for sale - we're thinking about one!
There was good turnover, but it wasn't super busy for our visit

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