Everyone seems eager to visit Mandarin for one last time, ahead of its closing the doors to the public for eight months by end of this year for renovation. We made our way to the grand dame of grills - Mandarin Grill - to relive its old school charm.

I normally prefer the lighter modern European cuisine, rather than the generally more stuffy, traditional British or French cuisine served at places like Mandarin Grill or Hugo's. Somehow I feel out of place in the huge leather sofa seating amongst the impeccably dressed waiters, with the hush hush atmosphere. But M was raving non stop about the Grill's steak, and so decided to give it one last try.

Was swiftly led to one of the side tables upon arrival, and while Hugo's has been fully booked for the whole month, was surprised to find that the Grill was only 75% full. The decor looks exactly the same as I remember it from my last visit three years ago - dimly lit with a spacious seating layout, reminding me of the seventies.

Not one knwon for her manners (when amongst friends), I started nibbling on the bread basket even though M had yet to arrive. To me, the butter is the more important element of the bread and butter combo - and here, the butter stood up to the test, creamy and slightly salted just the way I prefer it, so I just couldn't stop eating. M joined in the fun when he arrived, and we were literally festing on the bread - so much so that neither of us ended up ordering any appetizer and went straight to the mains.

Since M had been raving the rib to me non-stop beforehand, there was only really one choice for me. I requested for medium rare on the rare side. The mains arrived wtih much fanfare, as the waiters all rushed over to serve the dishes - one to place it down, the other to serve the gravy and then followed by a selection of mustard choice. The rib roastlooked perfectly cooked - with the center a dark shade of red and the rim bits still pinkish, with absolutely zilch blood lurking around. This is my preferred serving style and the taste was phenomenally good - meaty and flavorsome, with a tender texture that was melt in the mouth. While trying the meat, I couldn't help but keep eyeing the freshly baked yorkshire pudding.served on the side. For those not familiar with yorkshire pudding - and I only recently realised that it is not a common sight for most people here in HK or from the states - it is a pastry made using flour, egg, and milk, originally cooked in a tin in the oven alongside the sunday roast beef - which means the juices from the meat would have dripped onto it, giving it a delicious flavour. Normally served alongside the roast beef with a little bit of gravy drizzled on top. A well made yorkshire pudding is light and fluffy, full of air on the inside and crisp and flaky on the outside. Not dissimilar to souffle, once served, it has to be eaten quickly, or else it will begin its deflation and crumble into a shapeless mess pretty quickly. To avoid this happening, I believe some chefs tend to use more flour, which results in the yorkshire pudding becoming more like a bread texture, defeating the whole purpose. The one at the Blue Bar was exactly like that. I have fond memories of the ones we had at Sunday roasts in boarding school, and the one here at Mandarin was well made and reminded me of those memories. The accompanying vegetables were wholesome and fresh, although there was nothing special. Not surprisingly, I managed to finish the whole steak - my only excuse is that I had just returned from a two week trekking trip and was desperately in need of some gourmet food. I savoured every last bite of it. 

Oops almost forgot to describe M's mains - which was the steak. Well it was good, but definitely paled in comparison with my star of the show. Apparently he was dying for some of mine, but was being polite and was planning to wait until I couldn't eat anymore and sweep up the leftovers. Guess he had to be satisfied with the grilled vegetables instead... which was literally what's left on the plate after my battle with the dish.

While I was trying my best to conquer the rib, M wasted no time in calling the waiter over to make his order of souffle - which normally takes 30 min to prepare. I tried a couple spoonfuls of the dessert when it arrived- fluffy and sweet - deliciously rich at the same time.

I opted for the granny smith tartlett, which the waiter briefly mentioned being slightly different from the traditional style, yet without elaborating. I had this image of a tarte tartin in my mind, and was surprised to find that it was a more modern interpretation of the dish that is served cold and actually made with minimal pastry. Wrapped within the sweet outter shell was cooked granny smith apple slices served with a sorbet ice - refreshing and not quite what I expected. Somehow it did not feel like a winter dessert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and was very satisfied with the amazing rib, considering that I tried Bizou's steak on the following day and found that only average at best, even though its biggest selling point was its grill. It will be quite some time (over eight months) before the Mandarin reopens itself. Will wait and se, and hope that the hotel will not reinvent the wheel and introduce unnecessary modern haute cuisine mistakes (elaborate dishes with a bombardment of ingredients and weirdly long names, exorbitant pricing, stuffy decor and service staff, the list goes on!) and taint the grill's good reputation. My last experience at the Grill was dining at the chef's table, which was served at the head chef's office deep inside the kitchen. One is first led around the whole kitchen on a tour and then brought to the cosy room for a proper sitdown meal - definitely a memorable experience that I'd encourage you to try as well when the place reopens!

Mandarin Grill, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Central, Hong Kong
(Closing on December 28th, 2005)
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