The delectable world of Margaret Xu

8 08 2010

I guess what must have been the highlight of the trip out of the four days of fun and adventure the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) had lined up must have been the experience at Yin Yang, which I have made a brief mention of in a previous post and which deserves a little more attention.

Yin Yang is a three table private kitchen run by celebrity chef Margaret Xu.

The setting for Yin Yang, a three table private kitchen, is a delightful four storey shop house of 1930s vintage in the Wan Chai district, which has been well restored and beautifully decorated shop house. Entering the shop house, one is greeted by reminders of a simple and bygone era: a tiffin carrier, an old refrigerator, an old style thermos flask … that in the soft light that filters through the old style frosted windows and grills, provides the ideal setting for what Xu attempts to create in her kitchen. It is in creating what is a fusion of the old cuisines of Hong Kong, which Xu goes back to basics.

The setting for Yin Yang is a four storey beautifully restored 1930s shop house in Wan Chai. A model of which is seen here.

The old style decor of the restored shop house provides an excellent setting for what follows up the staircase to the third floor where the dining room is.

The old world charm of Yin Yang is seen in the many simple objects that Xu decorates the interior of the restored building with.

An old styled thermos flask ...

An old tiffin carrier.

Old style windows and grills through which soft light filters through ... creating an ambiance which adds to the flavours of Xu’s creations.

Grills that are perhaps a reflection of the food that Margaret Xu prepares ... a fusion of old styles ...

Another delightful old style window and grill ...

An old refrigerator.

It is perhaps the simple and traditional ways that Xu uses to good effect that defines what Yin Yang is. Old and simple preparation and cooking methods are used by Xu, simple perhaps not by the effort put into the preparation, but by the means in which preparation is done, as it was in the good old ways of food preparation. Yin Yang’s signature dish, “Yellow Earth” chicken is roasted slowly in a clay oven that Xu designed herself, fashioned out of two upturned terracotta pots. The chicken we had, moist and full of flavour from the slow roasting, with a beautifully browned crispy skin, was not craved with a knife, but torn and shredded on the spot and served. The menu was selected by Xu herself, who attempts to surprise her guests with her charming creations as was seen in the other dishes that were served, each equally delightful and full of flavour. The roasted pork leg which followed a shellfish dish also deserves mention, the rich flavours of roasted pork with a crackling crispy skin, was made all the more flavourful with a lychee sauce that had the sweetness of fresh lychees in it. Throughout the entire meal, we were certainly treated to food that was prepared with the dedication and care of a chef who takes great pride and delight in the way she cooks.

The specially designed oven that the "Yellow Earth" chicken is roasted in.

At Yin Yang, knives are not used to carve meat. Meat is torn and shredded in the traditonal way.


The menu that Margaret Xu selected for us.

For all that, I was certainlty surprised to learn that Ms. Xu wasn’t always a chef, or even been formally trained as one: Xu had until a few years back, run her own advertising agency. With a lot of imagination and schooled by her Hakka neighbour, and the mainly Hakka rural villages she frequented, Xu learnt how to prepare traditional food in the traditional way. I guess what defines her and how she cooks is summed up in an article about her in Theme, in which we are told that Xu “grew up loving the Chinese wet market behind her childhood home”, and “instead of lunch money, her parents gave her money to go shopping to cook for herself when they were away”. These days it is not so much the market where Xu hand picks her ingredients from. The vegetables that she uses are 100% organic and come from her very own organic farm.

And there was dessert of course!

Was this Darren wanting seconds?

Beer accompanied the meal ...

and soft drinks ...

After the wonderful meal, there was still time for Xu to share a treat to a few of us who opted to stay behind … how to make a simple green chilli sauce. The sauce was made from a generous helping of fresh green chillies, hand picked from Xu’s organic farm of course, together with fresh ginger and spring onions, which were washed and duly chopped up with some of Darren’s help. The vegetables were then fried in a wok with a generous amount of vegetable oil until they were soft. Salt was added and mixed in, before the vegetables were removed and then transferred into a blender. The mixture was then blended and … voilà! There we had it … a spicy tangy tasting pesto like paste, which our food blogger Catherine of Camemberu tells us goes very well which Chicken Rice … and perhaps as a dip. The warm mixture was then put into little jars which each of us were given a piece to bring home with us.

The main ingredients of the green chilli sauce: Green Chillies, Spring Onions and Fresh Ginger - all from Xu' organic farm.

Preparation of the green chilli sauce includes chopping the spring onions, ginger and chillies.

Darren had a hand in the sauce preparation.

The wok is heated up.

Vegetable oil is added ...

Level of oil in the wok.

Is the oil hot enough?

The ingredients are added and fried.

Salt is added.

Once the vegetables have softened and before they turned yellow they are removed from the wok.

and blended into a puree ...

and there we have it ... a tasty spicily tangy pesto like paste which goes well as a dip ...

... which we each had a jar of to take home with us.


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.

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And before we knew it, it was time to reluctantly say good-bye …

6 08 2010

Having had a great time in Hong Kong, courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, and omy.sg, and having made some wonderful friends over the previous three days, the final day came all too quickly, and it was time to bid the Fragrant Harbour goodbye. All I guess were busy in the morning trying to stuff whatever shopping they had done into their bags, and when the time came to say a sad goodbye to the fabulous hotel room at 9.30 am, most of us had made it down to the glorious lobby of the hotel with bulging bags, which we soon loaded into the bus that was to ferry us around that day. Once on the bus, the ever amusing Aussie Pete, gave us an account of his shopping exploits at Harbour City Shopping Mall, and how he had managed to fill his very large and what had been an almost empty suitcase, even getting a toy dog that his son had wanted (isn’t that sweet?). That I can tell you is no mean feat, having not had much time to do any form of serious shopping, with the activity packed programme that the HKTB had lined up for us over the previous three days!

Pete started our morning with the story of how he managed to fulfill the big shopping task his wife had set him.

Evidence of Pete's shopping exploits.

The day’s programme started with breakfast at a congee restaurant that is apparently on list of recommended local restaurants in Michelin Guide, Law Fu Kee on Des Voeux Road. The word is that the chef has been dutifully gotten up at 3 am everyday for the last 50 years to prepare his highly rated concoction of Thai rice, crushed preserved eggs and fish bones that many crave. I myself, not being fond of congee, opted for a plate of beef brisket noodles, after which I was ready for what was to prove a very interesting walk around SoHo and Sheung Wan with Mr Leon Suen, which I have mentioned in two previous posts.

The day's programme started with breakfast at Law Fu Kee on Des Voeux Road in Central.

Law Fu Kee is highly rated for its congee which has been prepared in the same way for 50 years.

After the walk which ended at the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, it was time for lunch at the Yin Yang, a private kitchen with three tables housed in a historic building of 1930s vintage in the Wan Chai area, run by celebrity chef Margaret Xu. Xu had given up a job at an advertising firm to run the kitchen and an organic farm on which most of the fresh produce used in the kitchen comes from. The exclusive kitchen, known for its signature dish of “Yellow Earth” chicken which is roasted in an earthern oven designed by Xu herself, hosts up to 30 people and each sitting features a menu that is hand picked by Xu herself, which can cost around HKD 700 per person. I guess this and the sauce making session conducted by Xu herself that followed deserves another post and that I guess is what I would just do.

Yin Yang is a private kitchen housed in a historic building on Ship Street.

The historic building dates back to the 1930s.

Yin Yang's signature dish: "Yellow Earth" Chicken

The specially designed oven that the "Yellow Earth" chicken is roasted in.

We had a Blue Girl at the table.

Celebrity chef Margaret Xu later conducted a sauce making session for some of the bloggers.

Margaret's sauce making demonstration was very intently followed by the bloggers who attended the session.

Margaret Xu demonstrated how to turn this mixture of green chillies, spring onions, ginger and oil from this ....

... to this tangy tasting pesto like paste ...

... which Pete seemed to like ...

We each had a bottle to take home with us.

When the session came to an end, we had a chance to taste the tangy green chilli sauce that Margaret had shown us how to make, which had perhaps the consistency of pesto, of which Pete seemed to enjoy the most. We were each given a bottle of the green sauce which Catherine Ling of Camemberu fame mentioned goes well with Chicken Rice. With that, it was almost time for a sad goodbye to what had been a really enjoyable trip, made better by the company of the friends we had all made on the trip, including the members of the HKTB team, the omy team, and my fellow bloggers, as well as that of the excellent hospitality we all had been shown by the HKTB. After a quick look around the area, during which I had a quick glance at the Hung Shing temple on Queen’s Road East, which was constructed in 1847 and at the time of its construction was by the sea, it was time to board the bus for the airport and say goodbye to some of those who had opted to stay behind. With that, what certainly had been one of the most enjoyable trips I have made, came to an end.

A last look around: Hung Shing Temple (1847) on Queen's Road East.

An annex to the Hung Shing temple, a Kwan Yum temple was added in 1867.

Queen's Road East in Wan Chai.

Darren completing formalities, before we said goodbye ...

A lasting last impression of Hong Kong ... a city that reaches out for the skies in many ways.

Time to say goodbye.

All settled for the final journey to the airport.


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.