It's time for the 2nd Annual Independent Food Festival and Awards. My chosen category is the Best Chaxiu Bao in Hong Kong, and the
image.jpeg Award goes to...
strike the timpani boys...
West Villa Restaurant, Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, we see teahouse all too often and we see chaxiu bao all too often. But whose is the best?
I knew the answer when I encountered West Villa's 2 years back. 2 years and scores of chaxiu bao tasting at the others later all the more prove I was right. Why?
雜說四 (節錄) 韓愈
The Thousand-li* Horse (extract) Han Yu
"Only when there is a Po-lo** can there be a thousand-li horse. While thousand-li horse are not uncommon, men like Po-lo are rare to find. It follows that, though you have horses of a renowned breed, they will only be misused in the hands of stableboys and die side by side in their stalls without ever being known as thousand-li horses..."
*A li is equivalent to one third of a mile.
** The most famous connoisseur of horse in ancient times.
This classic prose by Han Yu, a distinguished scholar of the T'ang dynasty, was one of my favorite reads when I was in high school. I can still recite the passage word by word from memory without mistake, almost. Not because I have a freaky memory but more so because I love it depicts the relationship between a cognoscenti and his particular subject the finest.
Indeed, the relationship between a chaxiu bao connoisseur and great chaxiu bao is pretty much the same to Po-lo and his horses.
West Villa Restaurant is a nice and cozy dim sum restaurant with indescribably good chaxiu. Their nifty chaxiu has a huge followings, including a long list of of film stars and socialites, such as famous kungfu star Jacky Chan -- in fact, one of their staple is called "Big Brother Chaxiu" -- labeled after the nickname of Jacky Chan. A whole bunch of chaxiu goodies, such as puffy bun with chaxiu, steamed chaxiu rice rolls and steamed chaxiu bao, vies for attention with each other in the menu.
Anyone who says chaxiu bao is simple will stop saying that once they put West Villa's into their mouth. It can give you a sense of vitality, a thrusting, unrestrained vitality which is the unique something that the bad ones distantly lack. With the dough outside is ever hot and fluffy while the pork inside sweet, fragrant, meaty and even hotter, it can be a complex experience too. The more you try to confine it within a definition of substance, the more it dissolves into a galaxy of different moments each separated from the other (how it resembles the thing we call LOVE).
The shop opens its swinging doors at 11 but the chefs start cooking the chaxiu daily at 6 in the morning. The chaxiu is always fresh and hot from the kitchen. The outside is crusty with a strong scent of honey and the pork always sensually moist. A must-try is the puffy chaxiu bao, bun topped with custard is filled with chaxiu, which is a moreish and clever variation on traditional chaxiu bao. Another highlight is the crab roe bao. You hackles may rise at first at the $35 apiece price tag, yet once you place it into your mouth, you will eventually pay laughing.
Specials: Chaxiu, puffy bao with chaxiu, traditional (steamed) chaxiu bao and crab roe bao (in-season: July to October)
West Villa Restaurant 西苑
Address: Shop 208, 2/F, Cityplaza II, Taikoo Shing 太古城中心二期2樓208號
Tel: 2885 4478
Opening hours: 11am – 12pm
Service: Very good
Nearest railway: Taikoo Shing MTR
Transportation: 5 minutes walk from exit D2 of Taikoo Shing MTR
Michelin Hong Kong on the cheap rating: *