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Located on the second floor of Hotel Cosmo in Wan Chai, Chiu Tang is essentially made up of private rooms, with partitions that can be moved to accommodate groups of different sizes. Though the rooms may appear private, which can encourage diners to be less inhibited, the partitions are actually quite flimsy. This means that if your neighbours are loud, you will hear every single word they say, even if you can’t see them. Décor-wise, Chiu Tang is quite simply adorned. There is a back-lit mosaic wall made up of a metal grill, and that is the highlight of each room. Otherwise, the walls are velvet partitions, the floors are dark veneered wood and the chairs plain brown. The plateware, however, are quite lovely and deserve few seconds worth of admiration. Another minor quibble we had was with the air conditioning that seemed to have two settings - high or off - which does not make for comfortable seating.
Chiu Tang, as the name suggests, serves food from the Chiu Chow city of Guangzhou, which is famous for its braised meats (especially goose), chilled crabs and oyster pancakes. It is worth noting that a number of dishes on the menu require pre-ordering, such as the white eel soup and salted free-range chicken. We start with the traditional braised meats: a platter of sliced goose, goose intestines and goose liver, accompanied by tofu. The marinade used by Chiu Tang is excellent, not too salty but deeply flavourful. The goose slices are braised to tender perfection, while the more unusual goose liver is also delicious, if a touch grainy for those used to the silky smoothness of foie gras. The goose intestines are the weakest link: while they have a nicely chewy texture, they are not as fatty as desired. Next up is the oyster pancake made with duck’s egg, with sweet and perfectly cooked juicy oysters. This is delicious with a swipe of fish sauce, but make sure to eat them very quickly, as the oysters give out quite a bit of liquid, which can make the rest of the pancake soggy. We couldn’t visit a Chiu Chow restaurant without tasting their porridge: Chiu Tang’s version with abalone and minced pork comes with a flavourful broth and rice that still retains a slight bite. It is a well-done version of a comforting classic. More disappointing were the simmered spare ribs with preserved vegetables in casserole, recommended by our waiter. Both the vegetables and the pork are overcooked; the vegetables limp and the pork tough. The flavours are fine, but there is no wow factor to redeem the textural issues. Finally, for dessert, the staff highly recommended the glutinous rice dumpling with sliced yam, only to come back a minute later to report it was sold out. We settled instead for the steamed crystal dumpling with mashed taro. We liked how the taro was not overly sweet, and the dough had a nice bounce.
There is no by-the-glass list, but if you ask the wait staff, they will tell you which of their wines are also available by the glass. On the night we visited, there were only two choices: a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and a 1999 bordeaux from Chateau Pomeaux. By the bottle, the wine list is quite impressive and definitely high-end, with a focus on French wines. All the big names – D’yquem, Margaux, Haut Brion, La Tache – are present, but we also like the inclusion of the Japanese wines and Chinese yellow wines. Prices range from about HK$400 upwards to HK$22,800.
The staff at Chiu Tang are knowledgeable and friendly, able to help newcomers to Chiu Chow cuisine navigate the menu. However, the problem with the private rooms is that it can be hard to maintain a balance between the staff intruding in too often to check on the customers, or staying away for too long when their services are actually needed. Chiu Tang errs towards the latter, and we were left to our own devices for a bit longer than normal when we required adjustment to the erratic air-conditioning, as well as when we wanted the bill.
A dinner for two with a glass of wine comes to just under HK$1,000. This does not include the pricier items such as chilled red crab, bird’s nest or abalone. The portions are quite generous and given the level of service (when you get it) and the high quality of the produce used, we feel that this is a reasonable amount to pay.