Dong Lai Shun shares one of the basement levels of the Royal Garden hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East with the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, the two restaurants are separated by a large marble water fountain. One side of Dong Lai Shun is entirely open, which may make the restaurant appear more spacious, but may leave diners seated along the front tables feel a tad exposed. What it does ensure, however, is good ventilation; a thoughtful move as one of Dong Lai Shun’s signature dishes is mutton hot pot and the openness prevents the restaurant from steaming up too much. Dark wooden furnishings give this northern Chinese restaurant a classic ambience, however, it does get rather noisy and the piped traditional Chinese music is barely audible over the din of other diners’ chatter.
Dong Lai Shun specialises in northern Chinese cuisine, and one of its signature dishes is the mutton hot pot, a warming dish that is difficult to find elsewhere in Hong Kong and extremely popular with diners. We order another signature dish of Peking duck: when the whole duck arrives, it is impressively brown and large but once sliced, there are a few disappointments. First, considering the size of the duck, there were notably few slices on the plate. Second, much of the duck meat was rare. While this is not necessarily disastrous and may suit those used to the rare duck breast in French cuisine, it will certainly raise the eyebrows of traditionalists. The duck itself, however, is of good quality and we devour a good many pancake packets quite happily. Next up is a pan-fried sliced croaker fish fillet in yellow wine sauce. We enjoy both the flavours of the sweet yellow wine and the excellently cooked fish, but the amount of cornstarch in the sauce is old-fashioned and texturally off-putting. What was more enjoyable was a fillet of Mandarin fish soup with dried fungus: while it has the clear appearance of a mild soup, it is actually both sour and fiery with plenty of ginger, spring onion and white pepper. If you need some carbs to round out the meal, opt for the fried noodles Beijing-style. With chicken, bamboo shoots and cabbage, this predictable yet nevertheless satisfying dish should hit the spot.
With only two wines by the glass, it is best to order by the bottle. Organised by country and region, the wine list contains a few impressive selections, such as wines from Richebourg in Romanée Conti in Burgundy; Run Rig and The Struie from Torbreck in Australia, as well as chardonnays from Grace Vineyard and Great Wall wineries in China.
While the staff at Dong Lai Shun are on the whole efficient, there are some flaws. The hostess seated us at a table without any table settings, causing a flustered waiter to hurriedly put some plates and chopsticks down while we were already seated and dropping the menu twice, once on the floor and another time in our lap. While intentions are undoubtedly good, some finesse is required. Our water glasses were kept topped up, except they were filled so much to the brim that it was impossible to move the cup without causing a spill.
A meal for two without wine or live seafood will come to about HK$1,300. Dong Lai Shun is located in a hotel, but there are areas that require improvement, making HK$1,300 neither overly expensive nor a total bargain.