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Although situated two floors below ground level at the Royal Garden hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East, Dong Lai Shun’s open dining plan has been arranged so as to create an airy and relaxed space, perfect for small groups to convene over its signature steaming hotpots. The décor reveals fusion hints of post noughties minimalism as well as imperial China with its dramatic laser cut lamps and occasional splashes of bright red. The gentle rush of water mingles with the quiet tinkering of music in the background and it is quite pleasant to look across at the stream and bridge dividing the two hotel restaurants. On a weekday evening, a relaxed crowd of families (the mature kind) and couples take up the tables, but on weekends it tends to be slightly busier.
This second outlet (the first and original is in Beijing) promises much of the same fare as its 100-year-old sister and offers the rare Inner Mongolia black-headed mutton – shuan yang rou - on its impressively detailed hotpot menu. We try another signature dish on the specials menu (which is almost five pages long, almost negating the ‘specials’ label), the crabmeat and lobster with salted egg yolk on rice cracker, which is available in a four or two-piece appetiser. The carved vegetable stork in the centre is by far the most exciting element of the dish unfortunately, as the food itself is lukewarm and lacks the anticipated unctuous punch of egg yolk and salty brine of seafood. However, the lamb chop Inner Mongolian-style was well-executed, just right in texture, temperature and seasoning, with the chillis giving it that extra special kick. The American spinach with mixed mushrooms was served next, and was also up to standard. The dark leafy greens were fresh, earthy and the mushrooms the perfect amount of crunch and flavour. The Beijing noodles with vegetables, on the other hand, was just average, and served its purpose as a satisfying carb dish.
Extensive ranges of boutique wines are available from popular regions such as Bordeaux. The highlighted wines by the glass, one red and one white, are usually well-selected by the restaurant and complements the starch-heavy foods.
It would seem that Dong Lai Shun is over-staffed, as the attention to our table was slightly overwhelming and claustrophobic. A waiter stood over us for ten minutes as we perused the menu and interjected every so often with his suggestions, a few helpful, most unnecessary. At one point the server snatched away a bowl from my hands as I finished scooping up the last bit of noodle, in his haste to refill the portion. However, this was all done with good intentions, we believe, but it does make for a slightly awkward dining experience.
With various hit and miss dishes on the menu, Dong Lai Shun is neither excellent value nor extortionate for what you get. For two sharing a light meal with a glass of wine each, the bill comes to around HK$1,000. It’s worth pointing out that the dishes of pickles and nuts already placed on the table are charged per table at HK$20, so be aware of that hidden extra cost.