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Essentially a family restaurant, Lei Garden at Elements in Kowloon is simply laid out, with a large main dining room, a quieter front room for smaller groups and a series of private rooms. With a theme of a classical Chinese mansion running through the restaurant including mock stone walls and tiled roofs, a long corridor of side rooms suggests a more complex and larger space than there actually is. Chinese wood carvings add an elegant touch. The front room also has a water feature of droplets being fed down a curtain of stringed beads, creating a shimmering rain-like effect.
Lei Garden’s extensive menu certainly doesn’t make it easy to choose, with a varied selection of small dishes, Cantonese standards, daily specials and unusual options like crocodile face meat. The crispy roasted pork is an obvious candidate, but though tasty, the crispiness and fat content fall short of high expectations. A better appetiser is the pungent and crunchy garlic flavoured cucumber. Another strongly flavoured dish are the deep-fried spare ribs marinated in shrimp paste – while flavours are spot on, and the pork is succulent (more so than the roast meat), the exterior is very tough. For those looking to splurge, there are plenty of high priced seafood dishes on offer, but the braised abalone and goose liver offers exceptional value with its indulgent east-meets-west contrast of premium ingredients which are pulled together with oyster sauce, complementing both. But where Lei Garden really stands out is in its execution of cleanly flavoured and simple dishes. A favourite is the steamed egg white with crab meat and shrimps, an elegantly light dish both in terms of texture and flavours, given a judicious kick by a sprinkling of finely chopped scallions. The sautéed Chinese flowering cabbage in oil and salty water is equally unassuming but perfectly prepared, with the astringent green notes of the vegetables well balanced with briny seasoning.
Once you get past the disorganised layout of the wine menu (which can’t quite decide whether to list according to reds and whites or by region), there is an adequate selection to be found, though ultimately it is aimed at a non-wine quaffing clientele, so it is unadventurous and modest. More impressive are the premium spirits and Chinese wines.
Service is characteristic of the Cantonese wait staff’s famed brusqueness - not unfriendly, but direct and unceremonious. It is definitely geared towards a more local market, so non-Chinese speakers may find it difficult to navigate.
A varied dinner for two with soup and dessert comes to just over HK$500 per head (without wine), though it could easily be more if ordering from the huge premium seafood selection.