September 14, 2017
I have had lunch at Seventh Son (家全七福) a few times, a favourite of an uncle of mine. This restaurant is so named because the owner Chui Wai-kwan is the seventh son of Fook Lam Moon’s (福臨門) founder Chui Fuk-chuen, opening his own shop after a family dispute with his fifth brother. Fook Lam Moon is of course infamous for being the eatery of choice of the city’s 1%. But those in the know, including my uncle, swear Fook’s quality has dropped off a cliff a long time ago and Seventh Son, after poaching staff extensively from the former, including head chef Chan Kwok Wei, is clearly vastly superior. I don’t have much to contribute to this debate — from my limited experience I find both places stuffy and overpriced.
Yet on a September afternoon I came back for lunch, partly to treat my uncle and partly to try its menu on my own terms. This was my first time visiting its new location — compares to the old Tonnochy Road venue the current dining hall has a higher ceiling and better lighting. The menu remains intimidating — dim sum is $65 each and starters range from $180 to the infinity. I took a deep breath and picked a few items I hoped my companion would approve.
The easiest choice was the chargrilled crispy pork belly. While the preference for siu mei (roasted meat) is trending towards tenderness, traditionalists insist the real stuff should be chewy and firm. At first bite I found the meat to be too tough, but after some chewing I came to appreciate the texture, especially together with the crunchy caramelized crust.
The three dishes of dim sum were somewhat similar. Steamed dumpling with vegetable is basically har gow with some vegetable in fun guo skin, which is white and thicker than the usual dumpling wrapping. Conpoy and cilantro dumpling is har gow with said ingredients wrapped in thin wanton skin. The two were almost identical if not for the difference in the texture of the wrappings. The beef filling of the steamed rice roll had very little flavour but the sheets were smooth and bouncy.
The dim sum wasn’t flashy but solidly executed according to decades-old recipes — the details lie not so far in the appearance or even fillings but the wrappings.
To conclude I ordered a dish that can’t easily be found elsewhere, which according to the menu’s English translation is called Deep fried chicken kidney mixed with egg custard. Even the Japanese translation referred to chicken kidney. Yet in Chinese it clearly states that what is mixed with egg custard is in fact chicken testicles (雞子戈渣). I wonder if the mistranslation is a deliberate prank or intended as a white lie to protect the foreigners from knowing the dirty secret?
$200 for egg custard might sound exuberant, but this highly labour intensive dish definitely a better deal than the $65 dim sum. First marinated and steamed, then the fresh testes’ paper-thin tissue is peeled off by hand one by one. After mashed into paste, the testes are cooked together with a mixture of chicken broth, corn starch and egg before finally going into the fryer with a thin coating of corn starch.
Similar to Daliang deep fried milk, the egg custard is to be eaten together with white sugar. Cantonese cuisine has a thing for adding sweetness to savoury dishes — see sweet and sour pork — and this might not be for you if you are against the conflicting tastes. The savoury custard filling has a distinguishable sour note — those who have tried chicken testicle before can surely recognize it.
Traditional Cantonese cuisine is hard to properly understand. There is seldomly tasting menu and the signature dishes are usually big ticket items best shared among a big party. Those who think they can understand a restaurant like Seventh Son only by ordering dim sum is misguided. While this $330 per person lunch hardly covered much ground, I have tried enough dishes over several visits to have a gauge on what the restaurant is about.
Judging from its barely half-filled dining hall and the fact that almost all of its patrons were grey-haired on this afternoon, it isn’t exactly striking a chord with people who aren’t near retirement age. But the cooking has improved from my previous visits. Time-tested quality has value, and unlike well-established institutions like Luk Yu, Seventh Son offers warm and approachable service. Don’t focus only on the dim sum — go to this place for otherwise hard-to-find Cantonese dishes.
Address: 3/F, Wharney Guang Dong Hotel Hong Kong, 57-73 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
Opening hours: 11:30 – 15:00, 18:00 – 23:00