On our final day in Hong Kong we went on a Wonton Noodle Quest in Central. Our friend had told us about a famous shop where you could get an excellent bowl of wonton noodle soup and a plate of greens for about AUD$5, and BYO ridiculously cheap beer from the 7-11 nearby. What sounded even more fantastic was the competitor store across the street run by the son of the first one’s owner, so we could do a taste test of both!
This turned out to be not exactly the case. Mak’s Noodle on Wellington Street is the famed shop (see Wiki!), but the one across the street isn’t ‘Son of Mak’, it’s an unrelated business called Tsim Chai Kee. Son of Mak (NB: probably not really called that) is somewhere else. But bugger the family dynasty – let’s wonton!
We went to Tsim Chai Kee first, as that was the one our friend had been to previously and was incorrectly thinking was the famous one (confused yet?). We all ordered the King Prawn Wonton Noodle and the Vegetable With Oyster Sauce. We’d been already to the 7-11, which had a 2-for-HK$28 deal on giant Japanese beers, including a lovely amber ale ‘Autumn Flavour’, which at 6% alcohol content I had to drink rather slowly!
The steaming plates of salty-sauce-doused water spinach were served almost immediately by one of the team of very efficient, very bossy, green apron-ed, unsmiling dinner ladies (definitely not “waitresses”). A few minutes later our noodle soups appeared, with three fat double-prawn wontons in each, a generous serve of noodles, and a rich and slightly sweet broth.
Everyone else at the communal tables was eating the same thing, and we followed their lead adding chilli oil and bit of the oyster-saucy spinach to our noodle bowls. Superb nosh.
The joint was crammed with businessmen, school kids in uniform, couples. All slurping quickly – this was not a place to linger (I think the dinner ladies would’ve turn into bouncers if we’d opened our second beers, post-noodles). There were a few booths for four, then communal tables. I liked the dark wood and minimalism, and the afterthought of a fancy chandelier.
So! After this first delicious bowl, I was all primed and ready for Round Two across the street… but the boys were already piking. So we took a ride up the hill on the elevated walkway/ giant outdoor covered escalator, finished our beers, then they decided to branch off for gelato and I walked back down to Mak’s on a solo mission.
No BYO beer allowed here, cry. But I had a tiny private booth near the noodle-making station in the window (that was pretty cool) and was given a complimentary cup of oolong tea (probably a better idea than more beer). I ordered the same thing as before, with the key dish here called “Shrimp Wonton with Noodle Soup”. I noted, and gave Mak’s full marks for, its even fancier chandelier.
The oyster-sauce greens here were gai lan: the crunchy, stalky Chinese version of broccolini. Somehow it seemed a little awkward eating a whole plate of this – it was no bigger than the water spinach dish across the road, but it was pretty hard work getting through all those crunchy stalks. Plus it wasn’t the sort of vegetable which could be added nicely to a noodle soup.
There were four wontons but they were much smaller – apparently this is more authentic; they’re meant fit in a teaspoon. The bowl itself was also smaller than at Tsim Chai Kee, but there seemed to be just as much noodle, and the noodle was definitely superior. But sadly the soup was far too concentrated and salty for me, and that’s extremely rare. I couldn’t finish it, but I ate up all the excellent noodles, having explored the condiments tray and added a sauce which tasted like sesame paste + chilli oil. That was good.
I know Mak’s is the famous one, but I much preferred Tsim Chai Kee. It gets tops marks for BYO; the amusingly bossy dinner ladies (I think I impressed them by efficiently paying our HK$117 bill with exact change); the plump king prawns in the wontons; the versatile spinach; and the tasty soup. Mak’s only scored points for the superior noodles, spicy sauce and fancier chandelier. The bill at Mak’s was still very cheap but nearly twice as much as TCK, whilst my wonton noodle + greens were only half as nice. However, Mak’s has a more extensive menu plus decent seating capacity with a bit more space, so it could be a good place to go in a group and share a couple of different and inexpensive dishes.
Mission for next HK visit: find ‘Son of Mak’, for a third taste test!