My uncle has a funny anecdote about an experience he had at a diner in Hong Kong, where he tried to order a meal in Cantonese, only to be told by the waiter “Say it in English!”. My confused uncle then tried to order in English, only for the exasperated waiter to point to the day’s set menu and tell my uncle to choose option A, B, C, D or E. (Trust me, this anecdote sounds better recounted in Cantonese than it does in English!)
The funny thing about many Hong Kong-style diners is that 90% of their trade is done through the daily set menus for breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Each menu will have five options (A, B, C, D, or E – or 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5), ranging from Chinese-Western fusion food (think pork chop with curry sauce on spaghetti!) to clearly Chinese dishes like fried rice or noodles in soup.
Hong Kong Best Food in Box Hill, a Cantonese-dominated suburb of Melbourne, represents this kind of authentic Hong Kong diner perfectly. The service is no-nonsense, the televisions in each corner of the room are forever tuned to TVB and the staff struggle to communicate in anything other than Cantonese or Mandarin – menu pointing goes a long way here for those who can’t speak the language!
The day that I visit for lunch with my father and brother, we are given six lunch set options each priced at an incredible $9.80 with a complimentary coffee or tea. Now that’s value!
My father orders chicken a la king on rice, which comes out looking unsurprisingly unappetising. Smothered in the creamy white sauce are plentiful chunks of sub-prime chicken, and a few token pieces of vegetables. Even with the budget in mind, the dish could have really benefited from the addition of some frozen vegetables – carrots, corn and peas could have made a big difference in breaking through the plainness and lack of texture and variety in this dish.
My brother ordered a wok tossed hor fun – again with plentiful meat but a complete lack of vegetables. Unfortunately the hor fun lacked the smokey charcoal flavour that you find with the best hor fun dishes and as a result, the flavours of the dish lost the ‘bite’ that it really needed.
My XO sauce fried rice was a real chilli flavour explosion – a real surprise given the disappointment of the other two dishes on the table! While it was an acceptable dish overall, the amount of oil used was alarming – there was a complete layer of oil at the bottom of the plate after I was done eating.
Overall, I rate Hong Kong Best Food a 5 out of 10 for the food. You never expect too much out of a joint like this, other than quick and efficient service without a smile, and a great deal on a meal with change from $10. The food is never amazing though it is generally palatable, but then again…you don’t come to these places for the food do you? I go for the ambiance, the frenetic atmosphere that always reminds me of my beloved birth place.