Sun Tung Lok is one of only two Chinese restaurants in the world to have received three Michelin stars. On top of that, it is probably the only restaurant of this class to be in a shopping mall. But, in Hong Kong anything is possible, so don’t come here with weird ideas!
What makes this restaurant special? What warrants this most highly regarded accolade in gastronomy? These questions are inevitable when you walk up to the restaurant. From the outside, it looks deeply ordinary. There is the little carpet with a big “welcome” on a bright red background, the place doesn’t look particularly special and could easily be mixed up with any other Chinese restaurant in a mall in Hong Kong. Even the room, perhaps a bit more stylish than that of your local Din Tai Fung or Crystal Jade place, feels cold and a bit odd. If most Chinese restaurants encourage people to have a good time, this feels like eating in a fine German restaurant, where every bit of noise is seen as a crime against civilised human beings.
However, all of this would not pose any problem whatsoever, if only the food was a little more special or interesting. Don’t get us wrong, a meal here is not “bad” or horrible. Quite the opposite, it is a pleasant affair, a bit outdated with the camping cookers that are used to prepare some of the dishes at your table. But hey, a little ‘70s retro chic (or plain retro, it isn’t very chic) only makes things more fun. The problem is, people come to this restaurant seeing the three stars everywhere in front of them. You literally see them here, as they are dotted pretty much everywhere around the place. For one thing they do make sure is that you get that this is one of only two Chinese restaurants in the world to hold this accolade.
Dishes that might be prepared on the gas cooker are not bad, as we mentioned already. You can have the skin of a suckling pig with mashed shrimps for instance. The shrimp taste fine, but could have a bit more flavour. The more interesting part of the dish, the suckling pig’s crispy skin does not have the mesmerising texture of the versions other fine restaurants serve. It is a bit harder, and doesn’t give in once you bite in to it.
Deep-fried eel is another dish that sounds lovely on the menu. When you get it, the problem is that it doesn’t come to you freshly fried. Rather, you get a few pieces of eel that are not crunchy anymore and feel like they’ve seen a microwave just before being served. In which other 3* has this happened to you?
Other dishes that are executed just fine, but don’t have the stuffing to warrant a perfect mark are a roast pigeon, a prawn with noodles or roasted chicken. The problem with this restaurant is not the food alone, nor is it the service, the problem is the fact that the diner’s expectations are set at a level that does not match the quality of the food served here. Sun Tung Lok is a deeply ordinary dried-seafood restaurant, far away from counting among the city’s best. That much should be said very clearly.