My Most Beautiful Meal in Hong Kong

high-end dim sum in hong kong

[trip style = food + urban]

If you want to devour ALL the dim sum, Hong Kong is the place to let your taste buds do the exploring. Home to mom-and-pop shops, and a swath of sophisticated restaurants where families go to celebrate or tycoons dine to impress, the food-obsessed city is your best bet for tasting the traditional Cantonese meal. 

Having dined on dim sum from street to three-star Michelin-chic, I thought I'd found my all-stars. Then I sat down for a two-star Michelin feast and preferred it in every way.    

The fact that I'm writing about dim sum being my most beautiful meaI in Hong Kong is a next-level achievement for this once-picky eater. In addition to tasting menus featuring rabbit-stuffed ravioli, or lamb prepared in an oven dug into the Sahara Desert, the myriad of dishes in a dim sum feast remind me how far I've come from crackers and cheese. While I don't indulge in golden frog legs with spicy salt on a regular basis, my travels have taught that experiencing a place through its traditional food gives you a seat at its cultural table, both literally and figuratively. With this, here's a first-hand account of my seat at Yan Toh Heen, one of Hong Kong's most beloved Cantonese restaurants, called the "best for dim sum virgins" by CNN.

From design, to food, to the rarely-seen kitchen, I give you: My most beautiful meal in Hong Kong.

Talk about an entrance. Before you even enter Yan Toh Heen, custom jade gates made from the restaurant's original gemstone tableware make for a wow-factor arrival.

Talk about an entrance. Before you even enter Yan Toh Heen, custom jade gates made from the restaurant's original gemstone tableware make for a wow-factor arrival.

The harbor-view dining room is draped in soft cream linens, mother-of-pearl, and wood accents, which provide a plush backdrop to the main star: The dim sum {historically a snack food for tired and weary travelers}.

The harbor-view dining room is draped in soft cream linens, mother-of-pearl, and wood accents, which provide a plush backdrop to the main star: The dim sum {historically a snack food for tired and weary travelers}.

Sharpening his knife and practicing the art of Cantonese cooking since the age of 14 in renowed Hong Kong dim sum kitchens, Executive Chef Lau Yiu Fai {left} is “the” guy you want folding, frying, and obsessing over your steamed pork and prawn dumplings.

Sharpening his knife and practicing the art of Cantonese cooking since the age of 14 in renowed Hong Kong dim sum kitchens, Executive Chef Lau Yiu Fai {left} is “the” guy you want folding, frying, and obsessing over your steamed pork and prawn dumplings.

The Executive Chef also doubles as a knowledgeable {and hilarious} dim sum teacher. Call the InterContinental Hong Kong to book a dim sum-making class at Yan Toh Heen.

The Executive Chef also doubles as a knowledgeable {and hilarious} dim sum teacher. Call the InterContinental Hong Kong to book a dim sum-making class at Yan Toh Heen.

Fun with dim sum: Making a crab with asparagus pinchers.

Fun with dim sum: Making a crab with asparagus pinchers.

More fun with dim sum, this time, a fish and a bunny. 

More fun with dim sum, this time, a fish and a bunny. 

Every place setting is decorated with custom jade tableware, so substantial, it's hard to lift.

Every place setting is decorated with custom jade tableware, so substantial, it's hard to lift.

The pièce de resistance: Peking duck, carved and served on a trolley, tableside.

The pièce de resistance: Peking duck, carved and served on a trolley, tableside.

Peking Duck is a revered Chinese dish. The traditional preparation, involving many hours, leaves the skin crispy and the meat succulent. Here, the crispy skin is served atop thin pancakes along with crudités such as green papaya, cucumber, red chili, and pineapple, as well as a selection of signature sauces. Deeeeeeelish.

Peking Duck is a revered Chinese dish. The traditional preparation, involving many hours, leaves the skin crispy and the meat succulent. Here, the crispy skin is served atop thin pancakes along with crudités such as green papaya, cucumber, red chili, and pineapple, as well as a selection of signature sauces. Deeeeeeelish.

From top: Roasted duck-stuffed taro bun, crispy spring roll with shredded chicken, and steamed mushroom and black truffle dumpling.  

From top: Roasted duck-stuffed taro bun, crispy spring roll with shredded chicken, and steamed mushroom and black truffle dumpling.  

Wok-fried vegetables served in an edible wheat-flour basket.

Wok-fried vegetables served in an edible wheat-flour basket.

Chilled on-the-spot mango cream with pomelo.

Chilled on-the-spot mango cream with pomelo.

A view of the dim sum prep kitchen. 

A view of the dim sum prep kitchen. 

Eating my intricate meal and seeing the kitchen in action, I've gleaned that dim sum chefs who labor over each piece with a surgical attention to detail, are food savants. 

Eating my intricate meal and seeing the kitchen in action, I've gleaned that dim sum chefs who labor over each piece with a surgical attention to detail, are food savants. 

How to Order Dim Sum
1. If you're a newbie, order the chef's tasting menu—typically a "highlight reel"—so it's a smart bet.
2. Plan ahead: Signatures such as Peking Duck or Barbecued Suckling Pig, often require advanced notice. 
3. Many dim sum restaurants serve their dishes from a trolley that passes by each table. When there's a menu it is often presented in categories {steamed, fried, noodle, specialty dishes, dessert} for easy ordering. 
4. Don't keep a dish to yourself, dim sum is a sharing meal.
5. Always start with tea. High-end dim sum restaurants have tea sommeliers to pair your sips with your selections.

Other Dispatches in this Series
6 Hong Kong Hints {that will make you want to book a ticket ASAP}
Flying Well :: Cathay Pacific's Revolutionary A350
Style Inspiration :: The Pier Business + First Class Lounges in Hong Kong
First Look :: Cathay Pacific's GORGEOUS New Lounge at YVR
Hong Kong :: Instagram Diary
Cathay Pacific Vancouver to Hong Kong

[photos by @tripstyler, except jade gates and interior shot provided by the InterContinental Hong Kong, where I stayed and dined as a guest. As with all Trip Styler dispatches involving partners, I ONLY talk about best-in-class travel experiences. This is one of them.]