I have a real soft spot for hidden secret places. I know the impulse is a bit elitist and undemocratic – but I love finding the authentic and wondrous in unexpected corners.
My parents have always liked the same sort of thing… especially my father who could be easily distracted by a knot of people down some sort of side street. He’d have check it out for himself. I once wandered the back alleys of Kowloon with him looking at awful fake antiques laid out on newspapers, while air conditioners above us dripped water onto our heads. I was sure I was going to be struck down by Legionnaire’s Disease.
The best restaurants in Hong Kong have always been a bit hidden – to advertise yourself too much is thought of as garish and vulgar – perhaps proof of trying to compensate for some fundamental flaw. Partly it’s a result of extremely limited real estate, but mostly it’s driven by Hong Konger’s love being “in the know”. Everyone has their favorite little places – and you are judged harshly if you don’t have the right secret places up your sleeves. My favorite Hong Kong beef brisket noodle shop, congee counter, and Shanghainese breakfast dim sum joints are all tucked away in alleys and quiet courtyards. And no – I am not going to tell you about them, cause I want them for myself.
Some of that sensibility can be found in Vancouver and Richmond, where the best HK Cantonese places are small and hidden. I’ve talked about Hoi Tong at length – but the other place I love is Golden Paramount. Located in an unremarkable corner of nondescript strip mall, blinds always drawn, a small yet super busy room.
And the food? It really lives up to all my Hong Kong-Hidden-Gem expectations. Run and owned by May Chau (we should note that female chefs are a real rarity in Chinese restaurants), the food has a quiet restrained elegance. The dim sum service is the best around – my absolute favorite. The delicacy and simplicity speaks to a deep dedication to craft and ingredients. I’ve taken people here who immediately see how glorious the food is, and then there are others who don’t get it – that the food lacks fireworks and easy flavors. Not that I judge the latter group – but, well, maybe we should see other food friends.
The ethereal crab and pork dumplings are a definite must order and are generally served first while your palate is untouched and is best able to appreciate the delicate sweetness and texture. You put one in your mouth and then it’s gone like a dream.
My other favorite are the daikon spring rolls. To me, these are the epitome of what Golden Paramount does best – the elevation and celebration of simplicity and taste. Cleanly earthy and sweet, not a hint of greasiness – a tremendous amount of work goes into creating the wonderful contrast of textures. It’s the height of Hong Kong Cantonese cooking’s sense of purity and luxury.
I love settling down for family dinners at Golden Paramount. We always start with their pan fried oysters (tossed in Maggi to prove it’s Hong Kong bona fides) and quenelles of pepah tofu. The oysters are air dried a little to tighten the texture that results in a lovely caramelization when cooked.
The sweet and sour pork is done extremely well here – along with Hoi Tong, Golden Paramount is only one of two places that I would order the dish. Balanced, fresh, and cleanly sauced – a lovely dish with white rice.
The kitchen also is very skilled with poultry – with standouts including salt baked chicken and eight treasure duck.
But for a really celebratory dish – their crispy skinned flash cooked squab with gamey succulent flesh will leave you fingers and chins slicked with juices.
Well cooked vegetables are a litmus test of a good Hong Kong Cantonese restaurant. They need to be pristinely fresh, not over dressed, and cooked just so to best highlight the inherent character of the “choy”. Their beef and gailan, for example, has the proper balance of savory and mustardy bite. The other night we had purple amaranth cooked in broth – meltingly tender, but still green and alive.
As I’ve said – I have taken people whom I think would appreciate the quiet charms of Golden Paramount – but this is the first time I have written about them extensively. As much as I want to keep the place to myself, I need to talk about a big change that’s on the horizon.
You see, Golden Paramount is moving. Their current location is going to be razed and redeveloped for condo’s (surprise – right!?). They are moving into a much larger space – with a new kitchen and much better facilities. I should be, and generally I am, happy that they are moving to bigger and better things and not simply closing up shop – which would break my heart.
But I worry that Golden Paramount’s special warm glow will be lost in their new shiny space. That my little secret corner of great Hong Kong cuisine will wash away and be lost.
Hong Kong people, for the most part, are not a nostalgic people – they love forward motion and progress too much. My mother never really speaks of my late father, not that she does not miss him dearly, but because exploring new things is what keeps her happiest and the melancholy at bay.
Me? Well, a little part of me wishes everything could stay just they way the are – if only for a little bit longer.