are you in the mood for love?
Goldfinch Restaurant may not be a familiar name to most, but perhaps its dimly lit interiors, smoked mirrors and characteristic leather booths will stir up memories of one of Wong Kar-wai’s most famous films, In the Mood for Love, where the small, intimate restaurant is the unique setting for So Lai-chen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan’s (Tony Leung) first dinner together.
It can be said that restaurants like Goldfinch laid the foundations of Hong Kong’s first ‘fusion’ movement; it opened in the 1960’s when the economy was only starting to see some light, and dining out was more of a luxury. With a nod to Hong Kong’s colonial identity, restauranteurs and chefs began integrating more ‘Western’ style dishes into their menus, such as steak and pasta, while adding a Chinese twist – thus serving ‘see yau sai chaan’ (literally ‘soy sauce Western meals’), the colloquial description that has come to characterise such unique eateries.
Of course, in this time and age, dining out at Western establishments are no longer a novelty for most Hong Kongers, what with the abundance of famous international chefs that have landed in Hong Kong during the past ten years. Perhaps this is what gives Goldfinch (and others like it, such as the famous Tai Ping Koon Restaurant) its appeal in a city full of sanitised, clean-cut ‘modern’ eatieries. The decor, and the leather-bound menus at Goldfinch have not changed since it first opened its doors to the curious public back in 1962. As a sucker for tradition and nostalgia myself (particularly in a city where things are constantly changing), Goldfinch drew me in with its charm; and it keeps me coming back with its no-nonsense attitude to good food and service.
I’ve always come for a late lunch, or afternoon tea, where you can order from a selection of traditional see yau sai chaan dishes, or from traditional HK-cafe fare. We ordered a side of baked mussels gratin, $20HKD for six, meaty mussels on a bed of cloud-soft mashed potatoes. We also had a plate of shredded pork chow mein (fried noodles) and a plate of ‘Swiss-sauce’ beef fillets with hor fun noodles (flat rice noodles). To wash it all down, I had a delicious iced HK-style milk tea – the tea is made with an individual mixture of various tea leaves, and thick creamy evaporated milk is used instead of normal milk.
The chow mein was fried to a perfect crisp around the edges; the hot, savoury thickened sauce poured over the top softening the noodles again. Served with shredded pork, crunchy beansprouts and a good tossing of chopped spring onions. To me, this is comfort food, and Goldfinch do it so well, with their flavourful needle-thin egg noodles – many places tend to use thicker, stodgier noodles that don’t crisp up as well, resulting in a slimey, mushy mess when the sauce (usually too much) is poured over the top. The ‘Swiss sauce’ beef noodles were slightly too greasy for my liking, but the beef pieces were soft and not tough and chewy like it tends to be. I think I’d prefer the black bean sauce version, which has more of a kick. The Swiss sauce is a slightly sweeter version of soy sauce; Swiss sauce chicken wings are a popular dish in restaurants like these (and Tai Ping Koon allegedly do the best).
For fans of Wong Kar-wai’s films, this is a must visit. Perhaps capitalising on the exposure In the Mood for Love and 2046 have given Goldfinch, they also offer two eponymous set meals for lovers, for a reasonable price ($220-270HKD for two). The set meals, depending on which ‘movie’ you choose, include traditional see yau sai chaan dishes, including sizzling steak, Russian borstch, lobster baked with cheese, and other Western treats with a Chinese twist. Be sure to grab a booth to optimise the experience! Even for those who are not fans, or have never seen the films, it’s worth going to simply bask in the atmosphere of a by-gone era.
Warning: Eating at Goldfinch may cause the irresistable urge to emulate Tony Leung and take melancholy, Wong-inspired photographs of self gazing contemplatively into the distance… (No, I will not show you!).
Goldfinch Restaurant (also ‘Cafe de Goldfinch’)
G/F, 13-15 Lan Fong Road
Nearest MTR: Causeway Bay, exit F