Taking (Another) Bite out of Wan Chai: Maureen’s Noodles, Cherry Tomatoes, Lots of Eggs, and a Touch of Molecular Gastronomy

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Cuisine

Following my first restaurant review here on 22 Ships (a glorious tapas bar in Wan Chai, blessedly just a few blocks from our building), I am eager to post on another restaurant in our neighborhood that I quite literally stumbled on less than 2 blocks away. Near the historic Blue House and nestled among machine and auto repair shops, is a tiny establishment called Maureen.

Upon our first visit (there have been many repeat visits since), I instantly flashed back to one of my favorite spots in NYC, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Maureen has a similar feel – a slender sliver of a space with a bare-bones set-up, a few tables, and a counter where diners can peer over the edge and observe preparation of the delightful meal that is just minutes away. We prefer the counter.

The humble, minimal space at Maureen

The humble, minimal space at Maureen

A little rough around the design edges, if you will, it’s a clean and minimal space that allows the food to really shine. And shine it does.

Maureen, as you may have guessed, is the name of the chef (last name Loh). She’s no novice to the culinary scene, with extensive experience in the kitchen. The twist? Maureen is an experimenter. She blends Chinese cuisine with European touches. She uses molecular gastronomy – foams, sous vide, and more. And she makes liberal use of eggs – which, let’s face it, make almost anything better.

Without question, the standout is Maureen’s noodles. They are a finely crafted blend of the best of Northern-style eggy noodles and Southern-style wonton noodles, yielding a perfectly tasty, al dente variety. These are tossed with a housemade shallot sauce which can be prepared spicy if you so desire, then garnished with bits of shredded starches and a shiitake mushroom. You choose an accompanying protein, served on the side – my favorite, ham and egg, is just one example. A rich, complex broth is served alongside the noodles to ‘wash it all down’. The final touch is often added, counter-stool- or table-side, by Maureen herself – a sesame foam, which she asserts is the optimal method of delivering that all-important touch of sesame oil. Light and airy, the foam allows the essence of sesame to easily disperse among the noodles and prevents oversaturation of the flavor. Gimmicky? Maybe a tad, on the surface, but her logic makes sense. And no matter. The result is a deeply satisfying, very umami dish that is absolutely craveable.

Maureen's perfect noodles with shallot sauce, shiitake, and sesame foam

Maureen’s perfect noodles with shallot sauce, shiitake, and sesame foam

Let’s go back to the ‘protein’ accompaniment for a moment. There is nothing basic about these – the ham and egg I mentioned are thoughtfully represented by Spanish ham (for an additional HKD 10, you can upgrade from Serrano to Iberico) and creamy, potent, satisfyingly salty, Chinese Shaoxing wine eggs. If you’re not accustomed to the pungency of this wine, it may come across as a bit overwhelming – more of an acquired taste. And as tasty as the 48-hour beef short ribs sound on the menu, I found these to be a bit lackluster in flavor, despite the intensive preparation. Other options include Canto-style sous vide salmon, Japanese abalone, lemon chicken, hoisin pork (Mark’s favorite), plum duck, lamb, or vegetarian (tomatoes, mushrooms and Chinese wine eggs). Or you can take the purist approach and order the noodles ‘plain’ – comforted by the fact that there is nothing plain about them. Maureen also offers these options a la carte.

Spanish ham and Chinese Shaoxing wine eggs at Maueen

Spanish ham and Chinese Shaoxing wine eggs at Maureen – who says playing with your food a little isn’t ok?

Grilled hoisin pork at Maureen

Grilled hoisin pork at Maureen

A vegetarian (but certainly not vegan) option at Maureen - cherry tomatoes, Chinese wine eggs, and mushrooms

A vegetarian (but certainly not vegan) option at Maureen – cherry tomatoes, Chinese wine eggs, and mushrooms

Maureen's 48-hour beef short ribs

Maureen’s 48-hour beef short ribs

Maureen has created a few other, very special items. The star of these? Cherry tomatoes, peeled and marinated for hours in a savory-sweet mixture of garlic, shallots, balsamic vinegar, and EVOO. They are perfect little bites – so much so, that Mark insists on ordering 2 bowls of them EVERY time we dine there. If you’re thinking that this dish just doesn’t make that much sense in the context of noodles etc – get over it already. They’re damn good.

Maureen’s outstanding savory-sweet peeled cherry tomatoes with garlic, shallots, balsamic vinegar, and EVOO

Another standout is Maureen’s ‘perfect egg’ with mushroom gel and Chinese ham. This hasn’t quite made it to Mark’s must-eat list, but perhaps my Chinese heritage makes it more appealing to me. It is indeed quite lovely.

Maureen's 'perfect egg' with mushroom gel and Chinese ham

Maureen’s ‘perfect egg’ with mushroom gel and Chinese ham

If you hunger for more than an appetizer + noodle set, Maureen also offers a couple prix fixe tasting menus for a song. So far, I think it’s one of the best bargain meals in the city. One menu showcases her signature dishes including the noodles, and the other mixes a couple of these with a couple of rotating specials that do not appear on the regular menu.

Beverage choices include a small selection of wine and beer, or one of the homemade teas (I suggest the ginger lemon, which can be made iced or hot) also complements the cuisine just fine.

Service is simple but friendly. On more than one occasion, there have been a few hiccoughs with the background music that were a tad distracting. And one time (gasp!), the waitress forgot to add the sesame foam (don’t worry, we reminded her).

[I would be remiss not to mention another service issue, observed during a follow-up visit inspired by writing this post. Service was quite challenged when we dined there today, a Saturday afternoon at lunchtime. With more than a few parties seated, the kitchen had a tough time keeping up. One of my great pet dining peeves is when a kitchen sends out food not only slowly, but randomly, especially when components belong together. A noodle set is no longer a ‘set’ if the pork accompaniment is served 10-15 minutes after the noodles. Unfortunately, that was the case this round. And our food arrived after another guest, who arrived after us, was served first – another huge pet peeve of mine. The quality of the food made the wait still worthwhile (although Mark found the seasoning of the cherry tomatoes to be a tad overly sweet this time). Following this visit, I somewhat sadly feel obligated to downgrade by a half-star to 3.]

There is generally a certain charm to this small operation, and you can almost certainly strike up conversation with Maureen herself. One gets the sense that the cookbooks on display near the door are more for show than anything, but Maureen is passionate and open to inspiration from prominent chefs from around the world, which is admirable.

There are only 1-2 dessert options – so if the one(s) on offer don’t appeal to you, a quick after-dinner walk down Queen’s Road East heading west will bring you to Kisses or Sift for some cupcake or macaron options to round out your meal. Or even better, head to the express Tai Cheong Bakery shop on Johnston Road near the Wan Chai MTR for a decadent and ridiculously inexpensive HK egg tart. Then hop on the tram for a perfect, breezy finale to your evening.

Or if that’s just too tame for you…grab a drink (or 3) next to Maureen at Tai Lung Fung, a great neighborhood bar (really more of an expat crowd) with a more extensive list of libations than you might expect for such a modest space. Tai Lung Fung has a great vibe and even serves up some pretty tasty, if simple, skewers and other more-sophisticated-than-you’d-expect bar bites (as if you’re still hungry at this point).

I still cannot wrap my head around why Maureen is not perennially packed (although the service issues we experienced on our last visit – see above – may play a role), but she keeps the place pretty low-key. As someone who always wants to be able to snag a spot at the counter, I won’t complain. But I also can’t keep this relative ‘secret’ to myself.

_____________________________________________

Maureen

Ground Floor, 11 Hing Wan Street

Wan Chai, Hong Kong

852.2915.2261

M-Sun 11 am – 10 pm (or until food lasts!)

Noodle sets: HKD 48-108

Prix fixe menus: HKD 238-268 (minimum 2 persons)

Cherry tomatoes: HKD 43

Perfect egg: HKD 45

3 HKF stars (out of 5)

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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of WanderFong.com - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

12 thoughts on “Taking (Another) Bite out of Wan Chai: Maureen’s Noodles, Cherry Tomatoes, Lots of Eggs, and a Touch of Molecular Gastronomy”

    • Hope you enjoy it! One doesn’t go for the ambience or service really – just to keep in mind. But I think the noodles are consistently good. Get them spicy 🙂

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    • Glad to help! I’ll let you in on my ‘short list’ of those restaurants I enjoy here, in case it is helpful when you visit! I’ll probably post this at some point with some more detail. Bon appetit..

      On the slightly fancier side:
      Cantonese – Mott 32, Hutong (also great for the view), Duddell’s (lovely for drinks upstairs as well), Tin Lung Heen (also a great view), Lung King Heen (fantastic dim sum)

      Other cuisines – Zuma (great bar for drinks, as well), Catalunya, The Principal (great fancy brunch, as well), Amber, G7 private kitchen

      More low-key:
      22 Ships/Ham & Sherry, Blue Butcher, 208, 121BC, BellBrook, Upper Modern Bistro, Chachawan, Yardbird, Ronin, Little Bao, Chom Chom, Tim Ho Wan (famous for their dim sum and especially their unique baked BBQ pork buns), Din Tai Fung (famous for their pork soup dumplings or xiao long bao), Maureen’s (delicious noodles), Man Mo Cafe

      Tea:
      Cafe Gray Deluxe (for drinks in their bar with a fantastic view, or their afternoon tea), Lock Cha teahouse at Hong Kong Park (lovely teas and mostly vegetarian dim sum and sweets), Teakha, The Peninsula Lobby (for the traditional fancy high tea)

      Drinks (in addition to those mentioned above):
      Quinary (fancy, pricey cocktails), Blackbird terrace, Angel’s Share (all things whisky), Sevva terrace, Sugar at the East Hotel (away from the main areas, but lovely terrace view and nice cocktails)

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  1. Pingback: Interview with hongkongfong | bluebalu: Living in Hong Kong

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