Longtime readers know that I hate Chinese food. But there are some restaurants that can change my mind about it temporarily. Lugang Cafe is one of those restaurants.
While I was at the Mall of Asia, I chanced upon Lugang Cafe there at around 6 in the evening. The place was packed and there was a waiting list of 13 parties head of us. We signed up, but fortunately after just ten minutes we were able to get a seat, probably because there were only two of us and tables for two cleared up pretty quickly.
The interiors were rather classily designed. Almost a little too blingy actually, with a strong white and black motif and luscious metals, drapes, and rich leather upholstery. There’s little to complain about, except the lighting which was a bit dim, perfect for fine dining but lousy for bloggers with phone cams.
I went into this restaurant with a lot of hype. People have been telling me just how good Lugang Cafe is. Perhaps the strongest feedback I received is how their Xiao Long Bao tastes exactly like Din Tai Fun’s legendary Xiao Long Bao. I have not tried Din Tai Fun’s Xiao Long Bao, but I was with somebody who had, and she could attest to it.
The taste is the same! There are rumors that Lugang Cafe pirated Din Tai Fun’s dimsum chef to get the Xiao Long Bao recipe. I guess it’s true. Having not tasted Din Tai Fun’s version myself, I can only describe how Lugang Cafe’s tastes like.
First off, it’s nothing like the Pancit Molo crap that Binondo’s Dong Bei pulled on me. This is the best Xiao Long Bao I’ve had so far, even better than Phoenix Court’s already excellent bao. The dough is a little rough and sticky, however once you get past it the interior is filled with a big serving of steamed pork. It doesn’t taste like molo, it has a complex taste to it that’s very hard to describe, but there’s a rich pork meat taste melded with some gingery flavors, some peppery taste, and a soup that felt like a flavor explosion. The soup is the secret here, I don’t know what’s in it but it’s really, really good.
That said, I would compare it to how Yushoken’s Gyouza tastes like. While it seems crazy to compare Gyouza to Xiao Long Bao, the two aren’t that far apart and to be honest the two taste rather similar. However Lugang Cafe’s Xiao Long Bao has more layers of flavor to it, and is porkier compared to the Gyouza which had more green onions. But texture wise the Xiao Long Bao cannot hope to compete with the fried wrapping of the Gyouza. I still prefer Gyouza, but again I am a Japanese food fan and a Chinese food hater. But to force me to compare the wretched Chinese cuisine to Japanese food, tells you something.
At the front of the Cafe there is a clear glass panel which shows the chefs busy at work preparing Xiao Long Bao day in and day out. It’s like, they’ve been standing there for eight hours doing nothing but the exact same thing.
There’s an assembly line of four chefs. One takes rolled balls of dough and kneads them flat with a rolling pin. He passes the flattened wrapper to a guy who scoops the pork mixture into it, then gives it off to two guys. Two guys are needed to fold the crenellations that hold the soup and keep the dumpling from opening. I hear they are required to do a minimum of 16 twists to keep it wrapped properly.
They then put the wrapped Xiao Long Bao into the baskets for steaming. Another person gets the baskets and puts them in the steamer.
Man, what a job, but I guess it pays well enough to make you want to just do the same thing over and over and over and over…. I admire their dedication.
Next up is a noodle dish. My companion chose this because the picture and description reminded her of Yellow Cab’s Charlie Chan pasta, which as you all know is an excellent dish.
The Cantonese Stir-Fried Mushroom with Noodles is, on the other hand, a terrible dish. It’s a huge hot pot of noodles with various bits of mushroom, spinach, carrots and yucky oyster sauce fried to perfection. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly yucky and doesn’t taste like much.
The flavor is tepid, I can just taste watery soy sauce and oyster sauce, with mushrooms that are neither filling, and carrots which don’t hold the dish together. There is no chicken, no peanuts, nothing to add texture, and the entire dish felt like a chore to eat. I did not bother finishing it off.
Do not order. It’s 380 bucks and it is a load of yuckiness.
However, Lugang comes with a very nice surprise. For 160 bucks you get this wonderful masterpiece.
This is, frankly a must-order. It’s relatively inexpensive, it’s light, it’s healthy, and it’s ridiculously tasty. Tofu with Preserved Egg and Pork Floss is what you’ll find in the menu under appetizers. It’s so good that I recommend ordering it every time you go here.
Tofu has always been one of my favorite food bases. You can do so much with it whether you eat it as is, flavor it with something, fry it, pretend that it’s beef, whatever. It’s an incredible super food that is so versatile, you can even have it for dessert as Taho.
Here, it lends some body to a very flavorful dish with some soy sauce, a century egg that is wonderfully prepared and some very excellent, tasty pork floss that adds that savory bit of deliciousness and sweetness, and a different, crisp texture to complement the slippery tofu.
The egg then forms the missing link that returns you to both a jelly-like texture and a mushy solid texture, with just the right amount of saltiness to complement the pork floss and make the tofu dish come alive. This is a wonderful dish. You must try it. Now!
Unfortunately, we did not get to order much. There were only two of us and the food we ordered was already too much. Needless to say, we did not finish the noodles. They were horrible, but they managed to fill the stomach with unwanted calories.
Next time, I’ll order the Kung Pao Chicken and Pineapple Rice. For now, though it was great to learn that the Xiao Long Bao was awesome, and the Tofu even moreso.
Next time you’re at MoA, give the Lugang Cafe a try.