A spot of Lunch at Tai O Lookout
1/F, Tai O Heritage Hotel,
Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O
The Tai O Lookout is on the roof of the former Tai O police station. Built in 1902 its original purpose was to keep an eye out for pirates and smugglers at the far western end of the British colony’s territorial waters. It was vacated in 2002, listed as a grade 2 heritage building in 2010 and reopened as a boutique hotel in 2012.
It is an impressive building. A pair of gleaming white two storey blocks connected by a bridge on a small hill at the very far end of Tai O. The hill itself is bristling with vintage cannon.
The restaurant, a modern extension built at the far end of the second block is mostly glass finished with wood and marble. It provides glorious views of the Tai O Bay from one side while the other is shaded by the forested slope of the hill. There are also blinds for when the sun does break through.
It is a varied menu with a selection of snacks and sandwiches as well as main courses such as pasta, slow cooked salmon fillet and steak. There is also a selection of desserts. It was the Tai O specialities that interested me most though. Deep fried squid rings with salted egg yolk, double-boiled fish maw soup and pan fried pork patty with salted fish all caught my imagination. In the end I settled on, what sounds like, a very pedestrian Tai O Lookout fried rice (main image).
The set lunch option allows you to choose any dish you like from the main menu and for a modest fee you add to that the sup of the day, dessert and a drink. Soup of the day turned put to be cream of mushroom served with a little bread roll to dunk into it. It is piping hot when served but is quite agreeable after it has cooled a little.
The fried rice is made with shrimp, chicken and choi sum but it is seasoned with locally produced shrimp paste. Shrimp paste has been produced in Tai O since settlers first arrived here and is still produced by traditional methods using the silver shrimp which is abundant in Tai O waters.
The paste has a very distinctive aroma and imparts a unique mellow flavour which is slightly fishy, slightly salty, and slightly smokey all at once. It is a flavour that defies comparison yet is instantly recognisable. A bit of a shock for the first timer but one that rapidly grows on you. The fried rice is an excellent dish to try it with because there are no other strong flavours for it to compete with.
Another revelation was the dessert; mountain begonia cheese cake. The mountain in this case is the Phoenix Mountain which looks down on the Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha. An area with grand knife edge ridges that are hugely popular with hikers. The begonias are also used in herbal drinks. They have a slightly floral bittersweet flavour and are ever so slightly astringent. Here they are just small dabs of a syrup to garnish your cheesecake.
In most restaurants I find the desserts are usually bigger than I really want but in this was so delicious I could have dispatched a larger serving. My guess is that the set lunch portions are smaller than the a la carte versions so I am planning a return visit some time soon. I finish off with a coffee and feel sufficiently recharged to wander back to the Yeung Hau Temple and up the path to the viewpoint for where there is an excellent panorama pf the village and surrounding mountains.