Two restaurants in Harbour City always have the longest lines: M & C Duck and Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao. I guess it's not a surprise, considering these restaurants serve Peking duck, hand-pulled noodles, and dumplings.
"La Mian" (拉麵) means "pulled noodles" in Chinese, and Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) means little steamed dumpling. Crystal Jade is a well known restaurant chain that comes from Singapore which features Sichuan, Shanghainese, and northern Chinese specialties. The restaurant has locations all over Asia, including Singapore, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou), Hong Kong, Thailand (Bangkok), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Korea (Seoul), Indonesia (Jakarta) and Japan (Tokyo). There are many location in Hong Kong, including one inside Terminal 1 at Hong Kong International Airport! The location in Harbour City, with the words "la mian xiao long bao" in its name, is more specific in its focus, honing in on hand-pulled noodles and dumplings.
I personally love Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao for a couple of reasons. First, they do make a really good soup dumpling as well as great noodles. Additionally, they have a pretty diverse menu that features a lot of other things, so you don't get bored just eating the same few items every time. Finally, they like to rotate in fun seasonal items to vary things up. The overall quality of their food is quite high, so you don't worry too much when you're exploring the menu. It's likely to be quite tasty!
Xiao Long Bao - Dumplings
Of course xiao long bao is the specialty, and they do a very good job. The skins are thin, the dumplings have the difficult-t0-achieve 24 folds, and the flavor of the filling is excellent. The best are the classics, the pork dumpling and the crab dumpling.
They often have specials. Pictured above is the Sichuan spicy beef xiao long bao. It was interesting and reasonably tasty, but we both agreed it was more of a novelty dumpling than a culinary breakthrough.
They also make a striking black truffle xiaolongbao. The flavor is quite nice and it's enjoyable to eat, though I still prefer the black truffle xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung, which I think has a stronger, richer truffle flavor.
I love their shenjianbao, or pan fried dumplings. They are fluffy and soft on the outside, nice and crispy at the bottom, and full of juicy porkiness on the inside. They are one of my favorite things to order at Crystal Jade.
La Mian - Noodles
I also enjoy eating at Crystal Jade because they have a pretty extensive vegetable section, allowing me to feel like I can have a balanced meat when I dine there. Pictured above is a cold seaweed salad.
I enjoyed this flavorful stir-fry of spinach with two types of eggs, salted duck eggs and century (or thousand year old) eggs. There was also roasted garlic and a flavorful broth in the dish, adding several other dimensions of flavor.
Another time, we tried the simple sauteed napa cabbage, which was fine (though I prefer the two pictured above).
General Thoughts - Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
As I've said before, I really like Crystal Jade. It serves as the perfect casual, reasonably priced place that serves a wide variety of very good Chinese food. The service is quick and efficient. The menus have nice photos and are written in English, so ordering is easy. Every time I come I like to get some of my favorites (namely, some shenjianbao!) as well as try something new. We've come back several times (once we even came two days in a row!), and we always enjoy it.
I guess the biggest negative aspect about this restaurant is that they don't take reservations. At least at Harbour City, the crowds are big. It's a very convenient location and there are always tourists there, which adds to the crowdedness of the whole place. For lunch, we typically try to show up before 12PM to beat the lunch crowd. Likewise, showing up before 6PM is the safest. It's quite possible that it's easier to get into the other locations (there are fourteen in Hong Kong (!)), but I wouldn't know from experience.
On the flip side, it's nice to have a fancy mall in which you can walk around while you're waiting. There's an app that you can download so that you can electronically follow the progress of the line remotely.
All in all, I'm sure I'll be coming back here (or one of their many other locations) on a regular basis. If have a layover in Hong Kong, you can even visit the one at Terminal 1 at the airport.
Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
Shop 3328, Level Three, Gateway Arcade
Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui
Check out their website to see all 14 locations