Thanksgiving may be over for Americans in Hong Kong, but for many (such as the British) the carving knives have yet to come out – and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey and all the trimmings.
Preparing a whole turkey dinner is hard work, and for those without a large oven at home, practically impossible. Luckily, there are a number of restaurants in town offering Christmas turkey dinners to go, so all you have to do is assemble your guests, set the table and open the bubbly.
Several of us gathered at House of Madison for a side-by-side blind tasting of five takeaway (or delivery) turkeys. Due to limited stomach space, and in an effort to minimise food waste, we didn’t order the full menus; instead we tasted from each restaurant turkey, gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce and a dessert.
The tasting panel consisted of:
Johannes Pong (JP), who reviews and writes about food and travel. Pong is the panel’s only pseudo-American, born in Minnesota (but a Hongkonger through and through).
Michelle Ng (MN), a Londoner and the blogger behind food blog Chopstixfix.
Rachel Read (RR), a food and lifestyle writer and reviewer originally from Nottingham.
Renee Chu (RC), a Hongkonger who lived in Britain for more than a decade.
The turkey dinners are listed in order of the judges’ preferences.
The winner: Stone Nullah Tavern
What that gets you Cheddar biscuits with chilli honey butter, garlic butter roasted turkey (3.5kg-4kg), black pepper and bourbon gravy, cranberry marmalade, caramelised onion, apple and cheddar stuffing, charred Brussels sprouts with house-made bacon, garlic and malt vinegar, pulled pork rib mac ’n’ cheese, butter roasted potatoes and apple crumble.
What we tasted Garlic butter roasted turkey, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, gravy, cranberry marmalade, cheddar biscuits and apple crumble.
What else? Order at least 48 hours in advance and pick up from Stone Nullah Tavern. Tel: 3182 0128; email@example.com;
JP: the turkey was very flavourful, very well seasoned. The biscuit had a nice butter. I don’t like cranberry sauce to be too jam-like, so it didn’t do much for me. The stuffing was the star here. The apple crumble was so good, I finished it all. It was very intense, caramelised and crumbly, like a crumble ought to be.
MN: the turkey was a little bit saltier [than the others]. The Brussels sprouts were burnt and very bitter. The stuffing was the best. So good, so moreish, I loved it. The gravy was very oily, and had separated. I really liked the cranberry sauce, it was intensely fruity with a nice wine-like flavour. I liked the butter with the biscuits, but as a Brit, I’m not used to the idea of biscuits with turkey.
RR: this bird was my favourite; I tend to like salty things. It was very flavourful, both the meat and the skin. The stuffing was definitely the best. It was crunchy, and seasoned so well. The gravy was oily and strange. It didn’t actually taste bad, but looked a bit unappetising. The Brussels sprouts were burned, and had an unpleasant bitter taste. The apple crumble was so buttery and caramelly, with a good amount of crumble.
RC: the juiciness [of the turkey] was fine, but it was very salty. The stuffing made me really happy. I thought it was a very good, herbed combination. It’s close to what my idea of a traditional stuffing should be.
Second place: Main St Deli
The price: HK$2,038
What that gets you
Cream of roasted pumpkin soup with toasted pistachios, US Tom turkey (6kg), apple, sage and cornbread stuffing, Brussels sprouts, mashed potato, honey roasted sweet potatoes, buttered baby carrots, almond-glazed beans, gravy and cranberry-orange sauce. For dessert, a choice of pumpkin cheesecake, maple glazed pecan pie, Christmas pudding with brandy cream and vanilla bean sauce or traditional cherry pie.
What we tasted
Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, baby carrots, beans, cherry pie.
Order at least 48 hours in advance. Pick-up at Main St Deli. Delivery to Tsim Sha Tsui (HK$250), Kowloon (HK$300), Hong Kong Island (HK$500) and New Territories (HK$1,000).
Tel: 2132 7898; firstname.lastname@example.org
JP: the turkey was very well seasoned, it was the star here, definitely. It was a good colour. It was succulent, I liked the flavour. The mash was very smooth, very comforting. The stuffing was like a soggy loh bak go (Chinese radish cake). It’s very innovative, but I don’t think it works. The sides were all huge, but those vegetables – nobody needed to taste or see those.
MN: my favourite turkey. It was lovely and succulent, I think it was a nice balance of flavours and seasonings. The sides were extremely disappointing. The vegetables were soggy beyond imagination. I really liked the cranberry sauce, it was a nice ratio of fruit to sauce. The stuffing was like soft, soggy brioche, which was really confusing.
RR: the most well-balanced, succulent and moist turkey [of those tried]. For it to have sat around for a while and still be the tastiest is pretty impressive. The stuffing – what was it supposed to be? The gravy I found too sweet, and the vegetables remind me of school cafeteria food that has been boiled since 9am. Although it didn’t have parsnips, with the carrots this was the closest attempt at a British-style Christmas turkey dinner, but it was badly done.
RC:the meat was good and tender. The vegetables were overdone. I had the beans and they were really mushy and melted in my mouth, which is not what I think they were trying for. I really didn’t like the stuffing.
Third place: Lily and Bloom
The price: HK$2,200 take-away
What that gets you
American heritage turkey (about 5kg), fresh cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, sausage and sage stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, truffle mashed potato, creamed spinach, maple sweet potato mash, pumpkin pie, a bottle of Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg 2014 from Central Otago, New Zealand.
What we tasted
Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, truffle mashed potato and creamed spinach.
Order at least 48 hours in advance. Enquire about delivery charges. Tel: 2810 6166; email@example.com
JP: I don’t like the “butt bouquet” of herbs [in the turkey], and it was a little dry, but I loved all the trimmings. I liked the cranberry sauce, I liked the gravy, but basically, I just loved the truffle mash. It was unctuous. The truffle mash trumps everything.
MN: the turkey is pretty dry. I liked the mash. The truffle mash alone was 10/10. The stuffing was good, I liked that it had bite and was more of a traditional stuffing. The gravy was sweeter than I like. The cranberry sauce was nice in that it had a lot of whole fruit, but I wanted more sauce.
RR: the turkey was too dry and the skin was extremely peppery on its own. The truffle mash was good. The Brussels sprouts were quite hard, not quite cooked enough for me. The gravy was the most flavourful and the best [of the lot], but a little too thin for me. The cranberry and redcurrant looked the best with lots of whole fruit but there was not enough actual sauce, and it was a bit too tart.
RC: I thought the turkey was a little on the dry side and a bit tasteless. The gravy was quite strong, and slightly overwhelmed the meat. I liked the truffle mash, it was thick and very heavy on the truffle, which is always a good thing. The stuffing was not bad, it was a bit crumbly, and it had a mix of veggies inside. The turkey should have been better as it’s the main attraction.
Fourth place: Grand Central
The price: HK$1,180
What that gets you
Roasted US turkey (5kg-6kg), rich turkey gravy, cranberry jelly and condiments, turkey stuffing, garlic and rosemary roasted new potatoes or yam mash, and orange- and ginger-glazed carrots or Caesar salad. Mini apple crumble for dessert.
What we tasted
Turkey, gravy, orange and ginger glazed carrots, mini apple crumble.
Order at least one week in advance. Pick-up at Grand Central (suspended December 23-25).
Delivers to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (HK$300), New Territories and Discovery Bay (HK$400). firstname.lastname@example.org.
JP: when I looked at it, I thought, “best presentation”, but then we dug in and it was just raw figs, raw tomato, roasted garlic and carrot. I liked how they flavoured the turkey, it had a bit of a tang.
MN: it looked the prettiest. I quite liked the meat, but the gravy was too watery. And why is there cooked carrot with raw tomatoes and random foliage? It was like the turkey just wandered into a garden and got roasted – except the tomatoes didn’t get roasted. The turkey was tender enough, not as well seasoned as the turkey from Main Street Deli.
RR: originally I thought that was the nicest, but it’s just such a weird collection of stuff that it made me think that they don’t actually understand the concept [of a turkey dinner]. The turkey itself was fine. Bits of the skin were verging on burned, rather than nicely caramelised. The gravy was unmemorable.
RC: I quite liked that one. I thought it was moist, firm, quite subtly flavoured, in spite of the [strange] garnishes at the bottom. I liked that they had whole heads of roasted garlic and lemon.
Fifth place: CRFT-PIT
The price: HK$1,988
What that gets you
Hickory-smoked turkey (approximately 5.5kg), cranberry sauce, house-made gravy with giblets, smoked turkey and pork sausage stuffing, roasted chestnuts, apples, fresh herbs and garlic. Farmers’ market salad, bourbon sweet potato mash, smoked potato mash, green bean casserole. Dessert of pecan pie.
What we tasted
Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pecan pie.
Order at least one week in advance. Pick-up at CRFT-PIT. Delivers to Hong Kong Island (HK$200) and Kowloon (HK$300). email@example.com.
JP: if you’re bored with normal roast turkey, then this would be awesome, it would be a great turkey. It was very smoky, very American, very sweet. Nicely caramelised skin. I loved the green bean casserole. It was crunchy and made with shiitake – I liked the Asian touch, I ate almost all of it.
MN: the bird tastes exactly like ham. I don’t like the smokiness and it was too tough. The cranberry sauce was nice and tasty, but I didn’t like that it was puréed. I didn’t like the green beans – the Asian take, with the addition of shiitake mushroom. I liked that the gravy was slightly thicker. That pecan pie was heaven.
RR: this one is very much an acquired taste. For this Brit, it’s far too smoky. I wouldn’t say it’s unpleasant, but it’s not what I would choose, it’s such a different thing. I really liked the beans, and the shiitake and crispy shallots. But again, that doesn’t say Christmas to me. I quite liked the cranberry sauce, it was probably my favourite. The pecan pie was delicious. The crust was amazing – super crunchy and buttery. Loved the strong caramelised brown sugar flavour. It was gooey, rich and generously loaded with whole pecans, too.
RC: it tasted like ham. I just kept thinking I was eating ham or gammon. It’s definitely not my idea of a traditional turkey. I quite liked the green bean casserole. It was very crunchy. Shame about the turkey. If you’re going for American-style turkey, I guess [it would be better]. It was juicy, but the smoky flavour was a bit of a curveball.