Afterthoughts – a Hairy Crabilicious Time at Benson’s
It’s that magical time of year again (and yes, I know that Christmas is still a month away) but I’m talking about hairy crab season! I became addicted to these little crustaceans with their furry mitts when I first tasted them around six years ago in Hong Kong. I’ve never seen them before coming to Hong Kong, and was intrigued at the little tied up bundles of live crabs stacked in shop fridges in many local sections of town. The gooey, golden roe is the epitome of umami flavour, and I could spend a good hour just teasing the meat out of these little crabs. Yes, for good food, I can be a very patient person.
This year, we decided to try something different and elected to sample a fusion of hairy crab roe served over pasta instead of the traditional steamed variety. We found ourselves at Benson’s in Happy Valley, where I’ve walked by on numerous occasions but never ventured into until now. Across the street from the restaurant (Sing Woo Street, to be exact), Benson’s also has a deli that sells proscuitto ham, and, you guessed it, hairy crabs.
The restaurant, itself, seats about 25 people, and is quaint without any fancy decor. The staff are friendly, and the service fair – this is really more like a neighbourhood joint. Three of us decided on the hairy crab roe pasta (although two of us chose angel hair and the third chose linguine). Our fourth friend was the outlier and chose to go with a roasted garlic and proscuitto pasta instead.
We started off with the featured hairy crab bisque, drizzled with a dash of huadiao wine. Crabs are classified in Chinese medicine as being “cold”, so the huadiao wine, which is “hot”, balances out the coldness of the crabs. Mind you, this does not relate to the actual temperature of the food! I liked the bisque although I couldn’t have finished the whole bowl by myself. It was rich, savoury and full of umami flavour, with chunks of sweet crab meat swimming in the thick broth.
Next came our much anticipated pastas. I loved this dish – it was a wonderful way to enjoy hairy crab without getting your hands dirty, and since I recently acquired a beautiful bling, I was happy not to get crab juice all over it. The pasta was on the expensive side, around $460 per plate, but well worth it as the kitchen did not skimp on the amount of roe used. The rich golden roe coated each strand of al dente noodle, and, despite the creaminess of the dish, I could have totally attempted another order. I loved how the thin strands of angel hair held onto the golden sauce – it was the perfect vehicle to grab onto as much sauce as possible.
A side of sweet vinegar accompanied the pasta, and I drizzled this onto each heaping forkful. The sweet acidic notes really complimented the creamy decadence of the crab roe – this is actually a classic combination found at all traditional Chinese restaurants.
One of our friends, who is (*gasp*) not a fan of hairy crab, opted for the garlic and proscuitto pasta, which she also enjoyed very much.
Verdict: If you love hairy crab, this is an interesting take on the traditional recipes. It’s on the pricey side for pasta, but that’s only because they save you the hassle of having to crack open the crab yourself and tease out the roe and meat. As mentioned previously, this is a neighbourhood restaurant, so don’t expect anything fancy. But it is a lovely little place to spend a quiet evening amongst friends.
G/F, 12C Sing Woo Road, Happy Valley
Tel: 2893 6900