Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 18 News List

The king of beef noodle soup

Tony Wang made his 688 Beef Bowl restaurant legendary by cultivating top-quality fare and loyal customers

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

"I ate (beef noodle soup) with my heart full of pain, yet with my mouth full of wonderful taste." That's what the author of a newly published Hong Kong tourist guide book My Style Guide wrote to describe her first experience of having a bowl of noodles that cost her HK$250 (NT$1,000). Tony Wang's (王聰源) art of cooking indeed has a magic power to lure gourmet lovers into paying what many think is an outrageously high price for a bowl of seemingly simple beef noodle soup that Tony prepares.

What the author failed to mention, however, is that Tony's restaurant, 688 Beef Bowl (牛爸爸牛肉麵), is now famous for charging three times more than the price she paid years back. It is even more intriguing to learn that starting last year, Tony and his wife Jan are offering a beef noodle set meal called Head of State's Beef Noodle Soup (元首牛肉麵), without a listed price. Tony said they spent two entire years coming up with this top-grade meal. Diners can pay any amount of money he or she pleases after finishing the meal -- no question asked.

Tony didn't say how many people have tried his Head of State's Beef Noodle Soup so far. But he did confide the average price most diners are willing to pay is between NT$5,000 and NT$8,000 and one very satisfied business tycoon not long ago paid Tony NT$30,000, the highest bill so far. How has Tony won over his patrons' favor and got them to pay these shockingly expensive prices?

When serving the three-course set meal, Tony presents his soy-sauce-braised beef noodle soup as the first course. The second is a bowl of noodle without soup and the last is beef noodle in clear broth. Naturally, each course is served in smaller portions than usual, and the quality of every dish is assured by Tony's personal care.

Tony's secret to winning over customers' satisfaction lies in the fact that he spends time patiently talking to diners to find out their favorite taste thoroughly and accurately before preparing the meal.

"A great chef is the one who can prepare the food in the exact taste and fashion a diner is longing for," he said.

Later on, he writes down detailed notes of each of his patrons' tastes and attaches their name cards to his notebook for future reference.

Meanwhile, Tony's magic also derives from the fact that he uses 7.8kg of stir-fried beef tendons to extract 3 servings of beef essence. The stir-fried beef tendons, which are very tender in texture and finely chopped to fit two to three bites per piece, are then stewed in the extract shortly before being served with noodles. Gastronomes, who care for the quality of food more than anything else, do not mind the price so much. It is like a test of confidence between the chef and the diner when the price is not listed on the menu. Mutual appreciation and respect are the name of the game.

As for the standard NT$3,000 price for a bowl of beef noodle soup, the idea was pushed by a Hong Kong DJ who visited his restaurant 10 years ago. After enjoying his meal there, he challenged Tony by suggesting that what the restaurant really needed was a course of beef noodle soup which was worthy the price of NT$3,000. Without it, Tony's restaurant wouldn't be memorable or unique in the gourmet circle of Taiwan.

Those words stuck in Tony's mind for three full weeks until he and his wife agreed to give it a try. The couple spent two years doing research and completely overhauled their kitchen. The total cost amounted to more than NT$27 million. Luckily, they found the way to make really good soup in the end. Tony's golden rule when preparing his broth is "to blend one part one-day-old beef broth with two parts freshly made broth in order to bring out the best taste of the soup."

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