The only constant is change, said Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who could have been talking about the Hong Kong restaurant scene. The city has seen a stream of new openings recently that is keeping the local fooderati full and happy. Here are some of the standouts.
The fiery cooking of northeastern Thailand is featured at this slim spot in Sheung Wan, opened late last summer. Chef Adam Cliff — a protégé of Thai master David Thompson — is behind the menu, and hotelier and restaurateur Yenn Wong is behind the décor of the room, a play on old Hong Kong, with tiled floors, vintage ads plastering the walls, and metal fixtures that add a touch of urban decay. Expect to find dishes such as fire-grilled tiger prawns with dry coconut curry, pickled ginger and lime, as well as steamed clams with herbs and chili. There’s bar seating on the ground level, some tables upstairs, and, after 7 p.m. or so, almost always a wait.
Formerly run as a private kitchen, chef Peter Cuong Franklin has moved Chôm Chôm to bigger digs on Peel Street in the city’s Central district. It’s a contemporary vision of Vietnamese street eating, with a sleek white and wood interior anchored by the marble-topped bar, with large paned windows that bring the outside in, and vice versa. Small plates such as grilled cuttlefish with Sriracha mayo and Vietnamese fried chicken (VFC) are perfect with a cold Saigon beer. You’ll have to look elsewhere for pho, but there is a Pho-jito cocktail, made with Pampero Blanco rum, lemongrass syrup, lime juice, mint, Thai basil, pepper and soda.
May Chow’s delicious bao — steamed bun sandwiches, with fillings such as barbecued pork belly or fried chicken — earned a devout following in a series of pop-ups and special appearances. Now, she has a permanent home on Staunton Street in the Central district, with counter seating along an open kitchen, and a bright pink neon sign outside so it’s easy to spot. There’s a menu of creative, pan-Asian snacks such as orange chicken or pan-fried dumplings to go along with the bao, plus cocktails such as the Gin & Juice (cucumber, lime and ginger), craft beer, and a few wines.
Though the Italian trend in Hong Kong has been going on too long to even still be considered a trend, this wine bar in Central (which has a Sydney sibling) is bringing something new to the scene. The restaurant serves an all-Italian list of natural and biodynamic wines. From Sicily, there’s winemaker Antonino Barraco’s Vignammare, a full-bodied white made from the grillo varietal. For a red, try the Cicipi from Panevino, a cannonau-based red from Sardinia with no added sulfites. Plus, tasty dishes include items such as bagna càuda (an Italian dipping sauce for vegetables), grilled sardines, or chickpea ravioli for casual eating. The menu changes daily, but you can always count on delightful, farm-to-fork options.
In Hong Kong, the independent chef-owner is a rare (and brave) bird, indeed. Then again, with long stints at Pierre at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, as well as Pierre Gagnaire’s London restaurant, sketch, Philippe Orrico has plenty of experience backing him up. At his new Upper Modern Bistro in Sheung Wan, contemporary French cuisine is peppered with Asian flavors, though the presence of Brittany oysters and sole meunière (a classic French dish) leave little doubt of this chef’s origins. More comfortable than many of the city’s new hot spots, this modernist dining room is a vision in blue, gold, and gray, with a banquette wall, well-spaced tables, and a curious ceiling of overlapping gray disks.
Photos Courtesy of Chachawan and Chom Chom