Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Sans the Neon Light

“Cuz I heard you didn’t like the neon lights so we turned it off for you”… of course Chef May was joking when she said that at my recent visit to Happy Paradise, reopened at its original site a couple of weeks ago after a “brief” hiatus. Well it’s been a while since I last visited – no, not just because of the lights – but glad to see the place is back to business with a full house on a Monday night, sans the funky lighting and loud music that was almost like a signature at this restaurant at the fringe of Soho but I am not so much a fan of. It’s much toned down, but still kept its cool, I reckon. 

Décor aside, nothing much has changed in terms of style – Chef May wanted this place to be different than her other venture Little Bao, so those little buns that made her famous were nowhere to be seen, but instead, there’s an array of unique dishes with bold use of different spices, seasonings and ingredients, with much inspiration drawn from this part of the world. Same with its drinks menu with a selection of cocktails and wines – among them my favorite was the chrysanthemum margarita served in a highball glass (and sans the salt rim) with a more balanced flavor of tequila, Cointreau and a hint of chrysanthemum aroma. 

We left it to the chef to sort out the food menu for us, and she promised us a mix of dishes some from the new a la carte menu and some off. First to arrive was the raw scallop “aquachile” – done like a ceviche with a slightly acidic dressing with white soy sauce, ginger oil and a touch of green Szechuan peppercorns, giving it a sense of numbness as after-taste. Burrata tomato was another dish that I like – traditional combination of creamy burrata and tomatoes, this time baby tomatoes one-third the size of conventional cherry tomatoes, and dressed with Chinese black vinegar, grated sand ginger and shiso. Could live with the vinegar dressing slightly more intense in flavor, but I like the overall taste with a bit of everything within one bite. 

The cauliflower dish was another surprise – a vegan dish done almost like kung-pao style with the crispy and caramelized battered crust with rich flavor, perfect as bar snacks. Wrapping up our snack-size course was the pot-stickers with pulled beef short rib served with a Turkish Urfa chilli dressing. The sauce seems to be a tad bit too strong but worked perfectly well with the dumplings pan-fried with a crispy bottom. 

The chicken and waffle main course was amazing – the chicken, the Chinese Longgang breed, was juicy on the inside and nice and crisp outside. That’s what we called a textbook example of a perfect fried chicken right there. Underneath was the freshly made egg waffle, prepared local style (aka gai daan jai) but with a twist of chicken broth mixed into the sourdough batter to give us a double dose of chicken flavor. Serving on the side was the bottarga whip and salmon roes – didn’t get much of the bottarga flavor but the dipping sauce was creamy and delicious with the salmon roes mixed in. 

The poached yellow wine chicken was again perfectly done – tender and juicy with the flavor well-infused, and it was served in a deep dish with shiitake broth and fried rice. I like the rice cooked extra crisp, like being deep-fried briefly to make them pop, and the shitake broth and chrysanthemum butter were both nice addition with rich flavor. The skirt steak noodles was her take of the classic Cantonese Beef Fried Flat Noodles with Gravy, but made using wagyu steak, super wide flat rice noodles and garnished with crispy seaweed for some texture and umami flavor. Dessert was an interesting one too – a twist to the traditional apple pie with one made with Japanese mochi (sticky rice dumpling) with apple puree filling, battered and deep-fried. 

Now this is definitely a place I could see myself coming back for something casual but a bit different from the crowd. 

When? November 9 2020
Where? Happy Paradise, UG/F, 52-56 Staunton St, Central
Menu Highlights? Chicken and Waffle

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