Wednesday, January 5, 2022

New Chef and a Makeover

Year 2021 saw a few exciting restaurant openings and a few having a makeover - whether that be renovation/relocation or change in culinary direction. For Ho Lee Fook, it's a little of both, with the restaurant saw the departure of Chef Jowett in the summer (who was there since Day One) PLUS the month-long renovation at its original spot. 

A couple of weeks ago I was at a dinner tasting at the new Ho Lee Fook, with a new look and a new chef (ArChan Chan) finally in place. When I looked from the outside of the restaurant, it didn't seem to be any different with the vibrant open kitchen on the ground floor and the stairs leading to the dining area in the basement (plus the array of maneki-neko figurines which have become the restaurant's unofficial "symbol" since its opening). But downstairs was where the most changes took place - gone were the dim lighting and interior and the disco-like soundtrack, and in their place was the more old-school decor reminiscent of old Chinese restaurants in the 70s, mirrored ceiling making the space bigger than it actually is, and the playlist filled with Cantonese and English oldies (and played at a lower volume). 

The menu and cooking style went through quite a change as well, moving slightly away from dishes that are more catered to out-of-towners to something more classic, possibly as a result of change of chef or a change of clientele (or both). I never tried Chef ArChan's cooking before - though she has never worked in a "bona fide" Chinese restaurant setting before while in Singapore or Australia where she spent the past decade or so, she does have a cookbook on Hong Kong local cuisine under her belt. 

All the dishes were served family style. The salt and pepper tofu was sprinkled with fried garlic and chili powder for the extra kick; the small but delicious venus clams were marinated in chiuchow style (with vinegar and fish sauce) and steamed with minced garlic on top and garnished with chilies and coriander when served. I love the neat presentation and complex flavor. 

The char-siu was done on the sweet side, with a generous basting of honey glaze while roasting on charcoal fire, but my favorite was the charred bit of the kurubuta pork shoulder with the distinct smoky hint. The double-boiled chicken soup was always comforting, and this one was the classic version prepared with old chicken, Jinhua ham and dried scallops. 

We were served a couple of seafood dishes using ingredients from the local market. Razor clams came in good size with the nice bouncy texture, and they were steamed with a mix of raw and fried garlic and glass noodles on top. I could live with a lighter soy sauce flavor but it's enjoyable nonetheless. And on the other hand, I think the steamed threadfin could do with a stronger marinate - the chicken oil and shaoxing wine flavor seems a bit tamed. 

The crispy chicken was definitely the winner this time, with the "three yellow chicken" (a common local chicken breed known for its fattiness) was deep-fried with basting of soy sauce and oil giving it a bronze-colored crispy skin. So perfectly done that I could go without the sand ginger and spring onion oil served on the side. I did save some of those spring onion oil for our noodle course later on - so they won't go wasted. 

"Siu Chow Wong"(小炒王), which literally meant "King of Stir-fry", is essentially the "house stir-fry" making use of an assortment of common ingredients. Here garlic sprouts, yellow chives, chilies, peanut sprout, cuttlefish, crispy anchovy and sun-dried prawns were used and it's flavorful with nice texture. So were the other savory dishes served towards the end of our meal including the stir-fried rice flour rolls (cheung fun) with XO sauce and mapo tofu using plant-based mince.

Desserts were a combination of local street style dish (French Toast with Syrup and Condensed Milk) and something more contemporary (sheep's milk yoghurt with dragon-fruit granita and pomelo) I thought the latter was more interesting - I especially like the creamy and soft yogurt. And I do miss cracking open the fortune cookies served at the end of our meal. 

When? December 22 2021
Where? Ho Lee Fook, 3-5 Elgin Street, SoHo, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Crispy Three Yellow Chicken, Sand Ginger, Spring Onion Sauce

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