Guangdong

Where:
Happy Paradise
UG/F 52-56 Staunton Street (Entrance on Aberdeen Street)
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2816 2118 (but predictably, NO FUCKING RESERVATIONS)

Price:
We got out at HKD650ish per person, including two drinks each.  The receipt claims that all service charge/tips goes directly to the staff which I give a resounding FUCK YEAH.

The deal:
May Chow’s latest restaurant, with John Javier as Executive Chef, occupies the space where the old Butchers Club Steak Frites (RIP) joint used to be, above Stanzione Novella.  Whoever would have thought that charging too much cash for steak frites when every second restaurant opening in 2015 was a steak frites place would not have the staying power to limp through the battlefield of fad hungry HK consumers and nefarious HK landlords, driven wild by the desire of always getting more?

Snippy obvious observations aside, Happy Paradise is stylistic as fuck though and you can read any number of reviews of Happy Paradise and tick off the following phrases like a restaurant review bingo board – “neo-Cantonese”, “neon filled dive bar”, “80s inspired”, “modern cha chaan teng” and “cantopop soundtrack”.  For me, it reminds me of a glossier version of the old Forever Lounge in Tai Hang (before they renovated themselves only slightly to take some of the edges out), shiny purple and pink neon but without the buckets of Blue Girl, slightly sticky worn out furnishings and the heavy, weary acceptance written across the faces of tobacco soaked older men.

Our waiter is immediately onto us all Misty Copeland style (ie. ON POINT) and setting us straight on how to order our drinks and food. The drinks menu is split into two pages, one named “easy” and the other “adventurous”.  No, it’s not just how I like my eggs paramours but Happy Paradise’s code for drinks that are best before dinner (“easy”) and ones after food (“adventurous”).  I get the “Pink Flamingo” (HKD118 +10% service charge), Jamaican rum, passionfruit, Campari and lime, which shows a fuck yeah balance between sweet, bitter and acid.  Keeping with the pink theme, I sneak a sip of my homie’s “Swoon Lee” (HKD108 +10% service charge), white rum and watermelon with a salted black lime rim, reminding me of the salty lemon lemonades I used to suck down in the cha chaan tengs.

Our first dish, is the Scallops “rice roll” (HKD110 +10% service charge) is the one dish that almost every single person who goes to Happy Paradise will tell you to order.  It’s a take on “cheung fan” (ie. rolled rice flour noodles) except pureed scallops are made into flat sheets which are steamed and then rolled.  Served with soy sauce and chilli oil, there’s only four tiny pieces. A flicker of concern dances across my psyche given that one of the concerns I had with Happy Paradise was spending all my money on stylish but tiny ass food for ants.  I guess my old fears die hard, especially given that May Chow is also behind Little Bao (yes I know, the clue is in the first half of the name).  Regardless, it is fucking delicious and an innovative take on this traditional Cantonese dish and reminds me of the upside down interpretations like the fucking amazing Mapo Tofu Burrata that you also get at May Chow’s other restaurant, Second Draft.

I was seriously jonesing for the cuttlefish toast, because it reminds me of my nostalgic Strayan childhood with bastardised versions of Chinese food like prawn toast.  But I also balk at paying HKD58 (+10% service charge) per person for tiny bits of deep fried bread.  I obviously don’t balk hard enough because I ordered it anyway and it’s fucking great.  Of course, how hard is it to fuck up deep frying things on white bread? Regardless, it’s a good combo with the sweetness of the cuttlefish brought out by the accompanying sweet corn puree and rounded out by the black garlic puree.  HKD58+ enjoyable for a few bites?  I’m not entirely convinced and make another entry into my ever increasing autobiographical tome, “The Carbs Made Me Do It“.

One of the specials when we were there was a cold steamed egg (HKD88 +10% service charge), which sounds fairly unremarkable.  But fuck, this was one of the most incredible dishes we had that night.  This steamed egg was the smoothest, silkiest thing that I’ve eaten in recent memory.  I don’t know how the fuck they got this egg into this wondrous state of being but one bite in and my heart is filled with the snaking guitar licks of Santana and before I know it, Rob Thomas is imploring me to “Give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it”.  YES, IT’S THAT FUCKING SMOOTH:

robthomassmooth

Topped with ginger, scallions and yuzu, there’s this green shoot on top which I can’t quite place.  I ask our waiter homie what is up with this slightly crunchy, not quite gelatinous vegetable and he tells me it’s ice plant that they’ve, quote, done some “special stuff” to.  Upon some research, I’ve since discovered it’s also known as kudzu and has the tendency to become an invasive species, choking ou the habitat of native vegetation.  Well, invade my heart Mr Ice Plant Man because I am most def into the way your unique, slightly stiff though yielding cellular structure is doing its thing against the smoothest, egg custard ever and is topped with the slightly sweet and vinegary dressing.

iceplantbaby

We were pre-warned that the Tea Smoked Pigeon (HKD178 +10% service charge) comes out medium-rare.  Happy Paradise are not kidding and it comes out closer to rare.  I am ok with this though and I thoroughly enjoy every meaty, just cooked bite of this sky rat, with the follow through of the smokey tea.  I also like that Happy Paradise serve the whole bird up, its head attached traditional Chinese style and its scrawny limbs all askew.  Perhaps don’t order this if you have squeamish homies.  Or maybe a better alternative, find yourself better homies.

tracy-wanttobemyfriend

The Yellow Wine Chicken (HKD328 +10% service charge) is the most expensive dish of the night.   It’s a fuck yeah, the slow cooked chicken served with a broth made from glutinous rice wine, Shaoxing, and mushrooms, topped with chrysanthemum petals and crispy puffed black and Japanese rice.  A chicken claw is perched just on the edge of the bowl, like it’s trying to make some bold but ultimately futile escape from its Shaoxing infused fuck yeah fate.

To close it out, we finish with the Char Siu Rice (HKD158 + 10% service charge).  It’s inevitable that everyone will compare this to their local char siu joint and how their local haunt is soooo much cheaper.  Happy Paradise’s char siu is leaner than what you’d traditionally find at your local BBQ shop and served on top of a deconstructed egg, the yolk forming the sauce and a egg white patty.  There’s a side plate of the locally produced, sweet Kowloon Soy Company soy sauce and an earthen pot shaped like a pig, which holds liquid lard for you to mix into your rice.  In combination with the rice, soy, egg and lard, it’s obvious that this magical equation is gonna come out at as a celestial FUCK YEAH. Live lard, play hard because for the sake of my heart’s health, I’m glad that lard isn’t served this way with everything I eat but for the sake of my heart’s happiness, I sure wish it was.

naomicrying

I reflect upon this meal as the pulsating synth of Madonna’s 80s pop-new wave classic “Into the Groove” shimmies across the Happy Paradise landscape, it’s here I realise that for me, I’m into a place like Happy Paradise.  Why?  Because it’s a place which acknowledges where it comes from in both a time and place while dragging it unabashedly into a decade that’s sitting closer to 2020.  I think of how fucking bold it is to put yourself in whatever form that may be out there and not give a fuck what other people might think and in the candy tinged lighting and formica tabletops, Madonna closes out our night by singing about only feeling this free when she’s dancing.  In some sort of dramatic as fuck corollary, I can’t help but think that perhaps when you’re running your own kitchen and doing something that runs right down the vein of what you are as a chef, this must be your own version of throwing your head back and unapologetically dancing free.  And I’m so fucking into that.

Verdict:
I’m not convinced this is gonna be a hit for everyone but for someone who wants to see what a stylistic, new interpretation of HK food could be without resorting to smothering shu mai in truffles and gold flakes, it’s a resounding fuck yeah.

Where:
Mott 32
4-4a Des Voeux Rd
Basement of the Standard Chartered Bldg,
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2885 8688

Price:
Almost HKD500 a person.

The deal:
I finally got my ass in gear and went down to Mott 32.  I’ve heard the hype for goddamn months. “OHHHH, it’s just stunning! ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN! O M G the Peking duck is just to die for!  Of course, you MUST try the char siu!  They’ve used MOUNTAIN HONEY with IBERICO PORK!  That’s where you get Spanish pigs and only allow them to sup on fucking acorns.  I mean, how oh-so-oh-so-oh-so-oh-so sumptuously luxurious!”

The crowds are right that Mott 32’s interiors are all fucking class.  Artificial skylights (cause you’re in a fucking basement), wrought metal, rope, chains, painted facades, mirrors upon mirrors and large globular lights, all contribute to that modern, cool as fuck feel with a healthy dose of “Yeah, check my references to OLD ASIA, mate” such as Chinese medicine cabinets, mahjong rooms, Hong Kong fishing villages and street art renditions of old Hong Kong film stars.  Fuck yeahhhh, historical architectural design references taken from the authentic Orient of yesteryear – MOTT HAZ DEM.

So it’s well known that Mott 32 is charging fuck tonnes for Chinese (predominantly Cantonese influenced) food.  I fucking get it though – those acorn eating pigs from Spain can’t be fucking cheap.  After waiting almost a bit too long, our sixteen cubes of siu yuk / roast pork arrives.  It’s a fuck yeah, but I wouldn’t say it was the best siu yuk of my life.  It’s also a large HKD210 a serve. The assortment of dim sum that we got were also a fuck yeah.  I didn’t push the boat out to obnoxious luxury yum cha town when dim sum are amped up by adding ridiculously unnecessary ingredients like caviar, quails eggs, truffles or bird’s nest.   But if each individual piece of dim sum costs approximately HKD15-20ish EACH, it’s not a fucking unreasonable expectation that of course the quality of the ingredients should be better and therefore of a higher quality than the local joint down the road charging one-third of Mott 32’s prices.

It was after the dim sum order that the wheels started to rapidly come off the Mott 32 service.  While the initial greetings were slick and friendly, the interest level from the waiters was dropping off exponentially.  If you want to bill yourself as this fucking exxy top notch Cantonese dining experience, your waiters should be all over their service shiz.  Why did getting the attention of any staff seem to be such a fucking ordeal?  Why was no one all over making sure my teapot was full of boiling water?  How come no one ever offered to change my plates periodically?  I was reminded bitterly of this callous error when I was snacking down on some decidedly average fried rice which caught a bit of mustard left over from the siu yuk / roast pork that I’d had earlier. If lunch costs over HKD400+ a person, shouldn’t it be part of the service that a waiter will check every now and again whether you want anything or if shit’s going ok?!

While I’m talking fried rice – memo to Mott 32, just cause you top your fried rice with some fish roe caviar this is not a free pass to fuck yeah, next level fried rice cause your shit was bland as fuckkk.  But in a FYN Exclusive, I did manage to secure a copy of Mott 32’s staff briefing for lunch service:

not-give-a-fuck-list

I didn’t get the much raved about char siu cause my homie, Mr Judgmental, had already ranted against how average he’d found it. To be fair, he’d also ranted about the Peking Duck too but I wanted to try shit out for myself.  Just so you homies know, you have to pre-order the Peking Duck because Mott 32 only has limited numbers of ducks per day.  There’s a fuck tonne of culinary wank off regarding Mott 32’s Peking Duck.  Blah blah apple wood roasted blah blah custom oven blah blah custom drying fridge blah fucking blah dry the goddamn duck for 48 hours.  But I fucking love Peking Duck and I love judging the results of an over the top culinary wank session, so shit hot damn my body and judgment glands were more than fucking ready for dem roasted anatidae times.

So after the whole ceremony of wheeling the roasted duck in and slicing it at the table, our chef splits it into three plates – one of just skin, one of meat and one of a combination of meat and skin.  Mott 32’s duck skin was crispy but it was just so fucking greasy. The skin felt like it had been deep fried, taking on this weird-ass puffy, scratching like texture. Let’s be real, I really don’t give a fuck if you’ve air dried your duck for 48 hours by employing a harem of long haired snowy skinned virgins to fan it with a bunch of iridescent peacock feathers and then smoked it with apple wood sourced from the pristine Tien Shan mountain ranges of Kazakhstan if your duck skin is a fuck no greasy mess.

The Mott 32 Duck Atrocities continued with the actual duck meat being so fucking bland and completely unremarkable in every aspect.  Mott 32 weren’t content to just fuck up their duck and the pancakes were fucking abysmal – cracked in parts (despite not having left the steamer) and when wrapped with the duck, the texture was too tough meaning there was no ‘bite through’ sensation. To ensure more fuck no times, there was even disappointment with how they sliced their goddamn cucumbers.  Sure, it might seem small but when I’m paying big bank for a meal, I expect shit to be super tight – so when we get a plate of cucumber sticks and the bottom layer is still ONE FUCKING HUNK of cuke, I’m giving Mott 32 the major side eye.  Not that any waiters saw me because they were too fucking busy not being busy in the business of noticing their customers.  In the final in$ult, Mott 32 gives you barely any fucking pancakes to eat with your super greasy duck skin so you’ll have to order more pancakes for HKD60.  This is when you’ve already shelled out HKD580 for the duck itself!! Beyond fucking outrageous.

I also feel that shouldn’t a HKD580 Peking Duck come with a second course!?  Just boil that carcass up and give me some soup if you’re being that much of a fucking tight ass.  Or throw it in some fried rice or noodles  Just fucking do something you money grabbing assholes to take away the memory of the heinously disappointing duck pancake course you just served me.

So if you’re into fuck yeah interiors, overpriced fuck yeah yum cha, disinterested staff providing super sub-par nonchalant service, generally bland food which have been razzed up with caviar and really fucking disappointing Peking Duck, you should definitely be recommending Mott 32 as an awesome, fine dining Chinese experience to all your homies.  Like srs guise, I cannot fathom how so many people have told me that this shit was impressive (except for the bloggers who dined there ‘by invitation’, yeah I know why you fuckers loved it).  Let’s just chalk this super exxy hypebeast down to:

whiteopinions

Verdict:
FUCK NOOOOO, especially to that super disappointing greasy fucker of a Peking Duck.  Shit might look cool as fuck but just remember homies, you can’t fucking eat a Joyce Wang architectural design or street art renditions of Oriental chanteuses. 

Where:
Dim Sum Square
No. 27 Hillier Street (Walk there via Jervois Street though)
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
(蘇杭街舊店對面 opposite to the old shop at 88 Jervois Street)

Phone:
+852 2851 8088 (lol, it’s not a booking place though)

Price:
It’s fucking cheap – I ordered shit tins and it was HKD100 a person.

The deal:
Everyone can be such a know-it-all asshole in Hong Kong when it comes to recommending a yum cha place. You can either go for that balls to the wall high end dim sum experience or it’s going to some local place where the service is brusque but the food should be on track for fuck yeah awesome times.  Locals will hesitate to recommend somewhere to expats outside of Maxim’s City Hall, thinking that the places they go to are “too local” and an expat will spontaneously burst into flames if they were somewhere that didn’t have a tablecloth and it’s full of grumpy fuckers who don’t give a fuck if you’re asking for chilli sauce or an extra pair of chopsticks.  Can’t blame them, some expats probably would.

Dim Sum Square is pretty consistently reviewed by any expat who lives in Sheung Wan (“Oh my god guys, Sheung Wan – it’s like the best of old meets new in Hong Kong.  And there’s just cool little coffee shops but still old Chinese guys selling dried seafood.  Best ever!”) , bloggers, newspapers and Guides to HK.  Shit’s going all right for the homies at Dim Sum Square, they’ve moved across the road from their original tiny storefront to a much bigger place across the road.  Business is good yo – the place is jammed and there’s a line pretty much every time I walk by with a mix of largely local and some expat patrons.

Eating at Dim Sum Square is dirt cheap – most items range from HKD16 – 24 per plate.  But I just didn’t think the quality was that good.  Everyone goes how fresh it is because it’s all steamed to order (by an old lady out the back! How authentic!) but I just wasn’t that fucking impressed.  The prawn in the har gao / prawn dumpling felt undersized and not connected.  The HK favourite of the pineapple bun style char siu bao had its balance off between the sweet topping – the crust was just tooo fucking sweet.  The lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice didn’t have enough pork or filling in it (yeah, it was only HKD24 but fuck, just charge me a bit more and stuff it properly, buy some goddamn chestnuts and some Chinese sausage ok?).  The skin on the xiao long bao soup dumplings was too fucking thick.  Oh, and they don’t sell beer either which I have to take some FYN points off for – fuck no to not having the option of a beer with your siu mai.

A consistent problem I find with dim sum recommendations in Hong Kong is that a lot of people get really fucking overexcited by cheap dim sum that they seem to lose all grip on whether the food is actually good or not.  Something about not paying a lot lets people feel like they’re really getting down and local, and therefore, shit must be good. I mean, it’s fucking good enough for the Michelin Star peeps who roll into Tim Ho Wan, pay almost nothing for some char siu bao and they slap themselves on the back for really fucking getting amongst it and then slap a star on it.  I think Dim Sum Square falls under this category because some of it was ok and none of it was terrible, but just because an old lady makes it and shit’s cheap, doesn’t mean that it’s that good or authentic.

Verdict:
Fuck no, because this is Hong Kong, so why settle for just average dim sum, FFS just charge me a bit more and get your fillings goddamn right.  But hey ho, if you’re completely price driven, this will be a fuck yeah for you.

Where:
Pang’s Kitchen
25 Yik Yam St
Happy Valley, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2838 5462

Price:
HKD270 each, including corkage (HKD100 per…it wasn’t by bottle or person, but they charged us x5 corkage.  We had more than 5 people and bottles, so don’t ask me how this was calculated)

The deal:
I’ve ranted about this before that it seems pretty arbitrary and easy to get a Michelin Star in HK. I really fucking wonder what the fuck goes on with the HK Michelin star system.  Whether a bunch of TOP SECRET JUDGES get together for a drink and after slamming back a stack of B-52s and Cowboys, they say to each other:

Do you know what would be really edgy and controversial?  If we found some cheap, local restaurants in HK in random locations and declared them as ONE STAR RESTAURANTS.  Let’s totally give that pineapple char siu bao place in Sham Shui Po one star and then the NY Times and every wannabe food writer with a shitty blog can write copy about the CHEAPEST MICHELIN STAR RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.  Think about how fucking cool that’s gonna be when Anthony Bourdain is sitting in some dive restaurant filming that fucking segment for No Reservations!

Fuck, while we’re here what about a random restaurant in Happy Valley?  Then when we get done with that shit, we can go down the road to that fancy as fuck French restaurant and take a star off them because they brought out a mother of pearl fork to eat my GODDAMN POTATO COURSE.  I mean, it’s gonna be a fucking gas!!!

Then Dynamite by Taio Cruz comes on, the lights flash and the judges shout at each other “I FUCKING LOVE THIS SONGGGG” and sing at each other, complete with actions “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, saying ONE STAR, Hong Kong let’s gooooooo”, before grinding the shit out of the nearest judge and calling it a night.

In a FYN first, on a serious note – read Anthony Fletcher’s piece on Michelin Stars in HK for less swearing, less butchered Taio Cruz lyrics and more cogent thoughts around Michelin Stars in HK.

Pang’s Kitchen is a pretty local, utilitarian, small, 20 seat restaurant in Happy Valley, pumping out Cantonese fare.  They also happen to have one Michelin star, so if you google anything about Pang’s Kitchen it’s all these people going “Yes! This little local restaurant is the proud owner of ONE MICHELIN STAR”.  Enough about fucking Michelin Stars, because putting the star to one side – Pang’s Kitchen was great but is it really a stand-out against all the other good Cantonese restaurants in HK?  It’s getting doubtful.

I tell you what I have no doubt about though – dat crispy garlic chicken.  We ordered two.  I am forever grateful for having friends that have no hesitation on doubling down on FUCK YEAH dishes (or alternatively, having friends who don’t stop me from doubling down on FUCK YEAH dishes).  I’m not normally down with meat/fruit but the pineapple pork ribs were a fuck yeah and not the minging, fruity savoury disaster fruit+meat normally is.  I’ll give a fuck no to their fried squid though – but that was the only bum note in what we ordered.  Good thing I wasn’t a TOP SECRET MICHELIN JUDGE, might have had to take away a star for that underwhelming, poorly battered piece of kraken.  Carbtown was good too – fried rice, fried noodles, all the normal Cantonese carb kings.

I note that I didn’t get to eat the salted egg prawns because the waiter took a look at our gwai lo table and told me that it has shells and it wasn’t going to work.  I tried telling him I don’t care about the shells but he was resolutely of the opinion that white folk needed shelled prawns with cashews.  Maybe this is where Pang’s earns their star – preventing a gwai lo shelling disaster, ensuring that no prawns are left on the table because they’re just too fucking hard to peel is the equivalent of having a killer French head waiter who spots an errant napkin on the floor from across the room, swooping it away before the diners realise.  I don’t know, but I do know that I drowned my salty egg prawnless existence with three crispy garlic chicken wings that the white folk determined too difficult to eat.  WINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS MOTHERFUCKERS.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah – but don’t buy into that bullshit HK Michelin One Star joke.  Just go back cause you wanna annihilate a crispy garlic chicken.  Or two.

Where:
Yung Kee
32 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2522 1624

Price range:
Got out of here HKD300 each, including drinks

The deal:
Yung Kee is one of those places that won a bunch of awards in the 1960s and is famous for its roast goose and makes its living trading on that.  As one of the people I was with pointed out, ‘Fuck, the Internet wasn’t even invented yet’.  Whenever you mention Yung Kee, someone goes ‘Ooohhhhh THE ROAST GOOSE’.  I’m learning Cantonese and there’s a key phrase called ‘mah mah dei’ which means something is just ok.  Except it’s not really just ok – to say it properly, you also have to pull a face like you’ve just smelled shit and then wiggle your hand in a dismissive fashion which suggests everything was quite far from ok.  That’s how you do the full ‘mah mah dei’ face.  I think this is the perfect explanation for Yung Kee – quick, do the I just smelled a turd face.  Tthe roast goose is good, the crispy chicken is good – but is it any better than other roast meat houses in HK?  The rest of the food is pretty average – salty, oily stir fried meat with capsicum/peppers in various reiterations.  Service was abysmal – despite numerous requests for tea / drinks, the waitstaff just couldn’t fucking get it together.  There’s nothing offensively bad about Yung Kee but I think when you’re in HK, you should be getting some of the best fucking Guangdong food in the world.  Gwai los and tourists will probably continue to enjoy it.  Pro tip – when you go with gwai los and eat roast goose, they will all want to nom down on the breast meat leaving the far more attractive and tastier legs / thighs / bits with bones for you.  Hey round eyes – keep your dry ass breast meat, I’m all aboard the flavour train to dark meat town and you’re not invited.  You know what I give being able to eat both leg pieces – fuck yeahhhhhh.

Verdict:
Fuck no.

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