Vegetarian

Where:
Mak Mak (FB Page)
Shop 217A, 2/F, Atrium, The Landmark
15 Queen’s Road Central
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2983 1003

Price:
HKD430 per person including wine.

The deal:
Mak Mak is another Yenn Wong JIA Group restaurant which seem to be opening a restaurant in HK at least every two months, adding Mak Mak to its substantial stable of HK restaurants including 208 Duecento Otto, Chahchawan, 22 Ships and Fish School.  Mak Mak is on the second floor of the Landmark shopping mall, occupying the space where the Pringles of Scotland store was, which never had anyone ever fucking in it.  To keep shit interesting and I guess give it a talking point, Mak Mak have installed a SECRET DOOR which looks like a shelf containing condiments.   Omg guys, just fucking love when I’m going to a secret retaurant.  So much so that I’m thinking of opening my own new restaurant concept called “THE OPEN DOOR” which is going to have THREE secret doors disguised as a graffiti mural, an ATM and a dried seafood shop (the door lever will be a shark’s fin) and I’m going to serve all my curated food on secret doors and my curated cocktails in hollowed out secret door knobs. You better fucking believe it that when it’s time to leave you will need to navigate at least FIVE secret doors before you’re back outside. Fuck yeahhhhhh, clandestine door noms.

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Tired door related gimmicks aside, Mak Mak’s interior is predictably cool from the retro Thai posters, the cabinets of Thai sauces and ingredients, the hot pink neon OK sign and the stripped back concrete, lush green pot plants and sea-green glass.  We visited Mak Mak shortly after they opened and despite this, their staff were totally on their shit.  Fuck yeahhhh, restaurants which hit the ground running when they open.  Our smiling waiter efficiently took our order and when I pressed him for recommendations, he cheerfully reeled off what the most popular dishes were (ie. the beef curry) before I told him to cut the bullshit and give me what his favourite dishes were (ie. the Massaman Lamb Curry), which he knowledgeably spoke about.

As Mak Mak’s sister restaurant, Chachawan, is pumping out Issan Thai food this means that Mak Mak’s menu is green lit all the way to pick up the Thai food related slack by containing all the bog-standard Thai hits that we have come to expect such as green curries, red curries, green papaya salads, pad thai and stir fries.  I can’t begin to imagine how many fucking times punters must have asked the Chachawan waiter homies whether they can get a pad thai or a green curry.  There are a few plays on the classics in Mak Mak’s menu but I can’t deal with any of that originality and kick shit off with a dependable serve of the Pandan Chicken (HKD98 +10%) which is a solid appetiser and doesn’t make me suffer through the indignity of fuck no deep fried, stringy breast meat.

I have a soft spot for pad thai and whenever I order Thai food, I always get the pad thai.  I take this as a life lesson from all the times when I’ve ordered Thai food and I think ‘Fuck, I always get the pad thai, perhaps I should order the suea rong hai or the mu phat phrik khing for something different” and then BOOM you’re staring down a plate of crying tiger beef which is fine but you know deep down that all you really fucking want is that sweet noodly goodness and that’s where you go “FUCK! SHOULDA GOT THE PAD THAI!“. In fact, I’ve named this specific feeling in my life “Shoulda got the pad thai” for when you always order the same fucking dish and then, in the interest of changing shit up, you decide to order something new, only so you can be wistfully pining for your ye old faithful favourite dish.

Mak Mak’s pad thai is not fucking cheap, weighing in at HKD128 (+ 10% service charge). It’s served attractively with decent sized prawns, scattered with peanuts, bean sprouts, lime and coriander and an obligatory square of banana leaf.  The pad thai is serviceable enough, lacking a bit in the fuck yeah stir fried ‘wok hei’ taste of the wok feelings, but perhaps it’s because Mak Mak is so brand new and their woks haven’t had enough time in service yet or maybe the heat wasn’t strong enough.  But that’s only a small issue because fuck, my biggest criticism about Mak Mak’s pad thai was the total lack of actual pad thai because it’s fucking tiny.  Maybe I’m just a size queen, because at HKD128 I expect more than an appetiser sized serve of noodles which would work for maybe one to two people.

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Taking our waiter homie’s advice on board, we ordered the Massaman Lamb Curry (HKD208 +10% service charge) and it’s one of the best dishes we had on the night. Mak Mak use a slow cooked lamb shank which is accompanied by roasted baby potatoes, crushed peanuts and fried shallots.  The coconut cream based sauce is a fuck yeah, spiced with cardamon and cinnamon and the fish sauce and sweet tamarind sauce providing dem salty and sweet contrasting feels.  Mak Mak have some sort of bullshit plain rice arrangement where you can either have HKD30 unlimited rice per person or HKD30 per bowl.  I don’t quite understand how Mak Mak enforce this rice pricing system – like, if you order the HKD30 unlimited rice option per person, do you get slugged with another HKD30 if they catch a non-designated primary rice consumer taking a spoonful out of the bowl?  Either way, we avoid this awkward rice situation by ordering the khao op nam liab (stir fried jasmine rice with chicken, garlic and salty black olive – HKD108 + 10% service charge) which is tasty enough but really finds its purpose when it’s paired with the lamb Massaman curry sauce.

We also order  the kheaw wan poo nim (green curry soft shell crab, HKD228 + 10%).  I wasn’t onboard with ordering this dish because soft shell crab is normally just an exercise in being charged more for an underwhelming mushy, fried, flavourless crustacean.  But in an effort to let my fellow dining homies enjoy some democratic feelings every now and again, I acquiesced and let Mr Vegetables fulfil his desire to try the green curry soft shell crab.  Once it arrived, it was a stark reminder of why the Democratic People’s Republic of FYN is the best autocratic eating regime where everything is sunny and there is less disappointment for all.  The fried soft shell crab is greasy and relatively neutral in taste, which isn’t the end of this dish as the green curry sauce is flavourful enough to carry it.  But fuck, why bother with greasy-a$$ soft-shell crab when it could have been interchanged with fried chunks of plain batter for much the same effect? UGH ORDERING DEMOCRACY, YOU TASTE LIKE FREEDOM, SADNESS AND DISAPPOINTMENT.

Mak Mak very valiantly have an extensive vegetarian menu.  My token effort to trying this is a serve of the larb tofu salad (HKD88 +10% service charge), where the chicken or pork mince is substituted with tofu cubes.  Despite the lack of meat this dish still keeps its shit together by punching out some well balanced fuck yeah Thai fresh flavours with the mint, chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and lemon grass.

As Mak Mak’s dishes are very modestly sized, if you have a group of four to six people you can try a decent selection of the menu.  We order a number of other dishes including the pla salmon (flash grilled salmon with a Thai dressing salad – HKD128 +10% service charge), red curry duck (HKD168 +10% service charge) and the whole steamed seabass (HKD268 +10% service charge) and each dish is absolutely down the line of fine but nothing that I’d say you definitely had to order.

For dessert there’s a few options and while it doesn’t push the envelope that much, we pile in for the mango and sticky rice and the Khanom Mak Mak trio (HKD98 and HKD118 respectively, +10% service charge).  The Khanom Mak Mak is glutinous rice cooked with sugar and coconut milk and then paired with three different toppings, wrapped up in banana leaves.  It’s all quite striking with the yellow mango set off against the green bamboo cones and the blue glutinous rice, which Mak Mak achieves through using dyeing their rice with pea flower.

FYN FUN FACT:  The butterfly pea / blue pea flower is used to dye food, in particular glutinous rice in Malay and Thai desserts.  The scientific name for the genus of the butterfly pea is Clitoria ternatea takes its name from “clitoris” because the flowers resemble the shape of human female genitals.  It’s a good thing I’m not a botanist because I totally would have suggested Cuntus ternatea but all of that aside, I see what they’re getting at:

Clitoria_ternatea_butterfly_pea_flower_at_Bhadrachalam_02

Sauce

Back on the Khanom Mak Mak, the mango topping is a reliable favourite and it’s the first to get smashed through at our table.  The other two toppings are one of fried shallots and a mixture of sun-dried fish and tiny prawns, giving it that savoury / salty mix with the fried shallots being slightly sweet, given the caramelisation of the sugar in the shallots during the frying process.  I’m into it, but if you’re not into that sweet, salty, fishy dessert combination than this dessert could be disastrous for you.

We flag down the bill and given the small dishes and how many we’d had to order, I was expecting a bill around HKD500-600 per person and was given a fuck yeah surprise of finishing up at HKD430 per person, including wine.  Our meal at Mak Mak would be best described as “very pleasant”, but there’s nothing here which grips me by my greedy as fuck heart and sees me imploring anyone I know who gives a fuck about food to put this on their list and get their ass down to Mak Mak pronto.  The very fact it’s taken me almost a month to write up this review is indicative of the lack of strong feelings this place elicits from me.  Mak Mak also suffers from the inevitable comparison to Chachawan and if you lined the two up and asked me to choose one, it’d be Chachawan every time which is just hitting it harder in the originality and flavour stakes.  Was it on Mak Mak’s vision board to be described as reliable, uncontroversial and achieving mass appeal?  Perhaps not, but I’m guessing there’s a spot for Mak Mak in HK as a convenient restaurant where everyone’s going to be happy enough at a fair price point.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah for mid-week casual dinners, dinner with the parents and early Tinder dates where you need an uncontroversial trendy enough venue that is producing solid food with fuck yeah service.  You’re probably not going to experience any life changing moments at Mak Mak but I don’t think that’s what they’re playing at either.

Where:
Hotel Saravana Bhavan
4F, Ashley Centre,
23-25 Ashley Road,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2736 1127 / +852 2736 1128 (no bookings though homies).  We went on a Monday and shit was pretty busy.  The crowd also looked pretty authentic if you get what I mean.

Price:
We got out at HKD250 a person and we ordered a SHIT TONNE of food.  If you’re not so fucking greedy, you might get out at HKD200 a person.

The deal:
Saravana Bhavan is a motherfucking huge vegetarian chain of restaurants with over 80 restaurants globally (with about half of those bad boys in India).  It’s like the McDonald’s of India – keep the food consistent and target overseas locations where there’s a high concentration of Indian homies.  You should read this New York Times article, “Masala Dosa to Die For” which outlines how their owner built his vegetarian empire, killed someone and is still commanding a fiercely loyal workforce.  Saravana Bhavan has recently just opened in HK and this news made its way to me via my Indian homies who had been closely monitoring the visa approval status of the chef.  Yo Indian homies, I’ve got the visa feels for you as I understand that every country in this world are pretty much massive assholes to you guys.

I gotta be real with you though, vegetarian food isn’t normally my jam, given my natural instinct to want to eat all the animals.  Shit normally goes down like this:

Some piously healthy homie who looks fucking radiant and calm as fuck:  Heyyyyy how about we go get a meal together sometime?  Oh I know this great vegetarian place.

Me:

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HOWEVER, I will make an exception for Indian food which I think is the one cuisine which nails the shit out of this vegetarian thing because it’s not just steamed veg and boring ass salads.  Maybe it’s the spices.  Maybe it’s the fact that everything is cooked in glorious ghee.  Or maybe it’s because they serve almost everything with fuck yeah raita, chutneys and sambars.  Regardless, despite the no meat times, I was fucking pumped to get my lacto-vegetarian dosa times on at Saravana Bhavan HK. My excitement levels rose further when my Indian homie who unsuccessfully tried to make the booking for us reported back that she could hear the waiters talking Tamil on the other side, in a fuck yeahhhh indication of South Indian authenticity.

Saravana Bhavan prides itself on its fucking extensive vegetarian menu and its HK branch has no less than TWELVE different sections and over ONE HUNDRED dishes on their menu. I was soon in a sensory overload and all I could commit to was that I wanted to eat all the South Indian things, vaguely muttering about idlis and dosas.  Luckily, I was surrounded by greedy fuckers so all my South Indian dreams soon came true.  Imma gonna dot point this shit because we tried so many fucking things:

  • Mini Ghee Sambar Idli:  Idlis are a white savoury cake like item made from fermented lentils and rice.  I FUCKING love idlis and I actually used to have an idli mould so I could make my own idlis at home.  Sad times though, cause in the move to HK (where most kitchens are the size of a small bathtub) this was one of the casualties in my kitchen cull.  Saravana Bhavan’s mini ones were perfectly slightly sour and were soaked in a lentil stew with ghee.  I ate these as a single tear rolled down my cheek as I was lost in a sentimental reverie, dreaming of the spacious kitchens of yesteryear which allowed for such kitchenware luxuries as a single purpose idli mould.
    FYN Verdict: FUCK YEAH!
  • Kaima idli:  I’ve never heard of or tried a ‘kaima’ idli before.  The dish consisted of deep fried mini idlis were served in a red, spicy sauce – simply billed as “regional spices” with raitha (cucumber and yoghurt) on the side.  The idlis almost took on a meat like texture and  whatever regional spices may be, this was a serious fuck yeah South Indian slam dunk.  Where have you been all my life Kaima Idli??
    FYN Verdict:  ERMAGERD, SO FUCKING GOOD WE ORDERED A SECOND SERVE.  FUCK YEAHHHHHHHH.
  • Devil potato: Tucked away on the last page under “Tongue Ticklers” is this potato dish which I think was essentially cubed potatoes deep fried in ghee and a mixture of red chillies and Indian spices.  How can deep frying your carbs in clarified butter ever be wrong??  This was my second favourite dish after the kaima idlies.
    FYN Verdict:  FUCK YEAHHHH, you need these spicy taters in your life.
  • Sambar vada:  Vadas are a South Indian breakfast food made from lentil flour and then deep fried.  Gotta love a country who classifies a deep fried doughnut item as a breakfast food.  Saravana Bhavana’s are righteous, heavy fuckers which are served with a lentil gravy with some fresh as fuck coriander mixed through it. YASSS.
    FYN Verdict: Fuck yeah, deep fried lentil doughnuts!
  • Chilli bajji:  The most disappointing dish of the night and the only one we didn’t totally demolish.  Green chillies were wrapped in a greasy, cloying batter. With a side of sadness.  So much fucking sadness.
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck no
  • Dosas: ERMAGERD DOSA TIMES. I can’t remember ever having a decent dosa in HK.  I was told that Woodlands does great ones but when I tried to go once, they said that I was too fucking late for dosas.  SAD TIMES.  For those that don’t know, a dosa is a thin crepe made from rice and lentil flour which is stuffed with a variety of ingredients.  We ordered the paper roast masala dosa (the mega dosa stuffed with potato bhaji) and the mysore dosa (red chilli chutney spread on the dosa).  I will criticise the potato bhaji filling – it could have been better spiced and less like mashed potatoes.  Not the most amazing dosa of my life but fuck me, I’ve missed dosas so much.  I’m all about that crispy crepe with the coconut chutney.
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck yeah, you bet your ass I’ll be back for more dosas.  NGL, I want to bathe myself in that fuck yeah coconut chutney.
  • Appam:  I don’t think I’ve ever had an appam in Hong Kong and this was one of the driving factors behind my desire to visit Saravana Bhavan.  An appam is a pancake made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk and this slightly sour, holey pancake is then dipped in various sambars and coconut chutneys.  GET INVOLVED HOMIES, SARAVANA BHAVAN’S APPAM GAME IS TIGHT.
    FYN Verdict:  My love! Appams! I’ve missed you.  Fuck yeah!
  • Idiaappam:  This is essentially a mass of rice noodles, also known as a string hopper.  You dip this into a variety of sambars and chutneys.  But why mess with this basic dipping bitch when you can be playing with King Dosa and Queen Appam?
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck no.
  • Palak paneer:  We ordered this because this spinach + cheese dish is always a predictable crowd pleaser.  This was despite my Indian homie disapproving of this move because we were in a South Indian restaurant.  Lessons in life – always listen to your Indian homies and if you order Northern specialties in a Southern restaurant you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment.
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck no.  Not terrible but not fucking amazing either.
  • Butter naan:  No garlic naan was available and while this wasn’t the best naan I’ve ever had it was passably ok.
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck nah(n).  OH SHIT SON, I WENT THERE.
  • Indian desserts:  We ordered the gulab juman (a deep fried milk powder dumpling soaked in sugar syrup) and rava kesari (semolina mixed with raisins, nuts, sugar syrup and ghee).  I’ve always had a theory that most Indian desserts originated as a series of practical jokes where some hilarious asshole mixed various ingredients such as carrots, raisins, milk powder, ghee and sugar syrup together and tested his friends to see if people would actually eat them without going into diabetic shock.  Saravana Bhavan’s desserts were slightly less sweet than a normal Indian dessert which simultaneously make your teeth fall out and your pancreas evacuate your body but I dunno, I just don’t think Indian sweets will ever be my jam.
    FYN Verdict:  Fuck yeah, if you’re into having the diabeetus, but honestly I’d just get a chai or coffee next time.
  • Madras Coffee: I rounded off my meal with this sweet, milky frothy coffee and it was a super fuck yeahhhhhh.
    FYN Verdict: Best Madras coffee that I’ve had in the Kong, so fuck yeah homies, get on that shit and risk the chance of not being able to go to goddamn sleep.

So while there were a few fuck no misses they were outnumbered by the solid fuck yeah moments at Saravana Bhavan (Kaima idli! Devil potatoes! Dosas! Appams!). It’s not gonna be the most motherfucking mind blowing Indian feed of your life but that’s not what the Saravana Bhavan homies are gunning for either.  Sometimes when you go out to eat, shit doesn’t always have to be the best ever, sometimes you just want it to be predictable and affordable.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhh to a no fuss, South Indian vegetarian option in the Kong. FUCK YEAH TO DOSAS, APPAMS, IDLIS AND VADAS.

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