Happy Paradise

Happy Paradise

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.

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