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Hailing from Sydney, riding on the fame of his two popular award-winning restaurants Mr Wong and Ms G, chef Jowett Yu chose to open his first Chinese kitchen in Hong Kong in the middle of Soho. The cheeky name (clearly meant to be a homonym for a certain expletive) translates as ‘good fortune for your mouth’ in Chinese, and the restaurant is inspired by old school Hong Kong cha chaan tengs and the spirit of late-night Chinatown hangouts in 1960’s New York. Pull open the glass doors and a flight of stairs leads you down into the main dining area with dark tones and dim lighting (but note the overhead spotlights, cleverly placed to cater for Instagrammers), while rock tracks in the background adding further vibrancy to the atmosphere. In line with Yu’s Australian restaurants, the space is imbued with a funky ambience and full of playful details, as seen in, for example, the giant peacock mural that greets diners upon their entrance, or the wall lined with mahjong tiles outside the open kitchen, or the staff t-shirts with the Chinese words ‘What are you staring at?’. It’s no surprise then, to learn that this is mostly thanks to Douglas Young, the founder of local design brand G.O.D., who collaborated with the chef on the renovation and the name of the restaurant.
Ho Lee Fook has a compact menu neatly categorised into starter, raw, vegetables, roast meats, main courses and desserts printed out on a piece of green A4 paper. While we do understand that expatriates may be their major target patrons, we still think they should definitely include Chinese translations on the menu. (Ironically enough, Chinese characters are used throughout the restaurant, though only as embellishments, like the lattice screens with Chinese calligraphy.) Our waitress strongly recommended Hokkaido scallop with snow peas, pickled enoki and salmon roe. Every component is prepared well but we are unsure of including enoki in the dish, whose pickled flavour is not distinctive enough and the texture is rather inharmonious with the other ingredients. That being said, the sweet and refreshing dressing clearly does its magic and makes it a moreish dish. We found Yu particularly solid at down-to-earth Chinese traditional favourites with an interesting twist; for instance, his mom’s “mostly cabbage a little bit of pork” dumplings with sacha soy dressing. We are very satisfied with its thin wrappers and rich fillings. Within the delicately minced pork and perfectly crunchy cabbage lay some fattier and larger cubes of the meat, adding a satisfying dimension to the dish, and the sacha soy dressing, chilli and parsley further elevates and enriches its flavours. Taiwanese style lu rou (marinated pork) rice is another example of deftly executed classics. The marinated pork soya dressing is indulgently thick and came in a very generous portion instead of just sprinkled on top, so even the grains of rice at the bottom had absorbed its wonderful essence. However, despite the use of five-grain rice and the addition of pickled daikon, it may not be a perfect choice for the more health-conscious as our plates were glistening with the remnant oil after finishing the dish. Unfortunately the same problem also plagues our grilled pork belly with red cabbage salad, roasted chilli and almond salsa. The red cabbage salad is inundated in the oil and overwhelmingly salty, yet the grilled pork wins with its distinctive layers of fatty and lean parts. Dessert is not the draw here. Our matcha sponge cake with chocolate ganache, hazelnut praline and strawberries, lacks the airiness and the fluffiness a sponge cake should have and tastes excessively sugary to us, while the matcha flavour is conspicuous by its absence. But generally speaking, the dishes at Ho Lee Fook achieve high standards with their vibrant, bold and savoury flavours.
The wine list comprises of around twenty red and white from both old and new worlds, sorted according to flavours such as ‘light and aromatic’ and ‘crisp and refreshing’, and a few sake and sparkling available, with ten by the glass options. They also serve eight kinds of cocktails and three mocktails, and we are quite impressed with their Punch, which has just the right amount of alcohol to balance out the natural fruitiness.
Service is helpful and cheerful, though a bit perfunctory at times. Waiters are able to provide recommendations and details about their dishes upon inquiry. It is not hard to get the attention of the staff either. Some waiters are fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The restaurant currently does not take reservations for groups under six people.
A sumptuous six-course meal for two people with a cocktail each costs less than HK$900. Given the location, service and food quality, the price is truly a bargain and we look forward to visiting again to try out some other dishes.