The first night that Michael & Will were in Hong Kong it seemed only right that we eat Chinese food. Having been to Ho Lee Fook before I could vouch for the restaurant’s modern take on Chinese food and lively atmosphere, inspired by old school Hong Kong cha chaan tengs and the spirit of late-night New York Chinatown hangouts in the 1960’s.
Despite the fact that there is sadly a no-reservations policy for small groups and you can expect to wait anywhere up to three hours for a table during peak times (don’t worry, there are plenty of bars nearby to
get silly drunk in while away the time in), service was unbelievable from start to finish. My phone was on silent when the restaurant called and I’m sure you can imagine my distress at seeing I had 6 missed calls and thinking we’d lost our table, but having chatted to the lovely Shannon on the door she knew that we would definitely be coming back and saved our table regardless (restoring faith in mankind since I’m encountering the “computer says no response” out here more than ever before).
Service only went from strength-to-strength with our waiters for the evening personable and friendly. They made excellent recommendations and brought our food out at well-spaced intervals. At one point I dropped my fork on the floor (bearing in mind it’s a very loud restaurant and our table was parked to the side) and out of nowhere a new one was presented to me, to the point it was almost spooky. They were on it with refilling drinks and clearly thought we were OK too as we were invited to the bar for a round of shots after our meal. So yes, the food at Ho Lee Fook is excellent, but what all three of us really couldn’t stop harping on about was the service, which nowadays I think is so rare and really sets it apart from the rest of the bunch.
OK, on to the FOOD (all prices in HKD $). The chef’s inventive approach to Chinese flavours is said to be “best enjoyed with an open mind and a strong appetite”, both of which were most definitely present around the table. We started our meal with the wagyu steak tartare, Yunnan style, hot & sour, herbs ($158), which was excellent. I like tartare’s to be served chunky-style and the strong flavours and kick of spice put a nice Asian twist on this classic French dish.
The shima aji, Tokyo negi, roast green shallot oil, pickled jalapeños ($168) was good but not stand-out for me. I love raw tuna but I found the fish to be strangely tough when it should be butter smooth, though the slight spice and citrus kick were well-suited fresh flavours for the fish. Mom’s “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork” dumplings, sacha soy dressing ($98) were, on the contrary, mouth-wateringly good. The dumplings were cooked to perfection and the tangy soy complemented the juicy pork beautifully.
In terms of meats, we shared the roast goose (lower quarter) ($228), kurobuta pork char-siu ($198) and roast Wagyu short ribs, jalapeño purée, green shallot kimchi, soy glaze ($458). Starting with the worst, despite being one of Ho Le Fook’s specialties, the roast goose was absolutely vile. It is rare that I am so harsh about good quality food but I honestly couldn’t even eat it (an even bigger rarity). Oddly the meat was served still on the bone and didn’t come off easily, so you essentially had to eat each slice like a rib, with smaller bones popping up unexpectedly in your mouth, and yet the meat you did gnaw off was tough and the skin incredibly fatty, and the sauce strangely sweet… I’ve definitely gone too hard but just recalling this dish is making my stomach turn.
ONWARDS & UPWARDS though, as the kurobuta pork char-siu was tender and lean with good smoky flavour and a sweet, shiny glaze.
Though the real star of our meal was the Wagyu short ribs, which were utterly sensational. The short rib was unusually lean (in a very enjoyable way), yet still had that desired melt-in-your-mouth quality, and the burnt ends juicy & cripsy, with the mild-spiced condiments entirely on point. Not a cheap dish but worth every penny.
For our daily dose of veggies we shared the fried cauliflower, brussels sprouts, maple bacon, chilli jam ($98) and stir-fried cabbage with caramelised onion jam, salted chilli, black vinegar ($88). I thought they were both very good, with the cauliflower dish the more memorable of the two, mostly because I think it’s quite difficult to make cauliflower taste delicious and also because the little nuggets of sweet-cured bacon were like hidden jewels for us eager carnivores.
A fun and hands-on (literally) dish is the: mix your own steamed rice, seaweed, toasted sesame, pork floss, sesame oil ($68), for which you’re given gloves to get stuck in and dirty. You’re basically advised to get squelching and, the more you squelch, the better the result. I must admit that squeezing hot rice is a weird and not the most pleasurable sensation, but it’s a fun “activity” to do together and the end result is yummy, nutty rice, so you can’t really go wrong.
We ended our meal with a couple of drinks, the boys choosing some rogue cocktails (which I’m quite glad I steered clear of) and me sticking to my guns with a good ol’ G&T.
We had a really enjoyable experience at Ho Lee Fook, the food is a solid 7 with some serious gems and a serious fail, on this occasion, but the majority of dishes, service and ambience makes it a place not to be missed!