Ho Lee Fook review date December 13, 2014
Total score: 8/10
On the southern edge of Soho by Hollywood Road, Ho Lee Fook (‘good fortune for your mouth’ ) has been packing in the punters since opening in July. Off the back of last night’s dinner, I now understand why.
Jowlett Yu is the man behind the stove. Born in Taiwan, raised in Canada and then Sydney, he worked at the legendary Tetsuya’s before launching Ms G’s Asian and Mr Wong to critical acclaim, including the 2013 best new restaurant award from Gourmet Traveller Magazine. He’s also the author of one of the best and funniest tweets you’ll ever read: https://twitter.com/thejowski/status/285624786669940738
So yes it’s almost Christmas and people are going for it more than usual, yes it’s Saturday night and yes Mario Batali happens to stop by for dinner. But even if you take all this away, once again The Black Sheep restaurant group has managed to deliver atmosphere like nowhere else in Hong Kong. (I said the same at Carbone here)
The music helps, from The Stranglers to The Violent Femmes, J J Cale to The Who. There are two helpings of Sympathy for the Devil. The setting helps too, past the street-facing kitchen covered in mahjong tiles and down the stairs. The bar is an OCD dream with identical glasses in a flawless row before eyes are drawn to the walls and comic book illustrations by Jonathan Jay Lee of Graham Street market, dai pai dongs and other Hong Kong street scenes:
Elsewhere red and green abounds with festive timing, while the central table seats look like those in many Chinese restaurants, i.e. black plastic and not hugely comfortable. But people are clearly enjoying themselves – and most of all, the food. The no-nonsense two page menu is divided into snacks, raw, veggies, roast meats, ‘not a small plate’ and desserts. It’s one of those very rare occasions where a Hong Kong menu reads well and everything jumps out at you to be ordered.
Dumplings are generously-proportioned saddlebags stuffed with cabbage and pork, paddling in a heady pool of chilli, soy, coriander and vinegar. (8/10)
Not revolutionary, not reconstructed, just really good. Brussel sprouts and cauliflower together are the stuff of nightmares and basis of a legion of Viz gags, but here fried off and served with a knockout maple and bacon sauce they are taken to another level. (7.5/10)
In my haste I overestimate my meat capacity and underestimate their portion sizes so order both the char siu pork starter and the wagyu rib main. On ordering the char siu, the consistently-excellent waiting staff asked if I wanted fat, lean or a bit of both. That doesn’t happen very often. It ticks all the boxes you’d hope and then some. I can’t recall a better version while in Hong Kong. (8/10)
As for the wagyu short rib, words almost fail me. An enormous bone straight from Bedrock, leaner and symmetrically sliced on one side, crispier, fattier and more intense on the other. The glorious ensemble is lifted by a green shallot kimchi, a soy glaze and a gentle but intoxicating jalapeño smear. Pleased to meat you indeed. (8.5/10)
Having had a number of dinners recently where a 6 inch Subway would not have gone amiss at the end, it was so refreshing to get genuine value for money and take enough home for a glorious meat-packed Sunday.
A quick foray into their three-item dessert menu was called for, one third of which meant ‘Breakfast 2.0’, namely Horlicks ice cream, cornflake Honeyjoy, oats, cocoa coffee crumb and dried longans (like a lychee). It was a fun idea, decently executed, good if not great. (7.5/10)
The Matcha cake with chocolate ganache, liquid hazelnut praline and strawberries was the second. One element was a bit gritty, while the ‘toasted milk’ didn’t really work, but neither detracted particularly from another inventive and well-rounded plate. (7.5/10)
What didn’t work at Ho Lee Fook? Frankly, very little. A vegetarian main course and some pork free cabbage dumplings would help. But this aside, what I liked almost as much as the food was the professionalism of the place. Behind an easygoing exterior lies a very well-oiled machine where everybody clearly knows their role, turning tables swiftly and smoothly or timing service to accommodate different diners at a table. It’s a small but crucial point and one which, as much as the food, will ensure they keeps packing in those punters for a long time to come. (8/10 for experience)
Along with one ‘sour’ and ‘julep’ cocktail and two glasses of red, dinner came to $1650, a steal for the quality, amount of food, not to mention the atmosphere. I didn’t pay for dinner however as the management took care of it, to my genuine surprise, after I’d asked to book an elusive Saturday night table through a PR contact.