Pop-up New York bar pairs cocktails with Hong Kong hot dogs from four top chefs
Please Don’t Tell brings its stars to Landmark Mandarin’s MO Bar, where chefs from Amber, Yardbird, Bo Innovation and Ho Lee Fook serve up their takes on the hot dog to accompany the drinks
It wasn’t too long ago that in Hong Kong, if you ordered a cocktail, you’d get a crudely made, overly sweet, fluorescent concoction served in martini glasses. Thankfully, times have changed. Hong Kong’s night owls have now come to expect cocktails that are made with expert care and high-quality ingredients, and not least, are served with inventive, delicious bar food.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental has been on the radar of cocktail fiends for a while: it launched the annual Masters of Mixology series in 2009, where renowned bartenders from around the world have been invited to present their creations at MO Bar for a several days at a time. Now it is upping the cocktail game further by turning part of the MO Bar into a pop-up of New York speakeasy PDT (Please Don’t Tell) until the end of January.
Behind the bar at the Hong Kong pop-up, dubbed PDT HK, are the New York bar’s top people and industry superstars – Jim Meehan, founder of the bar, Jeff Bell, general manager and World Class USA Bartender of the Year 2013, and bartender Nick Brown.
The bar in New York is in Crif Dogs, a famous hot dog stand in East Village, with its entrance hidden behind a telephone booth, but a couple of things differentiate it from a traditional speakeasy. One, although its entrance is obscured, it wasn’t consciously designed as an illicit drinking den (which is the definition of a classic speakeasy) but was the result of a licensing quirk, and two, it is possibly just as well known for its hot dogs as it is for its meticulously made beverages.
The Hong Kong pop-up playfully replicates these aspects of the original, including the telephone booth entrance and the hot dog menu. In New York, the bar’s hot dogs rose to fame when they began collaborating with some of New York’s most famous chefs, such as David Chang of the Momofuku group of restaurants, Wylie Dufresne of the now-closed WD~50, and Alex Stupak of the Empellón restaurants, who all, in true community spirit, have restaurants in the East Village. It started with the bar buying kimchi from Momofuku and asking to name the hot dog after Chang; soon, other chefs started inquiring about having their own hot dog creations on the menu.
“Hot dogs are a great pairing with cocktails because no one expects the food to steal the show at the bar,” says Meehan.
For PDT HK, local chefs have come together to design a number of hot dogs as well, with proceeds going to local food charity Feeding Hong Kong. One of the dogs, The Frenchie, was designed by Richard Ekkebus, culinary director and executive chef of Amber at Mandarin Oriental.
The hot dog consists of a deep-fried jumbo chicken dog with onions, smoked bacon, melted Ossau-Iraty sheep’s milk cheese and black winter truffles. “The truffle [creates] the opulence, but I liked the idea of integrating such an ingredient in a typical American street food,” Ekkebus says.
Other chefs involved are Matt Abergel of Yardbird, Bo Innovation’s Alvin Leung and Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook.
Only Ekkebus had met Meehan before, but the other chefs were also keen to represent their restaurants and Hong Kong, while staying faithful to PDT by using the same brand of hot dog sausage that Crif Dogs uses in New York.
“Everything about my hot dog is very Hong Kong,” says Leung, who goes by the nickname “Demon Chef”. “The name, the condiments and even the bread which is commonly eaten for breakfast.”
His creation, the Demon Dog, uses a yau za gwai – the Chinese deep-fried dough cake, or cruller, often eaten with congee – in place of the hot dog bun. Leung points out the name of his creation is more than a play on his own nickname. “It’s a play on the Cantonese phrase gau tai gwai, a banquet of nine (gau) dishes, but it’s also a homonym of dog, hence gau tai gwai could also be translated as ‘big demon dog’.”
The filling consists of Sichuan-style braised minced pork, or as Leung likes to call it, “Sichuan pork chilli”, with melted Gouda cheese, caramelised onion, pickled cabbage and a lime mayonnaise, along with a grilled pork hot dog.
Abergel says his creation, Yardbird, “is based on a katsu sando [Japanese tonkatsu sandwich] with classic tonkatsu ingredients: fresh panko breadcrumbs, Bull Dog sauce [a brand of tonkatsu sauce], Kewpie mayonnaise [a classic Japanese brand], and cabbage.”
A butterflied chicken hot dog is used, which is breadcrumbed and fried just like a pork cutlet is for a traditional tonkatsu.
Taking inspiration from the Vietnamese sandwich, banh mi, Yu uses a range of pickled and fresh vegetables as well as sauces for his Banh Mi Trap Dog, which features a grilled beef hot dog. He says, “The sweet and acidic daikon and carrot pickle help to balance the saltiness of the frank; the chicken liver paté gives the hot dog a rich, meaty kick. I added fried onions for fragrance, chillies for heat, extra coriander for aroma, and sriracha as well as Maggi seasoning for moisture and umami.”
It’s not just the chefs who have embraced the PDT concept; the mixologists have also been quick to connect with the community of their temporary home. When they tasted Yardbird’s togarashi (a Japanese spice mix), they decided to use it.
With hot dogs being an iconic North American street food, the chefs often had casual settings and cocktail pairings in mind. For Abergel, it was a whisky highball for its “Japanese convenience store roots”, and for Yu, it was a cocktail based on soda chanh, the lime soda ubiquitous on the streets of Vietnam. Leung, however, reckoned a dramatic contrast would suit. “I would think any champagne- based cocktail would be very nice. My dog is a rustic, working man’s dish, so it should be contrasted with something classy like champagne.”
In creating seven new cocktails for the pop-up, Meehan says: “Chef Ekkebus sent us a list of popular seasonal ingredients that we used for inspiration. Half our menu takes cues from Richard’s list, and the rest showcase American flavours and ingredients: it’s a give and take.”
The resulting menu features a number of ingredients that reference the Asia region. For instance, the Long Ball, a vodka- and champagne-based recipe with oolong tea syrup; the Lucky Plum, which layers plum sauce and kumquat with rye whiskey; and Top Toddy, using genmaicha (green tea with toasted rice) and ginger liqueur with scotch and vodka. Five original cocktails from the New York bar are on the menu, too, as are some popular food items, including the kimchi dog inspired by the [David] Chang Dog and caviar Tater Tots.
PDT HK runs until January 30.
MO Bar, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, tel: 2132 0077.
Open: Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm