First impressions of Happy Paradise in SoHo – who pimped that Hong Kong cha chaan teng?
From pureed scallops and braised pomelo to slow-cooked chicken, this hip Chinese diner with a funky bar offers some classic Cantonese examples of chef May Chow’s award-winning skills
Award-winning chef May Chow’s latest project, Happy Paradise, has a name that could describe where your taste buds will be after some brilliant food.
The SoHo bar and restaurant, located near Chow’s first venture, Little Bao, looks like a pimped-up cha chaan teng, with neon lighting and retro chairs and tables. The pop music – a bit too loud – is from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The drinks menu features classic cocktails reworked with Chinese ingredients. We savoured Double Pear Happiness (HK$128), a smooth drink with cognac, rye whiskey, pear, lemon and five spices. Pink Flamingos (HK$108) was a heady concoction with Jamaican rum, passion fruit and Campari, with black lime powder on the glass.
Chow spotted us as we came in and ran us through the menu, which consists of traditional Cantonese dishes made with modern cooking techniques. A complimentary appetiser of pureed scallops was steamed like rice rolls – although these don’t have flour in them – and then placed on a bed of chilli oil. The delicate flavour is fantastic.
We also had the braised pomelo (HK$158) – a take on the labour-intensive dish where the dried pomelo skin is soaked for several days to get rid of the bitterness before it is cooked. Here, Chow adds black sesame foam on top, as well as dried shrimp roe and shrimp oil that add layers of flavours to the delicacy.
Another laborious dish to prepare is the pig lung, north and south almond soup (HK$158) that is more like a sauce to the other ingredients of taro, yam and bamboo. The creamy soup with ground almonds is excellent, capturing the classic dish’s full flavours, and a creative use of root vegetables.
Our favourite of the evening was the slow-cooked chicken (HK$328), deboned and cooked with glutinous rice wine, and Shaoxing wine. The chicken was tender and juicy, and was accompanied by crunchy puffed black rice and Japanese rice. Our only complaint: not enough rice, a comment Chow says she has heard before.
We had just enough room for one more dish, char siu with silky egg on rice (HK$178) – comfort food at its best. The char siu was lean and sliced thinner than what you’d find in traditional places, while the egg was deconstructed with a yolk sauce and the egg whites fried into a patty. We definitely had enough rice here, and were in our Happy Paradise.
Happy Paradise, UG/F, Ming House, 52-56 Staunton Street, SoHo, tel: 2816 2118