Restaurant review: Happy Paradise, SoHo - May Chow’s short menu of clever takes on classic Chinese dishes
By turns delicate, tongue-tingling, even humorous, the dishes here were well cooked and nearly all of them worked - but if you insist on Instagramming everything and don’t like music played at high volume, this may not be for you
I should have known I’d be recognised at Happy Paradise, the restaurant that chef and owner May Chow opened soon after winning the title of Best Female Chef for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017. I didn’t expect Chow to be at the reception desk at the entrance to the restaurant, though, and she spotted me as soon as I walked in the doors.
It’s my favourite type of menu: short and tempting. It’s divided into sections of snacks, small plates and large plates; the drinks and cocktail menus are longer than the food section. Many of the dishes are clever takes on classic Chinese dishes, and it works most of the time.
The inverted commas in the dish of scallop “rice roll” (HK$98) should give you a clue that it’s not cheung fun wrapped around scallops. The small rolls resemble the rice flour rolls you can get at almost any dim sum restaurant, but the taste and texture were different because they were made entirely of scallops. Delicious.
Steamed egg with ginger, scallion, apple vinegar and okra (HK$78) was a cool (temperature-wise) version of the comforting homestyle dish served in many a Chinese household. The custard was perfectly textured: wobbly and delicate, and the apple vinegar and aromatics made the dish light and refreshing. Szechuan chicken wings (HK$108) had juicy meat and delicately crunchy skin, and the Sichuan peppercorn spice mix sprinkled over the wings was tongue-tingling.
A small plate of pan-fried pig’s brains with burnt pear juice and white soy (HK$98) was served in a little pot that looked like a pig head, making us laugh out loud. We loved the custard-like texture of the brains.
Chow must have thought we needed some vegetables, because the waiter served us a complimentary serving of asparagus, cucumber, Pu Ning bean sauce and green daikon (HK$128). The textures of the different vegetables and the light dressing made this a delicious, refreshing accompaniment to the heavier dishes.
The best dish of the night was the slow-cooked chicken with glutinous rice (HK$328). The deboned bird was soft and moist, and the chicken meat and the glutinous rice soaked up the flavours of the Shaoxing rice wine sauce.
The only dish we wouldn’t order again was braised pumpkin with black sesame, dried shrimp roe and shrimp oil (HK$108). It was made to resemble (sort of) the Cantonese classic braised pomelo peel with shrimp roe. This was too heavy in terms of textures and flavours.
A word of warning: if you’re the type that obsessively has to Instagram every bite you take, you’ll have to give this restaurant a miss. The neon lighting makes it impossible to take a good photograph. Also, the sound level is high, so don’t come here for an intimate conversation.
Happy Paradise, UG/F Ming Hing House, 52-56 Staunton Street (entrance is on Aberdeen Street), SoHo, tel: 2816 2118. About HK$400 without drinks or the service charge
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