8 places in Hong Kong that put a spin on the lobster roll
Rich, heavy sauces are out and bread rolls are in as local restaurants put their own spin on a famous New England-style speciality
For many years, lobster was considered a luxury in Hong Kong, something to be enjoyed only at banquets or celebrations. It’s still an expensive food, but rich, heavy lobster dishes such as thermidor have recently given way to simpler preparations in the city.
And it can’t get much more humble than the lobster roll – a speciality of New England in the US – where lobster meat is piled high into a variation of the hot dog bun.
Lobster & Mussels by Paul’s Kitchen in Central is one of the restaurants to add this “it dish” to the menu. Chef-owner Paul Lee still remembers how impressed he was when he first tried it at Burger & Lobster in London years ago.
“I was new to lobster roll back then and I couldn’t help but think how [reasonable] the price was for the quality and quantity of lobster they served,” says Lee. “When I was young, lobster was a luxury and we seldom ate it. But that meal has proved to me that lobster does not have to be reserved for special occasions.”
So when his eight-year-old restaurant – formerly named Paul’s Kitchen – had to move a few doors on the same street to its current two-storey location, he adjusted the concept of the restaurant. While signature items such as roasted French baby chicken remain on the menu, the focus has shifted to include more seafood, and hence the new name.
He sources both the lobsters and other seafood (such as black mussels) from Boston, Massachusetts, but instead of doing the lobster roll the usual way, he has given the dish a refreshing twist. “What’s the point of copying the other recipes and serving an identical dish?” says Lee. “I’ve come up with my own lobster roll, very much like how I do the other dishes my own way.”
For him, mayonnaise is too rich and “will steal the freshness of the lobster”, so he mixes the lobster chunks with mango salsa instead to enhance the flavours. He adds: “The bread is also a very important element and after trying many types of bread, I’ve decided to stick with Bo-Lo’Gne’s flaky Danish loaf for its buttery fragrance.”
While Lee opts for lobsters that weigh around 450 grams and chooses to steam them for a sweeter and more succulent result, Fishsteria Seafood Place in Wan Chai has taken on a more labour-intensive approach. Boston lobster is also used here but the crustacean is first poached in a home-made seafood stock and then grilled quickly in the stone oven.
“Our lobster is cooked to medium well in our seafood stock – the recipe of which I cannot tell you – and then cooled down and shelled. When there is an order, we grill the flesh at a heat of over 200 degrees Celsius with butter, before we dress it with mayonnaise and paprika powder,” says head chef Vincent Wong Wai-shing.
Wong says the ingredients may look simple, but adding butter is crucial in elevating the lobster meat. The texture of the flesh is firmer and less juicy, but is more flavourful with a stronger taste of the sea. A sweet bun, which they toast – also in the stone oven – is used to sandwich the lobster along with crunchy romaine lettuce.
The third venue of chef Gianni Caprioli after Giando Italian Restaurant & Bar and Eat.it Italy Eatery, Fishsteria, a portmanteau of “fish” and “hysteria”, is all about providing a full-on seafood experience. The two-storey restaurant has a nautical theme and a tank of live lobsters at the entrance.
The first floor, complete with a long bar, is great for a quick bite. Think shrimp cocktail, seafood skewers or crispy calamari. It’s also where you can get your lobster roll or bread rolls with other fillings such as shrimp and goose liver. The second floor is more formal and serves seafood platters, baked turbot and the like.
Other restaurants that serve the dish include Aberdeen Street Social (in the bar area) and Street Meat in Central as well as The Pierside in Kennedy Town. The dish has become so popular that it’s found everywhere from fine-dining venues such as Bisque: Lobster + Champagne in Lan Kwai Fong, to casual hot dog shops including Pop It in Tai Hang.
In Cheung Sha Wan, Mama Burger & Lobster is also serving lobster roll. Opened in August by three founders who share a passion for food, the restaurant is one of three Western restaurantsin the local but gentrifying neighbourhood.
“This Cheung Fai Building we are in had nothing but auto repair stores in the past, but is now home to several trendy eateries such as Holy Chef and Choo Choo. With new residential buildings popping up in the area, it’s going to be quite different in no time,” says co-founder Bon Leung Wai-pong.
“The cost of lobster, our main ingredient, is quite high already and only by keeping the rent low by staying in a less prime location are we able to keep prices of our dishes affordable. I actually like the fact that it’s more out of the way – the ambience is laid-back and quiet.”
The shop attracts young people and the social media obsessed. Its chic interior, adorned with oil paintings layered with playful graffiti, provides plenty of photo opportunities. And since there are two counter seats on the small outdoor porch, it is also popular with pet owners looking for a seafood fix.
Mama Burger & Lobster uses lobsters weighing 680 grams which are steamed before being mixed with mayonnaise, orange and lemon juices, and sprinkled with paprika powder and French chives, giving the specially made bun an overstuffed effect. The partners are not worried whether it’s a fad dish, and are eager to open a new branch once the current one is fully ontrack.
“Lobster will always be our hero ingredient, although we may need to come up with new dishes from time to time,” says Leung. “Hong Kong people, or Asians, in general, love seafood. The lobster roll trend may fade, but lobster and seafood will never go out of style.”
WHERE TO GET YOUR ROLL ON
Aberdeen Street Social
PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2866 0300
Bisque: Lobster + Champagne
1/F, 1 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, tel: 2331 8181
111 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2343 8111
Lobster & Mussels by Paul’s Kitchen
16 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2815 8003
Mama Burger & Lobster
Cheung Fai Building, 49 Cheung Wah Street, Cheung Sha Wan, tel: 3956 5440
Grand Fortune Mansion, 1B Davis Street, Kennedy Town, tel: 2398 1838
4 Sun Chun Street, Tai Hang, tel: 2889 2090
50 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 6699 0374