Diner’s Diary
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From Penthouse to basement: Hong Kong chef Harlan Goldstein opens fast-food kiosk selling US$10 burgers

Hong Kong’s celebrity chef, he liked to call himself. His name was on restaurants selling top-quality food in upscale properties, and a couple had Michelin stars. So what’s the New Yorker doing flipping burgers in Mong Kok?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 2:47pm

Harlan Goldstein liked to call himself “Hong Kong’s celebrity chef”, used to serve truffle pappardelle and Hokkaido scallop carpaccio, and boasted of selling a HK$150,000 (US$19,000) bottle of wine.

He had a 30th-floor restaurant in Causeway Bay’s Midtown called Penthouse by Harlan Goldstein. And he had a Michelin star apiece for Gold by Harlan Goldstein, and Strip House, both in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong entertainment quarter.

Now he’s put his name on a fast-food kiosk in a basement in Mong Kok selling burgers, coffee and soy smoothies.

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Cornerstone Cafe by Harlan Goldstein is in the new T.O.P mall, converted by operator the Link Reit from an office building into yet another retail destination geared towards millennials, with stores such as Korean fashion retailer Aland and a frozen yogurt shop called Smile.

Goldstein’s first Hong Kong venture since he moved to Pattaya in Thailand, his fast-food stand is in good company. The food court is cramped, but does its job of feeding the masses. There’s traditional dim sum at Lin Heung, Master Hung for Cantonese dishes, Khao Soi House for Thai, and Aji No Tokeidai Sapporo Ramen. Next to Cornerstone Cafe is a branch of American fried chicken chain Popeyes, where there were steady lines.

Cornerstone Cafe stands out as the only one that is not an established brand – unless you count the Goldstein name. But deep in the heart of Mong Kok, a place of densely packed mass market housing, do shoppers know who he is?

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We perused the menu, which featured burgers along with an all-day breakfast, tuna melt sandwiches, cherry balsamic chicken salad, muffins and coffee. The menu is in English and Chinese.

Two recommended dishes were the all-day breakfast (HK$78) and the chilli con carne burger with fries (HK$76), so we chose the latter and were told to come back in about 15 minutes.

There are four people behind the counter, two preparing the food and the other two manning the cash register and preparing drinks. It took just under 20 minutes for my number to be called on the digital screen, but even then it wasn’t completely ready – the kitchen staff were still spooning the chilli on top of the patty when I arrived at the counter.

At first glance the burger looked all right, a decent size for HK$76, but the chilli was lukewarm at best. The patty was very juicy, constantly dripping onto my tray and with no wet towel offered, just a napkin. The processed cheese hadn’t even melted on the patty. There was a decent-sized tomato slice and a piece of lettuce.

The thick-cut fries were underseasoned, but that wasn’t a bad thing given Hong Kong diners consume too much salt these days.

It turns out SSP, a UK-based company, is the one that chose to include Cornerstone Cafe in the selection of restaurants for this food court. Pressed for more details, Goldstein wouldn’t talk – but burgers are on the New Yorker’s mind. On his Facebook page he has been hinting about establishing a new brand, Brooklyn Bad Boy Burger by Harlan Goldstein – even revealing the packaging.

He had earlier told us he was in talks with a Chinese developer about opening 15 Brooklyn Bad Boy Burger outlets in China, but in a follow-up call, Goldstein refused to comment.

We’ll be watching his next move.

Cornerstone Cafe by Harlan Goldstein, B/F, T.O.P, 700 Nathan Road, Mong Kok