Hong Kong’s gastropubs add fuel to the city’s global dining scene

City’s gastropubs take different approaches to satisfying varied gastronomic tastes of Hongkongers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 11:13am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 11:13am

The gastropub genre is a relative novice in the gastronomic world - the term having been coined in the early 1990s in London, when the new owners of The Eagle pub in Clerkenwell wanted to serve meals with their drinks. Previously, a traditional English pub used to serve cold food, such as a ploughman’s lunch or pasties with their drinks. According to Eat magazine, the world’s first gastro-style pub was the Spinnakers Brew Pub in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, which opened in 1984. Known as a brew pub, it was custom-built serving craft beers and food.

A typical gastropub should have the ambience of a friendly local pub serving quality drinks and comfort food with a gourmet touch - think fries with truffle oil or duck fat chips, chicken poppers with blue cheese or dry-aged burgers.

One of the city’s oldest pubs is the Dickens Bar at The Excelsior Hong Kong, which opened in 1972. It was known as being a great English pub serving curries and English comfort food. The menu has evolved without losing its English-food theme, according to chef de cuisine Chang Chi-wai. “I make dishes that go with drinks,” says the chef who previously worked at the Hong Kong Football Club. “We still have classic British dishes like fish ‘n’ chips, shepherd’s pie and chicken and leek pie, but we have gone with the market trend of introducing fusion.

“Our Guinness and beef ribs has some Sichuan spicy sauce and, as the venue in the hotel basement attracts as many locals and Westerners, they serve seared quail legs with crispy ham and honey pepper sauce; and octopus carpaccio done with avocado and peppercorn chilli sauce. They are popular signatures on the menu,” Chang says. “Many dishes are done with beer, even the lobster is made with fish stock and beer.”

There are three desserts on the menu, including toffee date pudding with caramelised pear and rum vanilla cream. “It’s done with dates and smoked chocolate,” Chang says.

Prive Group’s Common Room has its own twist on the gastropub, serving plates for sharing. “Common Room serves up world-inspired tapas dishes with influences from all over the world,” says Prive Group head chef Tez Pun. “There is something for everyone, and pairs very well with our award-winning mixologist’s cocktail creations.

“We offer a good mix of fusion flavours and a lot of comfort food options with a twist. We use fresh ingredients like live lobsters, and spend a lot of time prepping for dishes.

“For example, we sous vide our fish for seafood dishes to ensure the perfect texture, and we slow cook our pulled pork for 36 to 48 hours. Many ingredients we make in-house, like cheese curds for our classic poutine, and all our condiments and sauces such as in the fresh lobster with home-made tomato sauce spiced with red chilli flakes.” says Pun who has been with the group for six years. “And for the grilled shrimp poutine made with our own cheese sauce blend of Jack and Cheddar, the fries are baked with the sauce, then fresh grilled garlic prawns are added, and it’s all topped off with truffle oil. We make sure there is a good cheese-to-fries ratio so every bite is creamy.”

Another popular dish is the Portobello mushroom sliders. “Large Portobello mushrooms are roasted with EVOO [extra virgin olive oil], garlic and thyme, topped with home-made pesto, Provolone cheese, balsamic and onion jam, and avocado,” says the Nepalese chef whose inspirations comes from experimenting with spices, and making different spice blends. “Hong Kong’s culinary scene allows me to try authentic cuisines. The more new dishes I try, the more inspiration I have.”

Josh Chu has been with American gastropub Stone Nullah Tavern since it opened in 2013. “I was previously a chef, but now I generally run all [of the group’s] three restaurants (Linguini Fini and Posto Publico}. I sometimes also help out in the kitchen,” says US-born Chu, who came to Hong Kong in 2004 to further his culinary skills.

“We offer a huge selection of bourbons and American whiskeys, unique bar snacks, and a wide variety of home-made and elevated American classic dishes, using local and sustainable products,” he says. “We grew up with these nostalgic dishes, and added our own modifications.”

Popular dishes at the Wan Chai pub include mac ‘n’ cheese “It’s a classic American favourite with an Italian twist. Inspired by the Carbonara, the cheddar cheese pasta is topped with an organic egg yolk to give the sauce a velvety texture,” Chu says.

“The half rack of ribs features baby-back pork ribs smoked with apple wood chips, and glazed in a home-made barbeque sauce and served with gorgonzola slaw and a spicy pickle. The Southern fried chicken features free-range chicken fried to perfection in our secret dredge and is served with barbecue sauce, gorgonzola slaw and bacon aioli.

The skillet smores are his play on the camp-fire favourite.

Chu recommends not leaving without trying the toasted marshmallow, molten hot dark chocolate, and smoked graham crackers for dipping.