6 New Hong Kong Restaurants

  • Nahm dtok moo (spicy pork salad) at Chachawan.

    Nahm dtok moo (spicy pork salad) at Chachawan.

  • Chachawan's Adam Cliff with restaurant manager Junior Shiama.

    Chachawan's Adam Cliff with restaurant manager Junior Shiama.

  • Leather banquettes line a distressed, graffitied concrete wall at Fatty Crab.

    Leather banquettes line a distressed, graffitied concrete wall at Fatty Crab.

  • Chom Chom's cheeky Vietnamese take on the mojito is its signature Pho-jito, which mixes Pampero Blanco rum with lemongrass syrup, lime juice, and Thai basil.

    Chom Chom's cheeky Vietnamese take on the mojito is its signature Pho-jito, which mixes Pampero Blanco rum with lemongrass syrup, lime juice, and Thai basil.

  • Chom Chom's addictive VFC (Vietnamese fried chicken) go well with a glass of Saigon beer.

    Chom Chom's addictive VFC (Vietnamese fried chicken) go well with a glass of Saigon beer.

  • Fatty Crab's signature chili crab with pullman toast.

    Fatty Crab's signature chili crab with pullman toast.

  • A cocktail at Fatty Crab.

    A cocktail at Fatty Crab.

  • Foie gras on tempura-fried tofu toast with mirin sauce, at Three Monkeys.

    Foie gras on tempura-fried tofu toast with mirin sauce, at Three Monkeys.

  • Bartender Max Gurung and floor manager Robin Ghale at Three Monkeys.

    Bartender Max Gurung and floor manager Robin Ghale at Three Monkeys.

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In the booming, hungry heart of Hong Kong Island, Asian menus inspired by the street fare of the region are the year鈥檚 most tantalizing trend. Here are half a dozen new neighborhood haunts that you need to know about

By Nick Walton
Photographs by Josephine Rozman

When it comes to dining, cosmopolitan Hong Kong has no shortage of flavors鈥攔estaurants serving Italian this and Spanish that appear on the scene with almost clockwork regularity. The past year, however, has seen a feisty new breed of neighborhood restaurant opening in Soho and Sheung Wan, dishing up artisanal takes on Asian street food in diminutive, distinctly urban dining rooms that are as of the moment as the food they serve. In doing so, they have developed a loyal following that鈥檚 thirsty for culinary innovation and authenticity in a city famed for its best intentions, but not always for its execution.

Isan for the Eating: Chachawan
It鈥檚 Thursday night, a little too late for happy hour, a little too early for clubbing, and on lower Hollywood Road, one of Sheung Wan鈥檚 newest and most exciting holes-in-the-wall is packed to the rafters. Entrance to Chachawan, a raw-edged space from Singapore-born hotelier-cum-restaurateur Yenn Wong, is through emerald-green metal doors that open onto a room decked out in bare concrete, kerosene lanterns, and walls covered with murals and vintage Hong Kong posters stamped with Thai motifs. There is a line of tables for two and four, but the most coveted seats are at the kitchen counter, where diners can watch Australian chef Adam Cliff in action.

And what action it is. Slim, pale, and with close-cropped hair and a baby face, 27-year-old Cliff looks like he should be pulling pints at a cricket club in Wollongong, not sweating it up behind a stove in Asia. But then an order from the waitstaff is followed by commands, in fluent Thai, to his close-knit posse of cooks, and the kitchen picks up a frenzied pace. Cliff鈥檚 years in Thailand, working with Duangporn Songvisava at Bo.lan in Bangkok before a stint with David Thompson at London鈥檚 Nahm, inspired him to innovate on the lava-hot dishes of Isan, Thailand鈥檚 northeast region, introducing them to Hong Kong to critical acclaim.

This is not Thai food for the faint-hearted; pungent and spicy, Isan dishes are not laced with palate-calming coconut milk, but instead are dominated by fresh herbs, fresh cuts of meat grilled over open fires, and plenty of chili. Chachawan鈥檚 menu showcases the region鈥檚 signature green papaya salad鈥攖here are seven variations to choose from, including a zesty som dtum goon with cherry tomatoes, dried shrimp, salted duck egg, and tangy tamarind鈥攁s well as fun, easy-to-share dishes such as nahm dtok nuer, a grilled Wagyu beef salad with coriander, mint, lime, fish sauce, and toasted rice; dtom sap moo pork ribs in a sour soup; and pla phao glua, a whole salt-crusted sea bass cooked over an open flame with lemongrass and pandan. In a city where food is often reduced to the sum of its plainest ingredients, Cliff has struck a resounding culinary note.

206 Hollywood Rd., Sheung Wan; 852/2549-0020; facebook.com/chachawan.hongkong

Vietnamese Vigor: Ch么m Ch么m
Proudly serving up the snacks found on the streets of Vietnam, Ch么m Ch么m draws a loyal crowd from the ranks of Soho diners, many of whom had already experienced Dalat-born chef Peter Cuong Franklin鈥檚 innovative and refreshing dishes at his former private kitchen on Wellington Street. In Ch么m Ch么m鈥檚 newest incarnation, Franklin has teamed up with Black Sheep Restaurants to create a neighborhood joint that is as much an open-faced bar as it is a fiery show kitchen.

Located at Soho Junction and injecting vigor into a corner of Soho that鈥檚 been looking a little neglected of late, the dinner-only venue features a wafer-thin terrace where hipsters, perched on tiny stools, sip imported Saigon beer while they wait for a table (there鈥檚 a no-reservations policy). Ch么m Ch么m鈥檚 theme is loosely woven around Vietnam鈥檚 humble bia hoi (draft beer) stalls, where cheap homemade lager is accompanied by simple yet delectable snacks that are ideal for sharing.

Arrive early (the doors open at 6 p.m. most nights) for a seat at the L-shaped bar-cum-kitchen, which takes up the lion鈥檚 share of a space whose iron-framed windows recall a street-side caf茅 in Paris. Here you鈥檒l be able to see Franklin and his team at work over charcoal grills and flaming woks as they produce dishes from a deftly edited menu, including fried chicken wings with garlic, coriander, and mint; and grilled beef cubes with betel leaf, peanuts, shallots, and a hint of curry. Other must-tries include the 鈥渟haking beef鈥 with watercress and rocket, and the beautifully grilled eggplant salad with crabmeat, mint, and coriander. For the full spectrum of flavors, try Franklin鈥檚 six-course Tour d鈥橧ndochine dinner menu, matched with wine.

G/F Block A, 58-60 Peel St., Central; 852/2810-0850; chomchom.hk

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