Chôm Chôm, once a tiny Vietnamese private kitchen on Wellington Street that apparently served the best pho in Hong Kong, left many a broken heart when it closed earlier this year. This was soon replaced with excitement and eager anticipation when word got out that it was reopening as something bigger and better.
Bigger it certainly is, although only in comparison; the new Chôm Chôm Bia Hoi and Eatery seats only 45 diners, yet its high ceilings with wooden fans and its huge glass windows help it appear much more spacious and airy. The interior is simple and understated, yet chic, where white walls, marble tables and a marble bar are contrasted against a huge full colour Vietnamese style mural.
Bia Hoi refers to the fresh draft beer made with no preservatives that is often served at street-side eateries across Vietnam. Unlike his previous venture therefore, this time chef Peter Cuong Franklin’s menu is inspired by Vietnamese street food, combined with his own personal twist. Discard all expectations that this will be anything like any other Vietnamese restaurant you’ve ever tasted; like I said before, it’s better.
After ordering a round of Chôm Chôm’s signature cocktails (try the Pho-jito), we began our meal with some spicy tuna rolls with XO sauce. There was nothing wrong with these rolls per se, but my advice would be to forget these and go straight for the pho rolls – everything you love about a steaming bowl of pho, but without the slurp.
The grilled eggplant with crabmeat was exceptional. Having been cooked in a Josper oven, the fleshy aubergine took on a gorgeous smoky flavour and a soft, fluffy texture. Wedges of steamed egg, stringy crabmeat and crisp raw red onion enhanced it further, leaving a solid, pleasant memory of this dish in our minds.
Whilst the crispy salt and pepper squid impressed us with its super crunchy texture and interesting sriracha mayo, the VFC – Vietnamese Fried Chicken Wings – were up there amongst the best chicken wings I have ever tasted. The skin (something I usually do my best to avoid) was perfectly crispy, giving way to succulent, spicy, garlic and lemongrass-infused chicken that was too good to not lick off the bone.
A dish I often order at Vietnamese restaurants is the chicken cabbage salad. Chôm Chôm’s jazzed up version, the kaffir lime chicken cabbage salad, offers the same light, crunchy flavours we know and love, with the addition of fragrant crispy chicken.
Having been to Hanoi earlier this year, I immediately recognised the origins of the Cha Ca Hanoi, Chef Franklin’s take on the ever-popular turmeric fish dish served at 135-year-old restaurant Cha Ca La Vong. This version had all the same delicious flavours without the excess oil and hassle of cooking it yourself – loved it!
Another dish that reminded me of my Hanoi trip was the bun cha pork skewers. Here the grilled pork is leaner than the original version and served atop the vermicelli and herbs, instead of alongside it. Again, same great flavours without the hassle!
When I was told that the only dessert option that day was a seasonal tropical fruit platter, I must admit I was rather disappointed. However, it wasn’t just an ordinary fruit platter – it was a mountain of watermelon, honeydew melon, pineapple, cantaloupe melon, pomelo, and, most importantly, rambutan (for this is what Chôm Chôm actually means), served with sweet and savoury chilli dipping salt. The salt was a little unexpected, yet at the same time intriguing and definitely kept me going back for more.
Service at Chôm Chôm is fair and prices are too, with dishes ranging from $58 to $158. Ignore the initial outrage about there being no pho on the menu – Chôm Chôm is not your usual Vietnamese joint, and sometimes it’s good to be different.
Chôm Chôm Bia Hoi and Eatery
58 Peel Street
Tel: +852 2810 0850