When a restaurant comes along with the name Ho Lee Fook, you just know you have to try it. When you then hear that the chef behind it is Jowett Yu, of Mr Wong and Ms G’s in Sydney, even if you haven’t ever been to either, there’s even more reason for trying it. When you then discover that it’s part of the successful Black Sheep Restaurants group (Boqueria, Chom Chom, La Vache and Motorino), well that’s just the cherry on top. And so it was that, many months ago, on seeing a list of this year’s restaurant openings and spying this hilariously named place, I had been longing to try it.
The name Ho Lee Fook, aside from the obvious cheeky play on a certain exclamation, actually means “good fortune for your mouth.” Taiwanese-born Jowett, who moved to Canada at a young age, is known for his reinterpretation of classic Chinese flavours with a modern Western twist. This is what Ho Lee Fook is all about, and this same theme also translates into the décor.
As you walk in, you’ll see Chef Jowett and his team behind the mah-jong-tiled open kitchen. A flight of stairs beneath a big peacock mural leads you down to the restaurant. It’s an effortlessly cool space with simple black furniture, stone walls and a giant backlit dragon mural. The restaurant is inspired by old school Hong Kong cha chaan tengs, crossed with late-night Chinatown hangouts in 1960s New York, creating a fun, laidback vibe perfect for a casual dinner.
We started with Mom’s “mostly cabbage a little bit of pork” dumplings, a homage to Jowett’s mother, who used to make him watch and learn the skill of making dumplings for hours on end as a child. We were warned that one order of these may leave us craving for a second, and that was definitely the case, as these dumplings, sitting in a deliciously spicy soy sauce, were excellent.
The fried Brussels sprouts with cauliflower and bacon chilli jam was also a tasty dish. I loved the texture of the slightly crunchy grilled cauliflower and the nice big chunks of salty bacon, balanced by the sweet chilli jam. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower can often be rather boring vegetables, but here they were far from boring.
Given Chef Jowett’s experimental, perhaps rather wacky approach to cooking, I was intrigued as to whether he would do anything funky with his char siu. It turns out he just makes really damn tasty char siu – the kind that isn’t too fatty and comes sitting in all its juices that I could (and did) happily pour all over a mound of rice and enjoy on its own.
The DIY san choi bao (I thought SCB was always DIY?) was definitely an interesting take on the classic version. Served with kimchi cucumber, pickled daikons, a mound of fresh herbs and a bottle of sriracha, it had elements of Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and, of course, Chinese cuisine that all married together beautifully inside each lettuce leaf.
Last of the savouries we tried was the prawn lo mein, a very simple fried noodle dish with shellfish oil, grilled spring onions, tasty prawns and crispy garlic crumble. As I said, it was simple, but it had an intense flavour from the shellfish oil that definitely hit the spot. Just make sure you eat it whilst it’s still hot; we made the mistake of waiting until after we’d finished the SCB, which probably diminished our enjoyment ever so slightly.
Of the three desserts on the menu, we tried two, starting with the passion fruit sorbet with lime and coconut marshmallow, pomelo and roasted rice. This was heavenly, laden with lovely contrasting textures and sweet versus sour flavours that worked seriously well together.
The Granny Smith apple granita, with Calpis sorbet, mochi and red koji jelly was also surprisingly fantastic. Again there was the sharpness from the granita that balanced the sweetness from the rest of the dessert, making it a lovely, refreshing end to a delicious meal.
Service was excellent and Chef Jowett himself even stopped by for a chat. We paid a little under $900 between two, which included a rather strong cocktail (try the Gimlet) and a glass of wine – not at all bad for more than ample amounts of food in a very cool setting. Is it worth a try? Absolutely. Will I be back? Ho Lee Fook yes!
Ho Lee Fook
G/F, 1-5 Elgin Street
Tel: +852 2810 0860