With so many restaurants in Hong Kong serving so many different types of cuisine, it must be quite difficult to be the first in a category. Yet new restaurant Holy Crab in Lan Kwai Fong proudly states that it is “Hong Kong’s first authentic Cajun seafood restaurant.”
The minute you walk in to Holy Crab, you can’t help but instantly want to like the place. The décor, starting with the adorable crab cartoon, is really cute, fun and creative. Over communal wooden tables hang little halos of light – the same halo that hovers over the little cartoon crab’s head. The raw wood decking around the edges of the restaurant give it a nautical touch, whilst around the corner there are rock pool tanks to house the live seafood that’s flown in daily from the US. As we were guided to our table near the seafood tanks, and especially after being introduced to super friendly and enthusiastic chef Mark Kerkstra, our hopes were high.
Thinking that I might as well get truly stuck in to the theme of the restaurant, I started the night with a Lobstertini, i.e. a martini garnished with a chilled lobster claw. I was advised to bite a little bit of the lobster first, before taking a small sip of the cocktail, “as otherwise it might be too strong.” Somehow the two went beautifully well together, although obviously I was finished with the claw far quicker than I was with the cocktail.
The first course in our seafood feast consisted of a Louisiana Bayou Court Bouillon and a Crabman’s Bisque, the former a light broth with blue crab, white fish and black tiger prawns; the latter a creamy sherry and thyme-infused soup with chunks of Dungeness crab. Both had the potential to be so delicious, and yet both were very underseasoned and therefore a touch disappointing.
Next came one of Holy Crab’s signature dishes, the Caesar Madness. Caesar salad is generally not my go-to choice, as I usually find it too creamy, defeating the point of having a salad in the first place. This one, however, prepared tableside, was actually really light, whilst still delivering the same garlicky, creamy, salty flavours as it should. I know a tableside preparation can often be more impressive to watch than to taste, but this one ticked both boxes.
Obviously southern American food goes hand in hand with deep-frying, and at Holy Crab you can ‘design your own bucket,’ choosing between a range of deep-fried seafood or chicken and a selection of deep-fried carbs. We tried the catfish, pairing it with corn fritters. Thankfully the batter was nice and light, and the fish beneath it lovely and flaky. However, whilst some parts of the batter were satisfyingly crispy, others were a little too soggy. As for the corn fritters, these were basically balls of batter, dotted with a few corn kernels, needless to say one of these, dipped in the rich honey butter, was more than sufficient.
From the specials menu, we tried the clams in south-western broth with crusty bread. Although we encountered a little bit of unpleasant grit here and there, the broth was absolutely divine, littered with chunks of tasty bacon and onion. Had there been a whole loaf of bread, I could have quite easily eaten it all, soaked in this flavoursome broth.
I was very excited when the jambalaya was served, as this is one of my favourite Southern American dishes. Again, however, it was as if the chef had forgotten to add any seasoning, as it was disappointingly bland.
What Holy Crab prides itself on most is its low country boil. This style of cooking involves adding seafood to a bucket with bell peppers, onion and celery (known as the ‘holy trinity’) and letting the whole thing boil slowly over a number of hours. This is apparently the done thing after a big fishing trip with a group of friends, where everyone throws their catch into a giant pot, leaves it for a few hours, whilst knocking back some beers. At Holy Crab, although it’s not quite the same as fishing, you do get to go over to the tanks and select your live seafood.
We tried two kinds of low country boil: one with crawfish in a garlic and herb broth and the other with Dungeness crab in a lemon and pepper broth. After initially pondering how to attack our little creatures without any weapons, we saw other diners clad in bibs, with cutting implements in hand – it’s a shame we had to prompt the staff to give us the same. The crawfish were pretty easy to de-shell and were very tasty, although, again, the broth itself had very little flavour. The crab was much more of a hassle, and we eventually had to send it back to the kitchen for them to break it up for us. Admittedly, we weren’t paying for this meal, but if we had been, I think the $1200 or so we would have paid for this crab wouldn’t have been worth the fight it took to eat him.
Staff at Holy Crab are friendly on the whole and there seemed to be a lot of them, but once the restaurant filled up, the service went seriously downhill. I really, truly want to like Holy Crab and I think it has the potential to be a really fun place, particularly with a group of friends, but at the moment it doesn’t really live up to our initial expectations. With a sprinkle of seasoning here and there, a tightening up of service, and perhaps a review of some eyebrow-raisingly-high prices, I do think it could get there… at least I live in hope.
3/F, Cosmos Building
8-11 Lan Kwai Fong
Tel: +852 2110 0100
p.s. Holy Crab stays open until 2.30am on Thursday to Saturdays… Late night seafood feast, anyone?!