After long delays, Queen Chow is finally set to open. Merivale's first inner-west venture is one of the year's most anticipated Sydney launches. Its chefs - Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth from Papi Chulo - headed to Hong Kong recently for menu inspiration. Here, they share their experiences, which will likely translate into some knockout dishes when Queen Chow opens in Enmore soon.
Patrick Friesen: We left Sydney this morning and flew into Hong Kong airport. An uneventful flight, except for us being donkeys and getting on the wrong train from Circular Quay and nearly missing our flight!
Christopher Hogarth: Is this a sign or are things going to improve from here?
Patrick Friesen: Tonight, we're taken to dinner by a long-time friend of mine, Bao La. He worked for me at Ms. G's and Dan Hong at Mr. Wong. He followed Mr Wong's Jowett Yu to Hong Kong to help open up Ho Lee Fook and now runs his own restaurant called Le Garcon Saigon. He took us to a local restaurant in North Point named 金豪酒家 or Jinhao restaurant. They loved to bring dishes to the table and then place them in really hot clay pots. A little tableside theatre.
Christopher Hogarth: The first dish comes in a piping hot clay pot - the waiter tosses in some kang kong, dried shrimp, and various seasonings at the table. It sizzles and pops, steam rises up and the aroma is mesmerising. Next up, we get mantis prawn typhoon-shelter style, not the best version I've had. Then the king of roast meats comes out - goose - served on the trad oval plate which is something that we'll emulate at Queen Chow, when serving our barbecue.
Patrick Friesen: Good Morning, Hong Kong. I woke up super pumped to hit the streets and eat as much Cantonese food as I could fit into my fat gut. While Chris was at the gym doing his morning shred routine, I went to the local cha chaan teng across the street. Cha chaan tengs are cafes where locals can have their morning milk tea, coffee milk tea or coffee and have a very affordable breakfast. I tried to order the congee. The waiter didn't seem to think I would like it and instead brought me a plate of fried pork chop, baked beans, spam omelette and white bread with butter. Now not saying I didn't love it (I did), but it definitely filled me up a lot more than was intended. But for around $HK31 ($AU5) with an iced lemon tea, you can't really complain.
By this point Chris was shredded and ready to go. So we got on the MTR into Central in search of wonton mein. Mak An Kee is owned by the son of the famous Mak's Noodles of which there are a few locations in Hong Kong. Chris and I had been to Mak's a few times and so decided to make a change and try the son's. Chris, still shredding, opted for the low-carb version of wonton soup while I had wonton mein - and being the responsible adults who listen to their mothers, we also got a plate of boiled gai lan with beef sauce (OK, maybe not so healthy). Beef sauce is new to me. It's basically just the braising liquor that they use to boil brisket and beef offal for lo mein noodles and it was really damn good on some gai lan. Also don't get me started on the greens in Asia. Who knew gai lan was sweet? The greens here are all smaller and look like they were just cut from the earth a half second before they were cooked.
Now that I had had two meals before 1pm, it was time to head to lunch!! Bao booked us into Mott 32, a restaurant which opened in Central about two years ago. Since then, it has done quite well for itself, named Best New Restaurant in Tatler magazine and winning a few awards for its design.
The Peking duck was one of the prettiest and most soigné Peking ducks I've had the pleasure of eating. The skin was crisp and brittle and shattered in your mouth, yet it lacked the splurge of duck fat that coats your tongue and makes your head roll back in ecstasy. Also, I always wondered how they get it to the table still so puffed up. Usually when you roast a duck, it puffs until it rests a bit and then it starts to deflate. Turns out they take it straight from the oven to your table and it looks amazing.
Christopher Hogarth: Next up we get the stir-fried cabbage with dried prawn, peas and sesame. This dish is very, very good and exactly how we wanted to be inspired this trip - great produce that's been cooked in a wok with skill, the hei (breath) from the wok really makes this dish sing and it's extremely satisfying to eat. Wagyu beef puffs are mind-blowingly good ("like bite-size meat pies," says Pat), the sweet and sour pork was excellent here and a dish that we agree to work on back in Sydney. I seriously recommend Mot 32 just for these, even though the service isn't the best and we were made to wait for our booked table. But that's another story.
Patrick Friesen: At night, we took the MTR to Cheung Sa Wan to visit a dai pai dong named Tai Chung Wah. Dai pai dongs are small street-side restaurants, with extensive menus for their size.
Christopher Hogarth: We settle into to a shabby room of plastic chairs, disposable plastic table covers and a 'wash your own chopsticks and share bowl' scenario. All a part of the experience that makes dining at a dai pai dong exciting and different. At the end of the alleyway is a rudimentary bottle shop where you can buy buckets of ice-cold beers to take back to your chosen dining room. The whole area operates as a co-operative in a way.
Patrick Friesen: This dai pai dong was famous for black pepper pork knuckle. It gets steamed or braised in master stock and then they slam it on a sizzling platter with some onions, black pepper sauce and garnish with chopped coriander and chilli. It's damn good.
Christopher Hogarth: The nine-stomach fish "salt and pepper"-style was nice - freshwater fish with a slight earthy note to it, the texture was very very soft. Clams in black bean are good, served with pretty thick-cut chillies and onions. The Chinese broccoli served in a hot pot is probably the highlight of the meal. Slightly funky from the shrimp paste, it's got sliced chillies, tomatoes and lots of garlic - this is the type of dish that we have come to enjoy the most on this trip and definitely take something away from it.
Patrick Friesen: By this point, I was in a serious food coma, so we walked to the next suburb, Sham Sui Po, for another supper.
Christopher Hogarth: We welcome the walk over as I'm really full already from two lunches and an early dinner. We find a spot and get a big table set up for us with the usual wash-your-own chopsticks and bowls. Watching the cooks smash out dishes from their rudimentary kitchens is inspiring and gives confidence that we will be able to feed the masses in our tiny new kitchen at Queen Chow.
Patrick Friesen: We were pretty damn full at this point, so we "only" ordered stir fried beef and potatoes, crispy skin chicken and "Slightly Fires The Emperor" - very inspirational. The stir-fried beef and potatoes is this Mennonite boy's dream. It reminds me of Canada [where I'm from] and yet it's so Chinese. Stir fried with a bit of oyster sauce and black pepper, the whole lot gets deep fried before it gets coated in the addictive sauce (also how good is it that Chinese food is always saucy?). We will try a version with wagyu tri tip and turned potatoes once we are back.
Patrick Friesen: I tried to do a bit of a role reversal from the previous day. As I knew we had booked Yan Toh Heen for lunch, I skipped brekky.
Yan Toh Heen is a two-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel. Fine-dining Chinese can be amazing, but it can also be a little strange. They nail some aspects, others not at all. Yan Toh Heen has a beautiful dining room overlooking the harbour and Hong Kong island: double-clothed tables, jade chopstick holders and more waiters in suits than guests.
The dim sum here is next level. Ultra-luxe ingredients that are cooked and presented super soigné. Winter melon soup with dried seafood is a Cantonese classic. I had never tried this before, as it can be quite expensive but this version didn't let me down. Super clean stock with beautifully diced winter melon and extra-large dried scallop. So much umami. It felt like it would be really good for me. Increasingly, the vegetable dishes are the stars of the meal. The white asparagus and bamboo pith were delicious and I wish I knew where to get such high-quality young bamboo pith in Australia. I need to hunt it down. It's like a sponge for sauces and has a great texture even though it sometimes looks like packing peanuts. The eggplant with XO was quite nice, but nothing to write home about.
Christopher Hogarth: Desserts of mango pudding and mango with tapioca and pomelo were both pretty good, with the latter coming out in style with a cloche encasing a dry iced spectacle. I'd really like to do a great mango dessert for Queen Chow and some of the elements here offer me inspiration.
Patrick Friesen: We're understandably not very hungry by this point, so for dinner we just visit the lads at Belon for snacks and a couple bottles of wine. It's the tastiest, most umami-rich French bistro I have ever been to. The night ended up in the bottom of a bottle of Fernet Branca.
Patrick Friesen: OK OK. Drinking an entire bottle of Fernet was a really bad idea. Woke up today about as hungover as I had ever been. We start the day off around noon, meeting our photographers and videographers, Calvin and Augustine [who are documenting this trip]. I had to drag Chris along as he was feeling even worse than me!
We meet Calvin and Augustine at Bowrington at a nice little wet market one block from the ultra-modern Times Square in Causeway Bay. Super interesting how old Hong Kong co-exists with the new. You can pick up pork on the street in 30-degree heat from a butcher who buys one pig a day, breaks it down, and sells it - or you can buy kurobuta pork shipped in daily from Japan in a luxury food hall.
First stop is a local cha chaan teng. This place had a definite locals-only vibe to it. Plastic chairs, shared tables and super-fast friendly service. We order some instant noodles with chicken thigh and shallot relish, pork chop bun, and kaya French toast along with the amazing iced lemon tea. (Note to self: push Paul Mant, our group bar manager, to make iced lemon tea cocktail). HK-style French toast is generally made by making a peanut butter sandwich, cutting the crusts off and battering in egg and deep-frying. It's moreish, rich and delicious. It's a great accompaniment to Chinese roast meats as the sweetness goes well with the salty meets. Like a Chinese version of chicken and waffles.
Christopher Hogarth: Next up is Yat Lok for one of the most anticipated meals of the trip. We came here last year and were blown away by the roast goose. The goose is so tasty and looks amazing hanging up and coming out of the oven from the kitchen out the back. The owner of the place caught our eye last time we were here - 18 months later and he's not changed and is just as I remember.
Patrick Friesen: The owner is a bad ass. The OG hipster chef. He wears cut-off T-shirts, sweatpants shorts and rubber boots. Dragon tatts adorn his arms and it looks like he just rolled out of bed. Probably the coolest chef out there. He really cares about what he creates and tries to do his best every day and it shows in the quality of the roast meats. We order a half goose, char siu, choi sum and the rice noodle soup. The soup is really really good. They use the heads of all the geese roasted throughout the day and make a clear soup with some green shallot and ginger. They heat up the rice noodle (lai fan) in the soup and it soaks up some of the delicious broth. It's a lesson in simplicity. No garnish, just noodles and broth and it heals anything that ails you.
The main event is the goose. We get a half and it was every bit as amazing as I had remembered. The skin is crispy like glass, yet when you bite into it, it fills your mouth with a splash of goose fat. It's a euphoric moment. I think that out of the four of us, I ate half of what we order. Well, it looked like that by the bones that I stacked on my plate. My plate was full while the other boys seemed to just have a taste. But I don't care. It's Yat Lok. I might secretly go back for some more.
Christopher Hogarth: Dinner is a marathon of 10 dishes at Ho Lee Fook. Chef Jowett Yu is a friend of ours and we both have worked with him, so it's not surprising that he wants to crush us and give us the best of his repertoire. We eat: whelks in a Sichuan broth, fried octopus cake, Chongqing chicken wings with heaven-facing chillies, flower crab with egg white and aged rice wine, painted crayfish with fermented green peppercorn sauce, stir-fried milk with uni, stir-fried frog's legs, fried prawns with salted duck egg yolks, crispy skin chicken, breakfast, stir-fried lily flowers with garlic and ginger. Then came dessert: 'Breakfast 2.0, ice cream, honey joy, pats, dried longan, cocoa coffee crumbs', 'HK style a la mode, Kit Kat brownie, milk tea ice cream, marshmallows, salted caramel and popcorn' and 'pear sorbet dessert with cucumber and elderflower granita, pomelo and green jelly'. A colossal meal. The service and ambience of Ho Lee Fook is unique for Hong Kong and not dissimilar to the the restaurant we are planning to open at the Queen Vic. Jow is very inspiring and an intelligent businessman who's at the top of his game.
Patrick Friesen: Throughout this whole experience (through the daily crushing of exorbitant amounts of food), I keep being really inspired by the vegetable dishes. The texture of the celtuce with wok hei and chicken fat is off the chain. The lily bulbs with sesame is a lesson in simplicity, with really interesting produce shining through. Don't get me wrong. I love live seafood. The crab was cooked perfectly and was very juicy, the prawns were live moments before we ate them, but the veggies keep taking over the show! If I was reading this, I would say "Pat, you've changed!" But maybe that's good. I also wonder how we're going to fit everything into just 22 dishes. So many interesting things I want to put on the menu but I only have space for 22!
Patrick Friesen: Wake up feeling crushed already. I am in desperate need of some fruit. But this is a research trip and I'm no quitter, so off to lunch at Pang's Kitchen. Pang's is a local neighborhood joint that has a Michelin star. Pangs reminds me of Eaton in Ashfield. The owner is at the front watching TV and smashing some pomelo with his wife. We order by just chatting to him while all of us are sitting down.
I have to admit it. I love ordering sweet and sour pork at Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurants. The ultimate guilty pleasure is done with such finesse. You wouldn't think that strawberries would go with pork, but it turned out to be amazing. We smashed it. I've been working on our own sweet and sour pork with free range pork, orange capsicums and pickled lotus root, but not happy with it just yet. The stir-fried milk here is next level. Fluffy little pillows of egg white and milk with chunky pieces of scallop. We have been working on our own version with prawns, prawn roe, tobiko and crispy bread. I hope we can get the milk perfect. I loved the texture of the one at Pang's.
Christopher Hogarth: The pork and the sauce with the sweet and sour dish are great - we've been trying sweet and sour renditions here in Hong Kong and back in Sydney and also testing a few recipes. Wok-fried grouper with celery is delicious - who knew celery could be so tasty? I wonder what the "secret" is?
Patrick Friesen: We went to the recently opened Le Garcon Saigon. It's a Saigonese grill opened by my good friend Bao La. I told him not to crush us… but he crushed us. He really really crushed us. I think we nearly had the whole menu, plus some off-menu dishes. We had cha gio, heaps of skewers, the tastiest wings I had in HK (I am still upset I only got one piece), bánh xèo, Vietnamese pizza, then pink snapper wrapped in banana leaf, half a chicken, octopus and two Rangers Valley wagyu bavette steaks. Bao cooks his steak almost directly on the coals until it starts to get a crust. Then he rests it until the steak is back to room temp. Than back on the coals. He does this process about ten times which means your steak takes about 45 minutes, minimum. But it's super tender and cooked perfectly.
Patrick Friesen: Chris's last lunch with me and I'm still really full. Bao broke us, but it was great to eat Vietnamese with lot of fresh herbs and lettuce amongst all the grilled proteins. For our last lunch together, we decided to make it a good one and booked The Chairman. It's right around the corner from the excellent beef brisket noodle restaurant Kau Kee and the Japanese whisky bar Ronin.
Christopher Hogarth: The Chairman has quite swanky Canton digs on two levels with probably the best service we had in all of the Canton restaurants. The food here is really good. A salad of braised tripe and pigs ears with Sichuan pepper, green shallot, sesame and guava is very good and inspiring. Lightly battered and fried morels, shimeji mushrooms with seven spice are delicious. Soy braised chicken is outstanding, maybe the best of the several that I have tried in the last couple of years. Stir-fried wagyu beef neck comes with bean shoots and lots of julienned green shallots. The dish is very light and tasty - although probably too heavy with the tenderising technique they have used on the beef. Vegetarian san choy bau of finely diced tofu, mushrooms, garlic is really tasty and a great light dish to finish the meal and my trip to Hong Kong on.
All in all a wonderful trip with a colossal amount of eating and knowledge gained.
Patrick Friesen: Chris leaves and the week of bromance ends. I trek out to get an ice cream at Via Tokyo. It's my girlfriend's happy place as they are the biggest providers of matcha-based desserts that I know of. I think matcha tastes like wet grass, but they also have black sesame at the moment and the texture of their soft serve is the best. I smash a cone, solo mission, along with twenty 15-year-old Chinese girls loving matcha errythang.
Now that I have some sweets, I'm ready for savoury - so I head to Sham Shui Po for supper at Tin Cheung seafood restaurant. I order the crispy skin chicken, sweet and sour pork ribs, black bean and pepper clams and stir-fried tong choi with pork and fish mince. I love how all the vegetarian dishes are always so tasty in HK. Could it be because they are all seasoned with some type of meat or seafood? I have had the crispy skin chicken here before, but I had to smash it again as it's so crispy and so tasty. The black bean clams aren't great, I wish I got to go back to Hing Kee for their version. It's the best I have ever had and I would like to check it out again, but no time this trip.
After supper, I head to Yardbird to meet up with some of the boys. No trip to HK isn't complete without a trip to the home of sake and yakitori. It's the most fun restaurant in the world. I'm sure it has something to do with the sake sommelier always plying everyone with copious amounts of sake! The next few hours are lost to highballs, sake and skewers. I love Yardbird.
Patrick Friesen: Did I mention yet that I was really full? I've enjoyed a good sleep-in today. Really craving scrambled eggs so, naturally, I head to the home of good scrambled eggs in HK - Australia Dairy Company. It's a traditional cha chaan teng that is one of the most popular cafes in HK. It's one of the oldest and specialises in scrambled eggs and steamed milk pudding. The story goes that the owner worked in a dairy farm in Australia in the 1940s and that's where the name comes from. I have a scrambled egg sandwich on fluffy white bread with the crusts cut off and an iced lemon tea. Delicious brekky and all super cheap. They're the tastiest scrambled eggs you'll ever try and worth a visit.
I'm still really full, so I take the afternoon off. Now that I am flying solo, I wait for Bao La to finish up work and meet me at a dai pai dong. We went to one in Causeway Bay. During the day there is a wet market on the street and at night the fruit and veg vendors shut up shop and the dai pai dongs open. Seafood is displayed in styrofoam "tanks" on the street outside the restaurant and is killed to order. Doesn't get much fresher than that!
There is a really good version of 'Slightly Fires the Emperor', a dai pai dong dish. It has fresh calamari, flowering garlic chives, dried prawns and crispy whitebait on top. This is closer to a dish I was working on with southern calamari, flowering garlic chives, macadamia, dried prawn and black fungi. A classic DPD dish and I can't wait to see what people in Sydney think of it.
Patrick Friesen: Laters, Hong Kong!
Today is my last day, so I make sure the airport is my last spot of research. I enjoyed my last portion of wonton soup and roast goose. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that I also had a six pack of McDonald's wings. It's a McWing platter combo. Three different flavours in one box. You have to try fast food in other countries and I would definitely get the wings box again.
I love wings. And I love HK. And Chinese food…