Saturday, 18 April 2015

Chom Chom - A taste of Hanoi in HK

Spending a lot of time wandering around the streets of Hong Kong, in particular Central and SoHo, you get a sense for which restaurants are popular and which are struggling a little bit.  I'm often amazed that one funky little dining spot might have a crowd spilling onto the pavement, while another will be empty all the time.  With so many cool looking little spots about to try out, my list keeps getting bigger!

I was recently contacted by a restauranteur I know in Brisbane who has some of the most popular dining spots in town, with a recommendation to check out SoHo hotspot Chom Chom.  It was the inspiration for one of his most popular little food joints called Kwan Brothers (see post here) and DG thought it would be great for me to connect with Chom Chom mastermind Peter Franklin.  So, linking up with our favorite HK food blogger Cynthia from JustCozItsTuesday, we made our way across.

It was a hot and steamy HK evening when we made our way up the hill from Central to Chom Chom and the first thing I noted was how often I'd walked past Chom Chom, not realising that it was one of those funky little dining spots I'd been keen to check out.  Cynthia was already warming a seat while we waited for a table to clear inside, so with nothing else to do, we sat outside catching up while the girls cracked on with some cocktails.

Like a lot of Hong Kong restaurants, Chom Chom is in quite a little space that doesn't have room for many diners.  I guess with space being at a premium in HK, it's no wonder that the space was cramped and crowded, but instead of feeling claustrophobic, there was a party atmosphere that's hard to manufacture.  With a half dozen tables along one side and a kitchen area surrounded by the ubiquitous bar dining area, I reckon there was room for about forty to fifty diners at a time.

We were finally offered a table inside and after squeezing through a gap that was made for someone half my size (yep, I did tangle my feet embarrassingly), we set about looking over the menu and deciding on our meal.  Owner Peter Franklin's vision with Chom Chom Kitchen and Bar was to bring Vietnam's Hanoi street food to the streets of HK. With a menu filled with delicious looking street food designed for sharing, a hot and steamy night with beer and cocktails flowing, we could easily imagine that we were sitting in downtown Hanoi.

With a menu that has a many great looking options as Chom Chom, there is only one thing you can do, just go mental ordering and hope you can find space to eat everything ordered!  We kicked off with the VFC, which of course translated into Vietnamese Fried Chicken Wings with garlic, coriander and mint.  It's never easy to plate chicken wings, but we loved the little pyramid of wings that managed to look refined, and all so inviting.  The crispy golden skin of the wings had a lovely hint of garlic and coriander and was totally inviting.  Wings are always messy to eat, but when they taste great, you don't mind the mess, and mess we made!  I really liked the wings, but had a minor issue with one set, which had a vein of bright pink, which could have signified undercooked chicken, so we left that one aside.

How do you split a single serve of BBQ pork rib riblets three ways?  It was a question that we had to answer quick smart because our next course of ribs had arrived.  Looking deligtful but not quite as elegantly plated as the wings, the ribs were based in a tamarind  and fish sauce, then covered with a little chilli for heat.  Cynthia did the honours of cutting the ribs and we dug in.  I loved the flavour of the fish sauce and the sweetness of the pork ribs shone through, but I found the ribs just a little dry and while it didn't detract, they certainly would have been amazing if a little more moist.

Looking like deep fried worms on a plate our next course of salt and pepper squid in garlic, ginger and black bean was up next.  Talk about more(ish)!  The well cooked squid were perfect, especially when dipped in the chilli mayo to give an extra little hit of heat.  It was a generous serving too, with enough squid pieces for us to snack on for the rest of the meal.

I think my favourite dish of the night was the grilled beef sirloin in pickled garlic with a herb sauce. The sirloin was cooked to perfection, with a little bit of a char on the outside for texture and flavour, but still a lovely medium rare.  Covered in toasted garlic and chilli, there was the obligatory heat to the dish, not overpowering, and it led me to sneaking more than my fair share of the dish.  I was hoping that SC and Cynthia didn't notice, but I'm sure they did.

There had been a lot of meaty goodness in our meal, so it was a quite relief when the shrimp and roast pork rice paper roll with vegetables and herbs came along (just at the right time too!).  What set this dish apart was the incredibly sweet pickled vegetable dipping sauce that accompanied.  I tell you, that stuff could have been bottled and sold as a drink it was so good, so mixing the sauce with the fresh rice paper rolls was a dream.

We'd just about exhausted the selection of small plates available on the menu, so moved onto a couple of the larger plates.  It was hard to decide which of the large plates was best, they both actually tasted pretty similar, even though they were completely different proteins and flavours. The Caramel Black Cod in caramel fish sauce with garlic, shallot, ginger and served with jasmine rice was delightful.  The expertly cooked cod sat in a pool of stunning caramel sauce that had soaked into the flesh of the fish to make each and every bite a pleasure sensation.

On the other hand, I also really loved the ginger chicken in a ginger caramel sauce with young ginger and accompanied by jasmine rice.  The chicken was tender and with more of that delicious caramel sauce, it was another sweet large plate was was very enjoyable.  However, I didn't really get a sense of the ginger, which was unfortunately hidden behind that sweet caramel sauce, so upon reflection I think I preferred the cod...

With such an amazing array of Vietnamese food on offer, I was really surprised by the lack of options available for dessert, in fact, there was only option for dessert.  I don't inherently have issues with fruit, in fact, I love fruit, but to only have a tropical fruit platter available for dessert seemed like quite a let down.  We did order the tropical fruit platter, which came with sweet and savoury dipping salt, but there was noting (at all) special about the finish to the meal.  With so many traditional Vietnamese desserts, I wonder if it was a little bit of a cop out to only have fruit.  What about a Bahn Bo, or Chè trôi nước?

In the time we were at Chom Chom, there was a vibe that can only be described as lively.  The crowd grew and grew and at one point it seemed as if there were more people outside waiting to get in than there were inside eating!  It was actually a pretty cool spot, made all the better because Cynthia knew one of the waitresses pretty well and I think we were looked after just a little bit more as a consequence.

We really enjoyed the sweet and sour pleasure that signifies amazing Vietnamese cuisine, with all of our dishes balancing heat, sweet, savoury and sour pretty damn well.  There were a lot that I would consider favourite dishes, and I'd happily go back for a repeat visit.

Be warned, with not a lot of seats inside, you might find that there is quite a bit of a wait to get into Chom Chom, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for most Hong Kong residents, who seem to see queuing as a part of life.  We arrived pretty early and still had to wait for about twenty minutes for a table to free up.  I had a fantastic night catching up with our blogger buddy and SC even got to practice some of her newly learnt Cantonese - so added bonus.

A good recommendation from DG all the way from Brisbane Australia - cheers mate


A hot and steamy night in HK calls for cocktails 
Its a cozy little space in Chom Chom
Lots of small plates to share - great way to spend the night
The large plates came with rice but our selections were too similar - would need to mix it up next time
The big disappointment of the night - dessert. More options please
The kitchen staff hard at it - it was busy busy
Haha, the bill comes in a Saigon Beer can...  Of course
Neon sign points to Vietnamese delights

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