The Chairman is not really a who but a what.
Tucked deep into Central away from the hulking steel edifices and madding crowds of consumerists is a restaurant. It sits at the top of a hill from Sheung Wan on the quaintly peaceful street of Kau U Fong. It takes more than 30 minutes of walking under the sweltering sun for our little family tour group to find the place. We’re delayed because we get off at the wrong MTR stop and make numerous wrong turns. The three little children we have in tow are also fed up with being told that “…we’re really, really near already.” But we get there.
Stepping through The Chairman’s automated glass doors from the stifling heat outside is like stepping into folds of white cool. It washes over us like waves as we trudge up the stairs that lead us to the second floor. It’s a small place – the word “hushed” comes to mind, and the duties of service are executed with minimal movements. The story goes that “The Chairman” really does exist, a famous Hong Kong restaurateur who abandoned the industry when Asia was felled by the late-90’s financial crisis. But The Chairman is back, offering cuisine and a quality reflective of more tranquil times. The restaurant opened late last year and is quite the hard-to-get reservation.
The Chairman is explicit in his intentions, they’re spelled out on the menu’s first page: no piddling ingredients and no shortcuts. Hence, the freshest ginger sold only in June, premium soy sauce, produce and seafood from local farms and waters, and homemade ingredients like green olive paste and sha cha sauce.
We begin with The Chairman’s Soy Sauce Chicken ($HKD 148) – frankly, a common dish in any self-respecting Chinese restaurant, but which here, sits in a class of its own. Pillow-soft poultry, its very essence permeated by the most delicate of soy sauces.
Deep-fried Taro Cake with Smoked Duck and Water Chestnut ($HKD 68) are my beloved taro puffs elevated to degrees most exquisite. Ingots of mashed taro are pebbled with water chestnuts that provide a startling but decidedly very pleasant soft crunch swiftly supplanted by an almost indiscernible smokiness. I fear that I may never have another taro puff as good again. At this point, the adults around the table look knowingly at each other: This is no ordinary meal, peeps.
- fried noodle dish that we order for the kids
The Chairman is renowned for many dishes, dishes that bespeak boundless imagination and flirt with the limits of traditional Chinese cuisine. Consider Smoked Pigeon with Longjing Tea & Chrysanthemum, the signature Crispy Small Yellow Croaker Fish served with Balsamic Dressing, Fresh Prawns with Sha Cha Sauce in Clay Pot. Delightfully dizzying and diverse.
But there’s one dish that we’re urged to try by those who’ve recommended that we dine here: Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine and Fragrant Chicken Oil ($HKD 748, that day’s market price). A sauce of Shaoxing wine, butter, and chicken fat meld and marry, a velvet sheet that vanishes on the tongue leaving only a hint of its essence. Thin ho fan noodles, more like ruffled sheets really, the most exquisite I’ve ever had the honor of tasting, soak up the vestigial juices. And the crab that sits atop it all is cooked to perfection, its pale color testament to it being pulled off the flame as soon as it turned color. We’re silent as we ponder this dish, I marvel at the consummate quality of it. So well-conceived and ceaselessly elegant, I feel like I’m eating crab and noodles for the very first time.
The crab dish is breathtaking but the other dishes we have are on an equally exalted plane. The Braised Layered Beancurd with Morel & Chinese Mushrooms is a demonstration in uninterrupted smoothness. How is it possible that mushrooms can taste like this? And the Braised Spare Ribs with Preserved Plums in Caramelized Black Vinegar is sticky-succulence on a bone.
18 Kau U Fong
(852) 2555 2202 / 2895 2202
Monday to Sunday 12 nn-3pm; 6pm-12mn