The Chairman in Hong Kong: Traditional Cantonese food at its best
Located down a sleepy road in Sheung Wan lies The Chairman – a restaurant that has been described as the most influential Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong. Owner Danny Yip opened it in 2009 and has kept his focus on using top-quality seasonal ingredients while staying true to the local cuisine. And it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed: The Chairman recently became the highest-ranking Hong Kong entry on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list, and the second best in Asia.
Situated in a two-storey townhouse, the restaurant was an oasis of calm and tranquility. The decor was very simple and each table was set with a white tablecloth, a plate, bowl, cup and spoon, and chopsticks. This no-frills, traditional Chinese setting meant that all eyes were on the food. Armed with a pot of jasmine tea, we were ready to begin sampling the set lunch menu.
First, we tried the Pickled Midsummer Ginger Root, which is only harvested once a year; the restaurant prides itself on pickling their own ginger. The finished product was a brilliantly sweet and mellow palate cleanser with just a hint of spice. Next was the Cold Soya Szechuan Pepper-Marinated Baby Squid, freshly caught each morning. The squid was perfectly tender and beautifully marinated – one of my favourites from their entrées.
Deep-fried Crispy Taro Cake with Smoked Duck is a popular dish at dim sum eateries, although this cake is not as easy to come by these days, due to the laborious preparation required. The Chairman’s version exceeded all our expectations with its flaky outer layer, fluffy mashed taro and sweet, smoky duck.
Last but not least of the starters was the Lobster Stir Fried with Fresh Water Crab Roe and Shrimp Oil. This dish presented impressive hunks of meaty lobster paired with delicate crab roe and fiery oil.
Their signature main course dish is a Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged Shaoxing Wine and Flat Rice Noodles, served as a whole steamed crab which looked caricature-like as it took its pride of place on the plate. The sauce was velvety and rich with a strong kick from the aged wine. We became completely engrossed in the task of eating the crab and found great pleasure in tearing into the claws and legs.
Alongside this, we tried the Braised Spare Rib with Preserved Plums in Caramelised Black Vinegar. The outside had a satisfyingly firm crunch and a sticky glazed finish before giving way to succulent, juicy meat. In contrast to the crunchy texture, we ate their Layered Bean Curd and Seasonal Vegetables Cooked in Homemade Fish Broth. This nourishing and comforting soup had a delicious fragrant flavour and was sprinkled with pieces of “Chinese doughnut” for some added indulgence.
To round off the main courses, we ordered the Crab Meat and Sakura Shrimp Sticky Rice. Ending on a rice course is not uncommon in Asia. And I’m so glad we did, as we were treated to aromatic rice with sweet (from the crab) and salty (from the sakura shrimps) flavours throughout.
Finally, we indulged in the Dessert Trio: Almond Soup, Hawthorn Berries Pudding and Herbs and Mung Bean Cake. This trio of desserts stayed loyal to traditional Chinese sweets by using ingredients such as mung beans, almonds and hawthorn berries. Each dessert was light, smooth in texture and slightly sweet – a fitting end to a perfect meal.
The beauty of this restaurant lies in its simplicity and its reliance on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Everything is meticulously prepared and their home-style cooking appeals to all generations as well as both locals and visitors. If you’re after the best traditional Cantonese food then The Chairman is one restaurant you definitely can’t afford to miss.
Photos: Alex Woods
To book a table at The Chairman, 18號 Kau U Fong Central Hong Kong, call +852 2555 2202 or visit their website here.