Red fortune banners on the wall. Stir-fry choy sum on an orange plastic plate. Diners sitting around a big round table with lazy susan. Those are probably the most stereotypical images when you think about Cantonese restaurants. Well, think again.
A wave of unusual and playful Cantonese restaurants have been popping up around town, pairing with a similarly impressive food and drink menu. Here are our favorite places to chow on the evolved version of har gow (shrimp dumpling) and char siu (Cantonese barbecue pork) while partying with the coolest kids in town.
Happy Paradise, Central
Walking into May Chow’s—who won a best Asia female chef award in 2017—Happy Paradise is like stumbling into a scene from Netflix’s “Maniac” (or any quirky sci-fi movie).
Resembling a retro-futuristic cha chaan teng (or Cantonese greasy spoon), the colorful wall tiles, the neon lights, the classic Canton-pop background music and the way-hipper-than-you bartenders make Happy Paradise a fashionable hangout to see and be seen.
But what makes it a happy place is Chow’s playful and delightful interpretation of some of the most famous Cantonese staples. Some of our favourites include Sourdough Egg Waffle, the Braised Pomelo and the Yellow Wine Chicken—slow-cooked chrysanthemum chicken with rice in flavorful Shaoxing wine broth.
The drink menu updates regularly but our current favourites are—HK Lemon Tea (with vodka, black tea, lemon, and sweet soy) and Crazy Rich Asians (with Maotai, pandan-infused Fernet Hunter and lychee).
One of the pioneers in town in making Chinese restaurants cool, Duddell’s is a two-floor fine-dining Cantonese restaurant/art gallery/terrace bar. The airy and leafy space reminds you of an art collector’s living room—tasteful yet cosy.
Dishes are less inventive and revolutionary than their interior design, including traditional Cantonese-style stir-fry dishes as well as a exquisite dim sum menu.
Occupying one of the most glamorous locations in town, HEXA serves Cantonese cuisine with a contemporary twist and an unbeatable 270-degree view of the Victoria Harbour.
Steamed grouper fillet is served with crab meat and crispy conpoy (dried scallop). Instead of Yangzhou fried rice, it’s Yanzhou fried puntalette.
Don’t forget to leave some room for HEXA’s exquisite desserts—especially, the double boiled pear in chuanbei and aged tangerine peel. The traditional sweet soup combo that is supposed to be nourishing to the body in Chinese culture.
John Anthony, Causeway Bay
Before raising your eyebrows at its name—OK, we did too—John Anthony was the first Chinese to become a British citizen in the 1800s.
Stationed at Limehouse, the first “Chinatown” in London, John made his fortune working at a trading company.
The 7,000-square-foot John Anthony can easily be one of the most beautiful Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong—with every corner of the restaurant another Instagram shot—featuring funky floor tiles that were either handmade in Thailand or reclaimed from old houses in China.
In addition, there are plenty of eco-conscious designs—from a water generator to an innovative heat recovery system to a wall finish that doubles as an air purifier, making it one of the most sustainable restaurants in town.
Food wise, it serves modern and traditional Chinese dishes, including a mean roasted goose with dark roasted purple plum sauce, using its custom-built barbecue grills modelled after the traditional Cantonese barbecue method.
Ho Lee Fook, Central
Upon entering the cheekily named Ho Lee Fook in the nightlife district of Hong Kong, you will be welcomed by an open kitchen bar made out of mahjong tiles and a wall covered by hundreds of golden waving cats and a peacock.
The restaurant sits in the basement with cool and dark decor inspired by a cha chaan teng.
Helmed by chef Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook’s food menu is mostly contemporary Cantonese and Taiwanese cuisines.
Some of the must-orders are the slightly charred-but-juicy barbecued pork (needs pre-ordering), the not-too-sweet French toast and the Hong Kong-style à la mode with Kit Kat brownie, milk tea ice cream, marshmallows, salted caramel and popcorn.
But the one dish to die for is chef Jowett Yu’s mom’s “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork” dumplings with sacha soy dressing.
Social Place, multiple locations
When the centrepiece of a restaurant is a ping pong table, it could, honestly, either be terribly tacky or the sign of a fun evening at a quirky modern Chinese bistro. Luckily it’s the latter at Social Place.
Social Place serves healthy, MSG-free, modern Cantonese cuisine in a casual vibe.
Try the roasted pigeons and the charcoal egg custard buns. There is a good selection of local craft beers to pair with the food menu, too.
On a busy night, the ping pong table is usually used as a dining table. But if it’s free, the waiter may let you play a game.
Madame Ching, Wanchai
Located in Starstreet Precinct, one of the most fashionable corners in Hong Kong, Madame Ching dishes out contemporary Chinese dishes and Cantonese roasts.
Some of the highlights are the Sesame Prawn Toast (an elegant take on the traditional dim sum), Cantonese Cuban (a Hong Kong-style Cuban sandwich with pulled pork, spring onion jam, pickles, mustard wrapped in Chinese deep-fried oil stick) and its Mixed Platter (a choice of three classic roasts).
The interior is a hybrid of a bar and a Chinese teahouse filled with wooden furniture and retro photos and posters.