Lifestyle

Chef ArChan Chan takes on modern Chinese cooking at Ho Lee Fook 2.0


Hong Kong-native chef ArChan Chan adds her take on modern Chinese cooking to the brand new chapter of long-time Black Sheep Restaurants institution, Ho Lee Fook.

Here in Hong Kong, Chinese restaurants are everywhere you look. That is not to say that they should all be thought about as a singular entity, though. Each and every location — be it your local neighbourhood dim sum tea house or a long-time, generations-run establishment — posits a unique character and style of its own. There’s the ones you visit for an authentic taste of regional cuisines, others for the sake of tradition. Then, there are the ones you head for when in need of a good, celebratory atmosphere.

One particular venue with an identity louder and distinctive than its usually pared-back peers is Elgin Street’s very own Ho Lee Fook, recently reopened with a brand new look.

ho lee fook 2.0

In the beginning

During its infancy back in 2014, Ho Lee Fook, self-proclaimed as “a funky Chinese kitchen”, was patronised more for the dynamic ambience that bellowed throughout the venue. It was the glamorised edition of the traditional Chinese jaau lau (酒樓; Chinese banquet restaurants) experience; a new wave of modern Chinese cuisine, fitted with stirring theatrics from the roaring, fired-up woks at the open kitchen upon entry and the gleaming row upon row of golden Lucky Cats waving in synchronised motion.

Of course, this was just the beginning for one of Black Sheep Restaurants’ longtime local favourites. Ho Lee Fook continued to see many successes: christening beloved signatures like the Prawn Toast x Okonomiyaki and roast wagyu short rib that many have made the special trip for, snaking queues with two hour wait-times and the maintenance of a long-time status — at least in restaurant years — as a reputed institution of Cantonese cuisine, one that also knew how to have a great time.

ho lee fook 2.0

A brand new chapter

Now in its second evolution, Ho Lee Fook, followed by a brief but transformative closure and welcoming of head chef ArChan Chan, presents a 2.0 version of the restaurant, one that stays true to its affinity for grand visuals and interactive experiences (yes, the dragon dance still makes occasion appearances). It is, however, also matched with a revamped menu of modern Chinese flavours that preserve tradition. In the restaurant’s own words, the brand new Sean Dix-designed space is a destination inspired by both “faint memories of wild nights out” and “familiar Mom’s dumplings”.

Loyal patrons will recognise the enthusiastic Lucky Cats, which are joined by gilded fortune cookies also statued at the entrance. The brightened up interiors are doused in deep jewel-toned reds and plush velvet, sidled against a gold mirrored ceiling and striking Chinese motifs that span from Mahjong-tiled walls at the exterior to wallpapers that reference Chinese patterns typically sewn on traditional qipaos worn by Chinese actress Lin Dai, and vintage artworks by celebrated photographer Cang Xin. Nostalgic ’80s Canto-pop bops and classic hits reverberate within the intimate dining room, now pulsating with cheerful nostalgia.

ho lee fook 2.0

As for the renewed menu, it is an impressive showcase of Hong Kong-native chef ArChan Chan’s culinary journey that began in Hong Kong before transversing for 14 years through notable kitchens in Australia and Singapore before finally returning back into the city. It’s an especially symbolic homecoming for Chan, who, while gained skills and knowledge in ingredients and cooking techniques overseas, longed for flavours closer to home, which she logs in her first cookbook, Hong Kong Local. Ho Lee Fook, then, came at a perfect moment to the stage for a spotlight exhibition of both Chan’s heritage and learnings.

“This is the first time I will really be cooking the food I love, in the city,” Chan muses. “When I first started out, cooking wasn’t really seen as a career, but rather something my grandma did when I was growing up. Entering college and taking my first internship was what really opened my eyes to the profession; it was difficult, but it taught me that I enjoy the pressure of cooking and that I enjoy seeing the guests happy. Seeing them appreciate the work that we do and the experience that we give them is really what makes my day and the thing that made me continue on down this path.”

New to chef Chan’s menu are wok-centric classics (her choice cooking tool) including the Hong Kong-signature Stir-fry King (小炒皇) of cuttlefish tossed in garlic chives, yellow chives and chilli with crispy anchovies and cashews; prawn roe stirred noodles; XO cheong fun with toasted sesame and yellow chives. Among her roast specials: honey-glazed Kurobuta pork char siu authentically grilled over charcoal (not to be missed!) and the Ho Lee Duck. Chef Chan credits her most meaningful addition to the new menu to the Live Razor Clams, a personal favourite from her childhood, and the classic cheesy lobster e-fu noodles, which she expertly elevates with seaweed butter.

ho lee fook 2.0

Changing perceptions

At the core of it all, Chan reiterates that it’s not as superficial as simply ideating a signature dish or finessing renewed interpretations of old classics.

“For me, there are a few words that are very important principles: respect, care, fairness and honesty. It is how I treat food, my kitchen, my team and our guests that is what we need to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves with this restaurant,” she explains. “It is this idea that we can change their perception of an ingredient or dish into something they truly enjoy that makes it meaningful for me.”

Ho Lee Fook is open from 6-11pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; 6pm-12am from Thursday to Saturdays. Reservations can be made here.




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