CHACHAWAN is the newest addition to Sheung Wan’s growing list of restaurants that are just too cool for school!
A collaboration between restaurateur Yenn Wong and Nahm protégé Chef Adam Cliff, CHACHAWAN brings Issan cuisine, from the North-Eastern region of Thailand, to Hong Kong. Unlike the typical curry or noodle dishes we may be accustomed to ordering at Thai restaurants, Issan’s food is simple and clean, inspired by Thai street food and allowing basic ingredients, like grilled meats and raw vegetables, to shine; they are enhanced by pure but intense hot and sour flavours, but without thick sauces or stews. Just don’t forget to order a side of Khao Niew (steamed sticky rice) if you don’t have the best tolerance to heat – it will help offset the spice!
If you’ve been to Fatty Crab, the decor here may feel somewhat familiar. Is this ghetto-chic, East-meets-West style starting to feel overdone? Maybe. Do we still kinda love it? Totally! The two-floor space may not be huge but CHACHAWAN makes the most of every inch. The walls are plastered with vintage Chinese posters stamped over with Thai designs, and old-fashioned lanterns decorate the space leading to the open kitchen. There’s a striking Asian-inspired street art-style mural, but my favourite part of the interior design is a poster of a dinosaur in the shower. Yes, random but awesome.
CHACHAWAN is rustic, hip, and artsy all at the same time; the service was warm, friendly and enthusiastic whilst a great soundtrack blasted throughout our meal (even if the volume was pretty intense once the place was packed!), including the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Desire, Goldfrapp and Robyn.
As CHACHAWAN is still awaiting its liqueur license, we started with a round of mocktails including the Longan Nahm, Sour Grape and Thai Basil Fizz. As someone who is horrified by how overly sugary drinks are in Hong Kong (I realise I may be in the minority), I was relieved that CHACHAWAN’s mocktails were refreshing and not sickly sweet at all. I liked my Pomelo & Pomegranate Cooler… and I liked the adorable straws that came with our drinks even more! Unfortunately, pomegranate seeds kept clogging up my straw and I eventually gave up on my drink, but my dinner party seemed to enjoy the rest of the mocktails and iced teas.
The Som Dtum Malakor – pounded green papaya salad with cherry tomatoes, chilli, dried shrimp, sweet and sour tamarind dressing and a side of dried pork – was a great example of down-to-earth Issan cuisine. I tend to prefer a crunchier green papaya salad, but the flavours were good and the pork was crispy and sweet… And as a bit of a heat-wimp, I appreciated that this was one of the milder papaya salads I’ve had the pleasure of burning my mouth with!
We also really liked the Nahm Dok Nuer, a grilled Wagyu beef salad with shallots, fresh herbs, lime, fish sauce and toasted rice dressing. This dish was an incredibly moreish combination of spicy, salty and sour, and the chef used quality tender beef. Meanwhile, the Gai Yunq – chicken thigh marinated in 24 hours in garlic, pepper and coriander – was not the most elegant dish to eat, but the meat itself was succulent and the killer jhim jeaw sauce (another great balance of sweet, spicy and salty) was absolutely addictive.
The Goong Golae was a delight to look at and I loved its honest presentation. As opposed to swimming around in a thick sauce, these huge whole tiger prawns are grilled over fire, smothered in dry red coconut curry, and plated up as is – and simply burst with zesty lime and coconut curry flavours.
We also tried the Pla Phao Glua, salt-crusted whole sea bass stuffed with lemongrass, pandanas and lime leaf. This fish is cooked over fire and comes with a green chilli dipping sauce; whilst the fish itself wasn’t particularly flavourful, the flesh was lovely, tender and fell off the bone. Eat the salty skin at your own risk!
If you’re a vegetarian, do not fear! The kitchen was able to accommodate the vegetarians at our table with an omelette and egg salad that weren’t on the menu. They were basic but full of fresh herbs – and a nice break from the spicier items.
If you haven’t completely stuffed yourself yet, beat the heat with some delicious cooling desserts. You can go for mango sticky rice if you want to play it safe, but I actually loved CHACHAWAN’s homemade ice creams. The ice cream itself was clean and simple, but came in interesting flavours like ginger and lemongrass.
However, the table favourite was actually a warm dessert – the Kanom Dtom were so good! An unusual choice of gooey sweet coconut rice dumplings served in a bowl of unexpectedly salty coconut cream, we’re definitely going back to CHACHAWAN for this alone.
CHACHAWAN has only been open for a couple of weeks but if the buzzing dinner crowd was any indicator, it’s already up there with the cool-kid popularity of Yenn’s other restaurants, 208 Duecento Otto (just next door!), 22 Ships and Duddell’s. As yet, CHACHAWAN is only open for dinner, doesn’t take reservations and has a no service charge policy – just like every other cool restaurant in Sheung Wan then! – with most dishes costing around $100-150 (the sea bass is the most expensive item on the menu at $248).
It’s about time there was a good, ultra-hip Thai restaurant in the Central/Sheung Wan ‘hood, and CHACHAWAN fits the bill nicely. The spice levels were surprisingly bearable and the flavour combinations were bang on, whilst the friendly staff, funky décor and laidback vibe combine to make this a quality dining experience.
Chachawan Chachawan 206 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan,
2549 0020 www.facebook.com/chachawan.hongkong
Iris blogs about clean living and her cooking adventures figuring out a HK-sized kitchen at Eating Clean In The Dirty City