We were invited to try out new restaurant Hainan Shaoye in Causeway Bay at the World Trade Centre. Having been open for less than a month, we were surprised when we arrived to find that the restaurant was packed – good news obviously travels fast! The word, “Shaoye” in the restaurant name is a Chinese phrase describing ambitious young men who appreciate style and have sophisticated tastes, so we weren’t surprised to learn that Tony Cheng, one of the founders of Michelin-starred Italian restaurant, The Drawing Room, is the co-founder and CEO of this new eatery.
The decor of the restaurant is simple but chic – perfect for casual dining, but with a little extra elegance – details like the bird cage lamps and wall murals, the colourful t-shirts of the staff, as well as the minimalist design of the menus combine to give the impression that every element has been given careful thought. The cuisine is mainly Singaporean, but with some Malaysian dishes too, and the star item on the menu is of course the Hainan Chicken. This poached chicken dish originates from Hainan, but has become a Singaporean staple, and it was to Singapore that Tony Cheng went to find renowned Hainan Chicken chefs, Han Seng Fong and Arron Ye Siong Le, both of Chatterbox fame (and famously ate 18 Hainan Chicken dishes in one week in the name of research). The chefs are hard at work in the open kitchen which you can peer into in the entry-way of the restaurant. I love open kitchens in restaurants as I think it shows so much pride in what the restaurant serves to put it all out there on display – plus, it builds the appetite as you wait to be seated!
I have to tell you a very embarrassing story about my first experience with Hainan Chicken, which was in a restaurant in Guangzhou where I used to have to travel for work. I was eating alone one evening (thankfully) and decided to order Hainan Chicken, which I’d never heard of before, and when it arrived, I was disappointed to find that the chicken was cold. So (I blush just remembering this), I sent it back (and not all that pleasantly) and told them to make it hot. Which they did, perfectly preserving my face, though I’m sure there were a fair few sniggers in the kitchen. It was only a couple of months later that I found out Hainan Chicken is SUPPOSED to be served at room temperature, and I still feel the humiliation of sending it back!!
Anyway, Maura ordered the classic Hainan Chicken (below), and I tried the Seafood Laksa (above), both of which are served at lunch as set meals, accompanied by veggies and condiments. Portions are absolutely huge, and for the cool, rainy day that we “enjoyed” yesterday (I got splashed by a minibus on the way to the restaurant so was soaked from the waist down), it was the perfect comfort food. The Laksa was rich and hearty, and unlike many commercial Laksas you find in Hong Kong, it felt like I could taste many different flavours in it rather than just one note. There was a real texture of crab in the broth, and a lovely warming heat that stopped just short of being spicy. This is a broth with soul.
The Hainan Chicken was also (as you would expect for a restaurant’s signature dish) perfectly executed, and comes with a little teapot of broth on the side which you can sip as you eat the chicken. The rice has also been cooked in the same broth and steamed with garlic, ginger, shallots and lemon grass, and so is not at all oily, but rich in taste. I have to make a very un-foodie confession which is that as much as I love the taste and succulence of Hainan Chicken meat itself, as a Westerner who has been inducted from a young age to avoid fat and not eat chicken skin, I sometimes need to separate the fat and skin from the meat itself in order to truly enjoy what I’m eating. If you have similar texture issues, or are just watching your fat levels, I’d probably recommend you take the delicious Laksa instead as I’m aware that by doing this I’m kind of destroying the point of the dish.
We couldn’t resist getting an extra couple of sides to try out along with the main dishes, so we ordered some Satay Skewers and also some Singaporean Turnip Cake (Chai Tow Kway). The Turnip was just the most delicious thing ever, and even when I was stuffed I couldn’t resist but keep picking at it. To be honest I think I would come back to Hainan Shaoye for that alone! All in all, Hainan Shaoye is the perfect lunchtime spot if you’re after something hearty, simple and delicious. Plus, anywhere that makes me a perfect fresh lime soda with mint wins my heart forever.
Hainan Shaoye, Podium Level 3, World Trade Centre, Causeway Bay (just next to the Excelsior Hotel). 2111 3166
At Sassy we like to be transparent about when we are given freebies, as we feel you the reader have the right to know whether we pay for our own meals or not! In the case of Hainan Shaoye, we were lucky enough to be treated to lunch on behalf of their PR company.