Tucked away on Elgin Street in Soho lies Ho Lee Fook. I couldn’t wait to try this uber cool restaurant – I mean, with a name like that, you know it’s going to be a fun night out! I was especially looking forward to it as the awesome Chef Jowett Yu heads it up. His success in Sydney with the very trendy Mr. Wong and Ms. G’s set an impressive precedent, and I can’t deny that I went with high expectations.
Ho Lee Fook is a fun little restaurant that has the kitchen on the first floor where you enter and the dining area downstairs, underneath. The design screams cool with the mah-jong tiling and quirky touches, and the fact that they’ve collaborated with Hong Kong-based lifestyle and design company G.O.D. is pretty evident. Once you go downstairs the dimly lit space adds an element of mystery and I quite liked how dark it was!
Leslie and I actually arrived a little early, so we decided to try one of the cocktails on offer. Due to the exasperating heat outside, we were very tempted by the sound of a chilled watermelon cocktail, and I was delighted with the presentation! A whole, mini Taiwanese watermelon that was icy cold and filled with ginger beer, soju and lychee – thirst-quenchingly good and just what we needed.
We were fortunate enough to be able to try a big range of dishes, starting off with the two dishes from the ‘Raw’ section of the menu. The Hamachi with cucumber, lemon jam, horseradish and puffed buckwheat was light and refreshing, the perfect start. I really enjoyed the added texture of the crispy buckwheat and the tart, yet sweet taste of the lemon jam, which really lifted the whole dish.
The Hokkaido scallop with snowpea, pickled enoki and salmon roe was just as refreshing as the Hamachi, although it had a much wetter texture. The salty bursts of roe gave this dish a punch of much-needed seasoning… if I had to choose between the two? I actually think the Hamachi and the lemon jam totally won me over.
We also sampled the Heirloom tomato salad with duck egg, cucumber and Chinese olive leaf, which was also a pleasant dish. The saltiness of the duck egg might be too much for some, but I enjoyed it teamed fresh tomatoes. The generous sprinkling of crispy shallots also added a great crunchy texture!
Of course we had to try the renowned Mom’s “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork” dumplings with sacha soy dressing. I have to say that these lived up to the hype in my opinion; they were juicy and stuffed with delicious, homely ingredients that I knew and loved. The kick of chilli with the sacha soy dressing was the icing on the cake, and even though you can get dumplings that are probably just a good for half the price elsewhere, I think these are still a must-order here.
We were already getting pretty full from these hearty, flavoursome dishes, but there was plenty more to come! We had to try the Friday special; fried risoni rice with goose, peas and black truffle, which was ridiculously indulgent and moreish. I liked how the rice was slightly al dente, giving it a nice bite that went perfectly with the strong truffle flavour (note – this is sadly no longer available although I’m sure other delicious seasonal dishes are on offer now…).
The other special of the day was the grilled, market-fresh blue mackarel, which was perfectly cooked. The slightly crispy skin peeled away to reveal sumptuously tender white flesh underneath, and although it was simply cooked with not many other flavours or ingredients, it was delicious. The fish was really able to shine!
The side of Stir-fried asparagus, broccoli, sugar snap peas, garlic and Shaoxing also was faultless, and it felt great to get some spring greens in.
Now for the main events, the Roast wagyu short ribs, jalapeno puree, green shallot kimchi and a soy glaze and the Grilled pork belly, red cabbage salad, roasted chilli and almond salsa. Both these dishes were under the ‘Not a Small Plate’ section of the menu, and they most certainly were not! One of these was big enough for sharing between at least three people, and both definitely packed a punch. The short ribs were unbelievably tender and juicy, really showing off the high quality of meat. I loved the spicy sauce with the heat of the jalapenos, and green shallot kimchi gave cut through this rich meat with it’s tangy vinegar flavour. Although the short ribs were to die for, I do find that cut quite fatty which after a couple of bites can be a bit overwhelming.
The pork belly was also a very rich, fatty dish, but I honestly have never had pork belly like this. It literally melted in the mouth and was perfectly complemented by the accompanying flavours.
Overall our experience at Ho Lee Fook definitely lived up to expectations. The service was great, the ambience was spot on (we loved the sound of the sizzling wok that you could hear coming from above in the kitchen!) and the dishes were bursting with flavour. The food polishes up classic Chinese dishes and gives them a new twist using modern flavours. The sharing concept is perfect if you’re looking for a great dinner out with a few friends, and I personally think this is the ideal spot if you’re looking for an enjoyable evening with good food. The prices are reasonable, with most starters and vegetables at $88, and the ‘Raw’ section ranging from $138-$168. The roast meats range from $125-$350, and the mains range from only $48 for the Taiwanese rice to $388 for the Wagyu short ribs. Would I go back? A resounding yes!