23 May, 2011
Eat & Drink

Cantopop: Cha Chaan Teng… Elevated

23 May, 2011

UPDATE: Cantopop is now closed.

Think food in Hong Kong, and your mind conjures up images of one of the hundreds of cha chaan tengs dotting the city. Now, blink, and behold Cantopop.

It’s not a hole in the wall by any stretch of the imagination as it occupies prime space inside the swanky L Place on Queen’s Road in Central. It’s not run by your local mom and pop, but rather, is the latest venture of Robert Spina and Todd Darling – the guys behind the popular Posto Pubblico in Soho, and Margaret Xu, Cantopop’s Executive Chef and the woman behind Kitchen Yin Yang. Cantopop is an experiment in serving healthy, organic takes on traditional cha chaan teng dishes in a funky, modern setting.

Lionhead Sizzler

Sassy Hong Kong was invited to the media lunch before the opening day. I went along, to find four benches packed to the brim with journalists, bloggers and the like, and joined the throng.

As I waited to nab bites, I took in the ambience. Everything from the walls to the plates to the takeaway bag is splashed with white, yellow and black pop art, complete with an omelette shaped thought bubble, which I later realize is part of their ‘thinking egg’ theme, per the promotional material sent to us. The kitchen is open, front and center, with benches arranged all around.

Hawker’s Homemade Vongole

Plate piled with food, I make my way through several dishes. My favourites from the vast menu: the Lionhead Sizzler, a delectable hot pork meatball (which Spina tells me is his favourite as well); scotch egg with greens which was hearty and delicious, tofu-honey toast, the tofu part of which tastes like a strong, pungent cheese; and, the ginger crème brulée among the desserts, which was beautifully mild, creamy, and crackly. There are some creative dishes on the menu worth a try, like the ovaltine and tofu flavoured ice-cream. Try the rather random but nonetheless welcome addition to the menu as well: the chocolate cake. To drink: milk tea or yin yang, the quintessentially cha chaan teng tea and coffee mixture.

Canto Beef Bolognaise

Everything else (various egg, meat, noodle and rice dishes) tastes like a less salty, blander version of what you’d find in your favourite cha chaan teng. Rest assured though, that the food is MSG free and organic, and that the meat you’re tucking into comes from animals who probably lead passably healthy lives without growth hormones or antibiotics. The noodles are home-made. Baked goods like the bread and pineapple buns come from Commune Bakery, housed above Posto Pubblico, where they are baked fresh daily without additives. And this promise of healthy food is the unique selling point of Cantopop.

Ovaltine Ice Cream

Rob and Todd’s next venture will open later this summer, right above Cantopop: ‘Linguini Fini,’ an Italian eatery which will be more reasonably priced than Posto, with simple, classic Italian dishes.

Cantopop L Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Central
2857 2608 www.canto-pop.com/

Sai Pradhan is a recent transplant to Hong Kong. She used to live in Los Angeles where she wrote restaurant reviews and travel articles for an online newspaper, The Examiner, besides working as a PR and headhunting consultant. Before LA, Sai worked in New York City in public relations, and dating back even further, went to universities in Washington DC, London, and Edinburgh. She was born and raised in Mumbai. Food is one of her main gateways into feeling at home anywhere, so she is looking forward to exploring Hong Kong one restaurant at a time! Sai is Managing Director of a start-up social media and communications focused consulting and headhunting firm, Trufflepig Search Hong Kong, a branch of Trufflepig Search in Los Angeles, whose parent company is Berkhemer Clayton Inc. Email her: sai@trufflepigsearch.com.

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