In its previous life, Chôm Chôm was Chef Peter Cuong Franklin’s much-loved private kitchen, serving up Vietnamese classics in a tiny space on Wellington Street. Fans of Peter’s pho, look away now… as Chôm Chôm has had a total revamp, befitting of its flashy new digs on Peel Street and with a brand new concept to boot.
Following a trip to Vietnam with business partners Black Sheep Restaurants (the folks who brought Boqueria and Motorino to Hong Kong), Chef Peter was inspired to turn Chôm Chôm into a Bia Hoi (fresh Vietnamese draft beer) style bar and eatery, the first restaurant to bring the Vietnamese street food experience to Hong Kong.
Wanting to show that there’s more to the cuisine than pho (which many of us automatically order whenever we get in sniffing distance of a Vietnamese resto!), the new menu features Peter’s reinvention of popular Vietnamese street snacks and charcoal-grilled dishes, with a range of craft beers on tap too. Meanwhile, the casual 45-seat space is a comfortable but lively (i.e. noisy) hangout, with a minimalist modern design that still feels laidback and completely unpretentious. If you were a fan of the old intimate space, there’s no need to fear change; the new Chôm Chôm may be very different, but it certainly does not disappoint.
We started our meal strong with the “VFC (Vietnamese Fried Chicken Wings)”. With garlic, herbs, lemongrass and perfectly crispy skin, these were honestly as good as fried chicken wings get! Highly recommended.
We also really enjoyed the “Cha Ca Hanoi”, which was a crispy on the outside/tender on the inside sole fillet served over a limey, saucy vermicelli. Light, fresh and bursting with flavour, the plate was pretty much licked clean with this one!
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is currently no pho on Chôm Chôm’s new menu. If you absolutely must have a taste, the pho rolls are a nice consolation prize. These bite-sized rolls of grilled beef and pickles wrapped in fresh rice noodle are totally delicious, with a crunchy charred bottom. It’s like a Vietnamese spin on cheong fun!
Rach had fond memories of Peter’s “Shaking Beef’ from the old Chôm Chôm, so she was excited to see a version of the dish had made its way here. Whilst the flavours were still spot on (and who doesn’t love those fried garlic crisps?!), we found the beef cubes a little too tough to properly fall in love with the dish.
In addition to the a la carte dishes, there’s also a selection of chef’s specials – with Peter planning to introduce more throughout the year. One of the specials that night was the Vietnamese style salmon tartare. I loved scooping up the soft, diced salmon and roe with the deep fried crackers, and this was deliciously moreish… But watch out, as the spicy kick doesn’t catch up with you until its too late!
Our favourite dish of the night was an unexpected one – grilled eggplant with crabmeat. It’s intriguing to look at before you even dig in, with a long aubergine snaking around the plate, topped with crabmeat, a steamed egg and upright prawn crackers sticking out (we settled on a resemblance to some kind of aubergine snake dinosaur!). The eggplant is grilled in Chôm Chôm’s Josper oven – one of the few to be found in Hong Kong and a neat way to replicate Vietnamese street grills but with much more control (and much less smoke!) – and served cold, with a texture reminiscent of melt-in-your-mouth sashimi. There was so much going on flavour-wise with this dish; it was smoky, spicy, zesty… and just ridiculously tasty. We took several “last” bites of this!
After our feast, we were relieved that dessert was a light fresh tropical fruit platter… but with a Chôm Chôm twist. Our fruit came with multi-coloured sweet and savoury chilli dipping salt – but proceed with caution, as the green salt is a lot hotter than it looks! The platter was such an interesting take on an otherwise simple dessert, and made the perfect end to the meal.
How can I forget drinks? With its casual bar feel, this is definitely the type of place to kick back and unwind with some alcohol. I’m known for loathing sickly sweet cocktails, so I was delighted that my Saigon Sour and Pho-jito were both zesty and refreshing, like earthy South-East Asian versions of the classic drinks. Although, I must say, I kept thinking beer would have been an even better pairing with my meal!
I, like most people, am guilty of always ordering pho at Vietnamese restaurants and have never had this style of cuisine before. I left stuffed, but very happy indeed; even my least favourite dishes of the bunch were still pretty damn good. The food was bursting with flavour yet still balanced and Chef Peter certainly knows what he’s doing. Of course, this is Peel Street in Soho rather than a street market in Hanoi, so adjust your price expectations accordingly but, at around $58-88 for small plates and $118-158 for specials from the grill, I think it’s totally worth it.
In the spirit of Bia Hoi, Chôm Chôm is currently only open for dinner and does not take reservations – though look out for potential pop-up kitchens and cool new concepts from Peter throughout the year. Short of booking a flight to Vietnam, this is your best bet for trying something new and sampling what Vietnamese street food has to offer, plus it’s the perfect place for a laidback, comforting after-work dinner and drinks with your buddies. Cheers!
Chôm Chôm G/F Block A, No. 58-60 Peel Street, Central
2810 0850 www.facebook.com/ChomChomPhoBar
Iris blogs about clean living and her cooking adventures figuring out a HK-sized kitchen at Eating Clean In The Dirty City