When I heard that my favourite dessert kitchen, Riquiqui, in Wellington Street, was closing and its chef abandoning us for greener pastures, I was quite depressed and wasn’t sure that anything that took over the space could be as good or as fun. However, I had the privilege of being introduced to Peter Franklin, chef and owner of new eaterie Chôm Chôm pho bar, before its opening – and things didn’t seem too bad anymore!
Chef Peter was born and raised in Vietnam and from my two visits so far, (lunch and dinner) he certainly seems to know what he’s doing. The cuisine is modern Vietnamese, but you’ll recognise most of the usual suspects on the menu, which is small but showcases Chef Peter’s flair in the kitchen and his knowledge of traditional dishes and their ingredients. The contemporary aspect is more in the presentation and the slight twist in certain dishes, and that is more noticeable in the newly launched set dinner menu. At the moment the set dinner menu is available Friday and Saturday evenings for $480 (+10% service charge) per person, but from Sundays to Thursdays, you can book dinner in advance if you have a party of ten minimum.
The inside of Chôm Chôm is fresh and minimalistic, leaving the eyes to focus on the work going on in the open kitchen. Peter and his staff are friendly, attentive and show a lot of love to the dishes being prepared.
To start, Rach and I quenched our thirst with a delicious Virgin Parisian Mojito while we waited for the Appetiser Sampler, Vietnamese rolls 3 ways (fried, steamed and fresh) – crispy spring rolls with pork, vegetable and cilantro; steamed rice paper rolls with mixed mushroom, pork, shallots and spring onion; and fresh rice paper rolls with mango, shrimps and herbs.
All were excellent, but the fresh rice paper roll had the edge, with the mango really giving the roll a refreshing burst of sweet citrus, which nicely complimented the shrimps and herbs. For me, it’s all about the Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), which I have a tendency to drench everything with, and this was homemade to saucy perfection.
I was looking forward to the Lemongrass Seafood Pho (Pho Bien) as I’d already sampled their Beef Pho at a previous lunch and thought the broth divine. The pho was so aromatic when it arrived, that I took a moment to breathe in the lovely lemongrass bouquet before gazing at the shrimps, crab, clams and the quail egg bobbing up and down in my bowl (note from Rach: quail egg was divine!). This may seem an odd thing to comment on, but the bowl was a good size. I say this because sometimes, the bowls of pho I’ve had in some restaurants are so humungous that my noodles bloat before I can finish, and I don’t enjoy bloated noodles. So it’s great that Chôm Chôm has worked out that one doesn’t need to fill the bowl to the brim with noodles and instead, let’s the broth do the talking.
The palate cleanser, albeit small and one might say insignificant in the grand scheme of the things, has to be mentioned, as this cucumber lime sorbet was so refreshing and zesty. I loved the crunch of the sea salt that was sprinkled on top, and the cleanser was a demonstration of Chef Peter’s strength in sorbets and ice-creams, which I will come to later!
The next two main dishes were the razor clam with spring onion oil and peanuts, and the Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac) with crunchy egg noodles and watercress salad. I liked the spring onion oil and peanut combination with the razor clam, but I felt there was a tad too much oil, and the clam unfortunately ended up being on the greasy side and the taste overwhelmed.
The Shaking Beef was an interesting dish, a slight twist to the traditional dish, where the beef is normally cubed and served with rice; at Chôm Chôm, Chef Peter sliced the beef into thin strips and served it over crunchy egg noodles. The beef was tender and the sauce was meaty and of a nice consistency, enough to soften the noodles, which, I have to confess, I had a hard time eating in an elegant fashion. I ended up giving up on the noodles as I ran out of gravy, but Rach soldiered on and did us proud (with gravy all over the surrounding area to prove it)! Overall, a great dish… I loved the beef and the watercress salad, but personally, a difficult one to tackle when the noodles aren’t cooperating!
To end, we had their home-made ice-cream. And boy, oh boy, how I wish Chef Peter would open an ice-cream parlour. The coconut ice-cream was to die for; full of fresh coconut flavour, creamy and rich, I could have eaten a whole tub full. The mango sorbet was a fantastic sharp and fruity contrast (and Peter even treated us to a special scoop of cinnamon too), but its coconut counterpart was definitely the cool winner and we loved that the ice cream was presented in coconut shells.
Chôm Chôm is an exciting addition to the Central scene, and I feel that Chef Peter has ensured its longevity with his attention to detail and evident passion for the Vietnamese cuisine, as well as the culture. Watch this space.
Chôm Chôm 2/F, 12 Wellington Street, Central
2868 3302 www.chomchom.hk/
Open Monday – Saturday: 11.00am – 2.00pm. Five-course chef tasting menu dinner is available on request.
Check out more food-related writings from Michelle on her blog, Chopstixfix!