May Chow serves up neo-classical Cantonese in a funky neon-splashed diner in SoHo.
Words Tiffany Chan Food Photo Joe Kwong
Despite the name, Happy Paradise is not a massage parlour, but May Chow’s latest Hong Kong neo-Cantonese venture. It does, however, look a little like “the bathroom of a gay club”, as one Crave colleague put it. Inspired by the polysexual parties Chow frequented while living in Los Angeles, the venue appears to be more bar than restaurant, with fluorescent pink lights, orchid banquettes and glossy tiles. Indeed, as the night wears on, the lights grow dimmer, the music louder and the space transforms from restaurant to bar.
There are no baos to be had at Happy Paradise. Instead, Chow and executive chef John Javier have conjured a short menu of 20 re-imagined, refined Cantonese classics. Behind the bar, head mixologist Chanel Adams’ cocktails pay homage to local ingredients, with drinks such as Kowloon Soy Smash ($128) cleverly (but unusually) incorporating crystals of soy into a libation of alipus mezcal with citrus and ginger. We started with Drunken Plums ($118), a cocktail we were told would taste like a Chinese dirty martini, though the lingering impression was of drunken chicken. Our meal started with salt and pepper Bombay duck fish ($88). Seasoned generously with homemade eight-spice salt this made an excellent snack, the flesh warm, loose and light. Next came char siu rice with silky egg: the pork was neither fatty nor juicy enough, but we did enjoy the addition of pork lard and Kowloon sweet soy sauce, served separately. At $158, it was very expensive for imperfect char siu rice. If we were to come back for one dish alone, which we will, it would be the slow-cooked chicken ($328). Chow’s take on the typically rustic Hakka yellow wine chicken was delicious, delivering clean but sophisticated flavours. The intensity and clarity of the shiitake Shaoxing glutinous rice wine broth was especially impressive and the addition of fresh chrysanthemum lent a subtlety to offset the strong flavour of the broth. We licked the bowl clean.
It’s all good vibes at Happy Paradise, but the pimped-out, neon-lit space and funky tropical paradise soundtrack may not be for everyone. We’d visit again, if just for the slow-cooked chicken.
Spending: $820 for two, with drinks
Highlight: Slow-cooked chicken
What else: If you’re there for the food, we suggest arriving and leaving early, as the venue gets progressively louder during the night. Open Monday to Saturday from 6pm; no reservations.
UG/F Ming Hing House, 52-56 Staunton Street, Central