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Hong Kong BBQ carves out niche in capital

The barbecue joint offers authentic roast meat dishes without the typical hefty price tag. Elisabeth Rosen reports.

Family-friendly: The restaurant introduces a pleasantly affordable option to a city where five star hotels have been the only place to enjoy Cantonese food.
Family-friendly: The restaurant introduces a pleasantly affordable option to a city where five star hotels have been the only place to enjoy Cantonese food.

During a recent vacation to Hong Kong, Nguyen Nhu Nguyen and his friends got lost wandering the streets. Enticed by the aroma of roast duck, a local specialty, they stopped at a stall to try some.

“It was so good we wanted to bring it back to Viet Nam,” Nguyen says.

The group opened the first Hong Kong BBQ last October on Pho Hue, followed by a second on Xuan Dieu in July. In the next phase, they plan to expand outside the city centre to the growing neighbourhoods of Ba Dinh, Cau Giay and Trung Hoa-Nhan Chinh. Their goal is to set up five branches by the end of this year; they’ve even been approached about franchises outside the capital.

You might have seen roast duck hanging up along Ha Noi streets under the name vit quay. However, this is a different bird entirely. Hong Kong native Jason Chen, who runs the kitchen, keeps his recipe a closely guarded secret. Faced with any questions about the ingredients, he gets cagey, disclosing only that the process takes a whole day and involves hoisin sauce shipped from Hong Kong.

If I could make duck this irresistible, I’d probably keep the recipe a secret too. The crackly skin yields to a layer of succulent meat, an effect best savoured in noodle soup (VND65,000), where the fat and broth and a spoonful of chili oil play off one another to dramatic effect. The meat is mildly difficult to gnaw off the bone, but that’s the price you pay for flavour.

Meaty fare: Hong Kong native Jason Chen prepares succulent roast duck and char siew pork (below) following his closely guarded recipe.

Diners choose from four meats (roast duck, char siew pork, crispy pork belly and steamed chicken) and three carbohydrates (rice, noodle soup and dry noodles). Skip the unremarkable chicken and pork belly and opt for the char siew, which is outstanding. Brushed with a honey and soy sauce glaze, thick strips of barbecued pork achieve a gluttonous hat trick, offering fat, sugar and salt in each generous slice.

Hong Kong BBQ

Address: 15 Xuan Dieu; 164 Pho Hue

Tel.: 096-899-8228

Price Range: VND75,000 – VND175,000

Comment: Authentic, affordable Hong Kong-style BBQ

Char siew is best paired with rice, where piles of pickled mustard greens and green bean snippets counter the excess, or dry egg noodles, springy curls tossed in a nutty dressing that share the plate with crunchy bean sprouts and a few leafy greens (VND65,000-95,000). The latter feel like a tease, though you can order a plate of extras easily (VND10,000). Wash it all down with a glass of faintly sweet, creamy milk tea (VND16,000).

While the restaurant occasionally posts on social media, most diners are drawn in the old-school way, by the roast meat that dangles in the front window. The interior, however, takes a more modern approach. Inside the narrow storefront, one finds clean, airy rooms with simple wooden tables and white walls, accented here and there by bright lanterns and glossy photographs.

The straightforward setting is in keeping with the concept. In Ha Noi, five-star hotels are the only place to enjoy good Cantonese food, which makes little sense. As Nguyen and his friends found, in Hong Kong these dishes are typically found at street stalls or inexpensive restaurants, where the more minimal the decor, the more involved the flavour. Their barbecue joint adheres to that model. Could dim sum be next?