A twist of taste at The Hong Kong Club
The food kept coming to the table in small black plates amid the cacophony reminiscent of a club: asparagus tossed in mustard oil; Cantonese chicken, marinated in soya and fermented peach wine; crushed cucumbers and black vinegar; lobster wonton hot and sour soup; and three kinds of dumplings. Unlike the fiery Sichuan cuisine, this take on Cantonese food was mild and well-balanced. The dumplings—crystal, shumai and bao—were succulent, the lobster meat in shumai sweet, and the accompanying sauce had just enough heat to keep you coming back for more. On a table nearby, a jovial patriarch was telling children how to use chopsticks—back and forth with the index finger.
The dinner in the warm, casual setting of The Hong Kong Club, a modern Cantonese restaurant that opens on Saturday at Andaz Delhi, a Hyatt luxury hotel in Aerocity, was ticking all the boxes so far, even if it was a little understated.
But that was before the wicked roasted pork belly arrived. It had a honey-gold crackling, crisp to perfection. The meat was tender but what elevated the dish to another level was the pungent kasundi dip, a highly unusual combination.
“We wanted to use the traditional Cantonese way of cooking, and, to certain dishes, we wanted to give a little twist,” says chef Alex Moser, 35, who has been with the Hyatt group for 17 years. “So if a Chinese person comes to eat here, the flavours will be very familiar to him but with a little twist at the end.”
Another such dish is the stir-fried vegetables with a hint of onion seeds. Such twists, says Moser, who has designed the menu with chef Yu Fuhai from Guangdong, are meant to add another dimension to the food.
There is emphasis on seasonal eating and local produce. The stir-fry, for instance, uses vegetables grown locally. The duck is local and the seafood, from Kerala.
“When I started this project a year and half ago, a big challenge was sourcing ingredients. So I travelled across India discovering, in the course, wonderful ingredients and groups of farmers that are doing incredible work,” he says. “That is how I came across kasundi. Globally, our pork belly uses Pommery mustard from France but for the Indian market, I decided to use local kasundi.”
That said, some ingredients are still imported. Scallops, soy sauce, rice wine and certain dried mushrooms come from China. Lamb is imported from Australia. “We are trying to find a local rice that would fit our dishes. The idea is to use whatever we can locally. But that doesn’t mean I would use local lamb, which is better for braising, in our stir-fried dishes,” says Moser.
What sets them apart from other Chinese restaurants is the smaller plates, fresh produce and casual dining experience. There is no chicken stock powder or MSG in the kitchen.
The rebel child
With a young clientele in mind, the Andaz chain aims to focus on amenities rather than white-glove service. There are no turbans and handlebar moustaches; clean-shaven men in denims and polka-dot shirts welcome you at the entrance. The front desk is more like a “May I help you” kiosk in a mall. Spaces flow into each other organically—an all-glass entrance leads into a bar that opens up to the food hall, and so on. Inside, The Hong Kong Club stands like a giant installation near the pool.
Spread across three levels—the ground floor has a wine wall—the evening-only restaurant can serve 292 covers. For private parties, it has two rooms stocked with separate bars. Chinese artwork, porcelain vases and crystal glassware dot the interiors. Modern, comfortable seating, adventurous bartenders and peppy music (plans are in place for a DJ and live acts) await you inside.
The highlight of the bar is the Chinese zodiac-inspired cocktails—some are a little heavy on syrups, so ask them to rein it in. Born in the year of the monkey? Try the mythological monkey king-inspired Sun Wukong—Scotch, banana liqueur, five-spice, the citrus-y yuzu and bitters in an Old Fashioned glass, with a burning cinnamon stick to add to the drama. The Snakebite—Scotch, ginger beer, miso and yuzu—comes in a highball glass with a garnish of snake fruit peel, eerily similar to a snake’s hide.
The Hong Kong Club is big on the roast, wok and steaming but what really takes the cake is how they incorporate local produce into traditional Cantonese cooking. “We didn’t change the traditional style of cooking,” says Moser. “We just played around with ingredients and gave a final twist with local flavours.”