So, when I read about free-range chicken from The New Territories and soy sauce brewed in Kowloon, I pictured communal salvaged wood tables, subway tiles and cocktail programs because I've been in Brooklyn too long.
In reality, The Chairman is just a restaurant, a little upscale, neither flashy nor run-down (crab art on the walls!) with good service (shockingly affable for Hong Kong) slightly away from the hubbub of Long Fai Kwong at the end of a quiet street with no outlet.
The absence of abalone and shark's fin on the menu (they'll make them if you want them) also gave me pause, in a good way. I almost skipped The Chairman due to my ambivalence about Cantonese food, particularly on the higher end. Status markers like the aforementioned duo plus XO sauce and birds nests aren't for me, and the austere purity of a double boiled soup or barely sweetened desserts teeming with legumes are above my head. I can't appreciate a glossy arranged plate of mushrooms and bok choy either.
Normally I hate over-explainers, but it was a novelty for a Chinese restaurant. The service was unusual (they also accommodated a last-minute switch to Sunday night--many HK restaurants are closed on Sundays--when a travel snafu caused me to miss my original Saturday night reservation) in that our server, an older gentleman with a British name, seemed genuinely excited about the food, describing everything and being helpful by suggesting half portions unprompted when we showed interest in items that would've been too big for two.
We just had tea, in other words, no drinks, which is unusual for me at dinner on vacation, but I don't travel well and it was that thing where you're so tired that drinking has no effect (I'd had Sazeracs beforehand at no-vowel, kind of pricey, The Blck Brd, which was in a more Brooklyn vein, oh, and four hours of unlimited champagne at the Intercontinental brunch).
Our baby pigeon was missing its head, an omission that may have been intentional to protect our delicate Western sensibilities (photos I've seen online are beak and all). Headless or not, the little crisp bird was smoked with longjing tea and served with pickled onions, a non-Cantonese touch that balanced some of the richness. There was also a chrysanthemum component, though it blurred with the green tea flavor (also, I don't know what the flower tastes like).
Fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine and fragrant chicken oil is a signature dish, and rightfully impressive--look at that face. The mottled crustacean arrives assembled but already cracked, behind ripples of fat rice noodles. Not an easy chopstick dish. The sauce was strongly winey yet still smooth, pleasingly bitter and borderline fermented, just a little funk, almost like nothing I'd tasted before...almost, half-way through I realized it reminded me of fondue if fondue could be creamless. If your eyes were closed, I'm not sure that you'd recognize this dish as Chinese. Combined with the flakes of crab meat and the noodles, it was like the idealized seafood pasta I never actually get from an Italian restaurant. I was resisting my American urge to clean my plate and trying to be more New York by leaving noodles behind to save room for the rest of the meal (four-hour brunch, remember) but they wouldn't clear our plate. The remainders started getting cold. The staff seemed concerned. Eventually our server came over and divvied up the uneaten noodles and scraped the roe clinging to the crab shell onto our plates. Rookies.
We would've felt guilty not ordering vegetables. There were like fifty different types of mushrooms--that bacon-looking blob is fungi--and freshly shelled peas in this dish.
This is a half-order (they were bigger than they appear here) of the spareribs coated in caramelized black vinegar and preserved plums and garnished sweet potato chips. It's a fancy sweet and sour sauce, and therefore, pretty lovable.
This was one of my favorite meals during my quick stint in Hong Kong because the food and approach, a mix of humble and high-brow with an emphasis on ingredients over glitz, isn't really like any restaurant I've experienced there.
The Chairman * 18 Kau U Fong, Hong Kong