Private kitchens have become an important part of the dining scene in Hong Kong. These speakeasy-like restaurants, usually hidden in commerical/residential buildings, first popped up years ago as a way for chefs to open a restaurant without dealing with high commercial rents. They have long been places to get delicious and somewhat homespun meals in off-the-beaten path settings. In recent years, however, these small establishments have become experimental hubs for inventive chefs.
Chôm Chôm is the latest addition to the many private kitchens around Central, offering Vietnamese dishes, one of the best Southeast Asian cuisines.
The décor is cute and minimalistic—light blue-green walls, wooden bar-style counters and stools, and a couple of tables at the window overlooking the street. Spring flowers on the counter welcomed our party of 9.
Chef Peter was born in a small village outside Dalat in south central Vietnam, and after leaving his corporate job, he followed his heart and started Chôm Chôm to serve food in the style of his mum’s homemade Vietnamese food. He also has a string of impressive achievements to back up his claim on the thrown of best Vietnamese food in town: Grand Diplôme de Cuisine and Patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu, and working in the great kitchens of Caprice (Hong Kong), Alinea and Next (Chicago), Nahm (Bangkok), and La Verticale and Madame Hien(Hanoi).
The influence of Peter’s Vietnamese and French cooking skills is shown in the menu. He first welcomed us with Parisian Mojito made with Elderflower liqueur, rum, sugarcane, mint, and basil. The sugarcane added a hint of natural sweetness to a refreshing drink, perfect for the humid hot summer. The peanut paste gave life to the prawn cracker but wish we can have just a little bit more on each cracker.
As our stomachs were growling, Peter started whipping up the first course. It’s such a treat to be able to see the whole process while we wait in anticipation.
The fresh rice paper rolls were little bundles of freshness. The vegetables were fresh, with a decided crunch that combined well with the soft noodles and rice paper, and the dip really brought out the mango flavour.
After being treated to a great introduction of Peter’s cooking, we were eagerly waiting for the signature dish of the kitchen.
Pho is a deceptively simple yet complex dish that is widely considered the national dish of Vietnam. It is an original Vietnamese creation that combines local as well as foreign culinary influences, an expression of a culinary heritage from China and France. The Vietnamese took inspiration from foreign ingredients such as beef, noodles, ginger and star anise; however, they also customised the broth by adding nuoc mam (fish sauce), fresh herbs and raw vegetables, the defining features of the local cuisine. The broth is reminiscent of French consommé; rice noodles have roots in southern China; and fresh herbs reflect the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian influence.
Instead of the more common beef or chicken versions, we had a seafood pho with lemongrass. The shrimp, squids and clams were fresh and sweet, straight from the market that morning. Broth was light and citrusy and the noodles were the perfect consistency.
To cleanse our palette, the green and refreshing cucumber lime sorbet followed the fantastic pho. The lime zest and Madron Sea Salt were ingenius – intensifying the flavour and the sweet savoury combination was fantastic.
Now that we are ready for more, it’s time for some more seafood. Instead of razor clams which was on the menu, our lovely chef found some great scallops and he whipped it up with some homemade spring onion oil, shallot and peanuts. The garlic toast complemented the flavourful shellfish well.
On to some more meat. Peter worked hard at the stove “shaking” the saucepan, a technique that the Vietnamese learnt from the French. Bo Luc Lac literally means “Shaking Beef”, and look at the result of all that shaking.
The tender beef sitting in a bed of crunchy Chinese egg noodles, with watercress salad on the side was the perfect end to the strings of great savoury dishes.
The last course is Homemade Ice Cream, usually to be served in a coconut, but Peter saw some very fresh dragon fruit in the market and decided to try this new combination.
The homemade coconut and cinnamon ice cream reminded me of tropical island holiday, and the mangoes caramelised by the torch complemented the light dragon fruit and jack fruit well.
Chôm Chôm – pho bar + private kitchen
Add: 2/F, 12 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2868 3302
Chôm Chôm means rambutan in Vietnamese