Just as we were getting ready for this summer’s China trip, via Hong Kong, I stumbled upon news of the opening of Chachawan.
Fancy new restaurant serving spicy and rustic Northern Thai cuisine in Central, Hong Kong? Not actually my usual back alley, but right up my alley nonetheless…
After all, using local and down-to-earth inspiration for classy restaurants and fancy dishes has become something of a trend, and one that I find eminently interesting for the ways in which it turns the ordinary, if not actively avoided as backwards and poor, into novel findings of culinary relevance.
When it does so with a chile pepper-infused spicy cuisine, something that many a chef still shies away from, sharing in the common misconception that chilli cuisines are only about the heat and destroy the diversity of flavors, it’s not just up my alley, it’s getting me right up into my bully pulpit.
So, it was with great expectations – not just concerning the size of the bill – that we made our way to Central. Arriving early-ish, we found the place starting to have customers, but with places immediately available. And nice front-row seats in bar-like setting, right at the open kitchen, they were.
Lovely to chat, converse with the staff as well as Adam himself, and watch them all in action. It’s getting hot in there!
The drinks we ordered, a simple fresh coconut and a pineapple-guava mocktail (no liquor license yet; not that it would matter to us) already promised nice things to come.
The prawns, freshly grilled in a dry chilli rub, were tasty, but aren’t my kind of food. Something of the texture of seafood like this just doesn’t appeal all that much to me (but that’s not a restaurant’s fault, of course). Still, not a bad start at all. Not too spicy, but satisfying.
Chicken pieces, skewered and grilled, served with a dip of chilli sauce, cilantro and onion (and actually, a bit more complicated than that) may sound like something hard to do badly, and equally hard to do particularly well.
These, however, were done especially well: nicely grilled but not charred, so as to be nice and succulent, and with the dip adding a complexity of flavors and a texture that makes them something very different from ordinary chicken skewers.
Finally, the sea bass in salt crust, stuffed with herbs, with a dip of chilli and lime.
I did see one go back (as underdone, it seemed) but ours was perfect. Moist and tasty fish meat, easy to get off the bones – and the dip simple but fantastic.
First, quite a strong sour note, then a spiciness that isn’t overpowering, but does add that tingling kick we’d be looking for.
It was not cheap, I must say, but one pays for quality and ambiance, and there was plenty of that. I’d say that the dishes are rather less rustic, and less spicy, than some of the descriptions of Issan cuisine would have led me to expect, but exactly the transformation of a local and rather simple way of cooking into classy cuisine that is, in my opinion, a sign of the necessary and better future – and a spicy cuisine employing chilli in various ways, quite traditionally and yet with very interesting flavors, to boot.
Big thanks for that to Adam, and a special mention to the staff, who very much deserve it. They were very attentive, acted more like friends explaining the dishes and serving guests than like waiters just doing their jobs – a pleasure.