This month marks five years in the business for Black Sheep Restaurants’ co-founders Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark, but the group is hardly resting on its laurels. They have multiple projects in the works, two of which debuted earlier in October: Italian eatery Osteria Marzia and New Punjab Club, a boisterous tandoor grill house.
A Hong Kong-born Punjabi, Hussain has revealed NPC to be his biggest passion project yet: It’s inspired by The Punjab Club, the private social and athletic club in Lahore where Hussain spent his childhood; as well as a nod to Hussain’s father, a restaurateur who operated The Mughal Room in Hong Kong in the ’80s. This emotional attachment may have been the catalyst for aiming to set the bar even higher with this latest opening: Without question, New Punjab Club is one of Black Sheep’s most thoughtfully curated venues to date.
Like any of the group’s cleverly conceptualised restaurants — from the 1950s Italian-American throwback restaurant Carbone to Hanoi-style street food eatery Chôm Chôm — the idea is to give you a distinct sense of time and place from the moment you step through the doors; this time we’re being taken to post-colonial liberated Punjab. Every detail has been well thought-out, from the turbaned sardarji greeting you at the door to the intricately patterned walls (the wait for these specially commissioned tiles ended up delaying the restaurant’s opening for a month), to the striking artwork drawn from Hussain’s personal collection.
It’s a beautiful, compact and elegantly designed space that feels sophisticated yet familiar. The luxurious Chesterfield sofas are conducive for long, family-style dinners, while the genial and eager-to-educate staff — an all-star cast of long-time Black Sheep employees hailing from all different regions of India — will keep you firmly in the dreamy haze of post-colonial liberated Punjab.
As for the artwork, it deserves its own special mention: From the soothing to the provocative, the specially curated photos and paintings pay homage to the most important artists from the region. In one corner, there are calming scenes painted by Mughees Riaz, depicting pink sunsets along the banks of the five rivers which flow through the Punjab region (Punjab literally translates to “five rivers”); while opposite is Rind, an artist who takes inspiration from the rich tradition of Urdu poetry for his thought-provoking paintings.
The most striking piece is from contemporary Indian artist B. Manjunath Kamath: a colourful snapshot of an old Punjabi rooftop, in which various scenes unfold, one of which involves Punjabi wrestling and the other a donkey being curiously painted as a zebra. “Every time you look at it, you sort of discover something new,” says Hussain. It’s riveting enough to keep your eyes glued to the walls all night — if not for the attention-grabbing offerings on the plate.
Food and Drink
Rather than offering an endless array of multi-coloured curries, the menu at New Punjab Club rigidly adheres to the authentic food of the region, with the tandoor ovens as the star of the kitchen. Salvaged from The Mughal Room all these years later, they add smoke, depth and aroma to the heavily spiced meats on the menu. It’s all executed with finesse by Head Chef Palash Mitra, formerly of the celebrated Gymkhana in London, who collaborated on the menu with Hussain to bring the authentic Punjabi dishes to life.
As is tradition, the night starts off with the masaledar phalli (HK$68), spicy peanuts spooned into your palm, to be popped into your mouth in one go and washed down with a refreshing G&T (the mobile G&T cart makes imbibing all night only too easy).
The first dish to arrive is a gift from the streets of Punjab: samosa chaat (HK$98), or smashed potato and pea samosas under a heavy blanket of crispy noodles, mint chutney, tamarind glaze and yoghurt. A wonderfully sloppy plate, the flavours resound surprisingly clear on the palate, the sweet and intense tamarind facing off against the fresh mint chutney, brought to relief by the cooling yogurt. Acidic pops are provided by ruby red pomegranate seeds, while a scattering of crispy vermicelli bits adds texture and crunch. The dish immediately snaps your taste buds to attention, setting the tone for the bold flavours to follow.
Next to arrive is the amritsari machli (HK$118), tender-fleshed river fish dredged in a chickpea batter and deep-fried to a golden brown. The crunchy fillets are served with two sauces: a refreshing dill raita and mustard chutney, again cool and heat battling it out and harmonising on the palate.
Those seeking familiarity on the menu may find it in the keema pau (HK$118), an earthy and comforting plate of minced mutton cooked down with mixed herbs and chilli in a fragrant lamb broth. The flavours are as intensely savoury as you’d expect, and it turns into a type of Indian-style sloppy joe as you spoon the meat between fluffy squares of milk bread, made in-house and toasted on the grill. It’s one of the heavier dishes on the menu, and one portion is more than enough for a large party; in fact, an extra order of milk buns — arriving unasked for, yet appearing on the bill — went untouched, as did a large bowl of raita that was recommended by our waiter, but made redundant with the array of sauces that had already arrived with each dish.
For mains, it’s all about top-quality proteins cooked perfectly in the tandoor oven. The murgh tikka angar (HK$248) is sublime: It starts off with local chickens from the New Territories, first marinated in a dry rub of dried fenugreek, garlic and Kashmiri chilli to marinate for two hours, before a wet rub of yoghurt, lemon juice, black salt and cumin is applied for a further six to eight hours. Skewered and roasted in the tandoor for 10–12 minutes, the chicken arrives with a beautifully burnished skin, intensely flavoured from the spice coating. If you’re of the opinion that chicken is dry and stringy, this dish will renew your love for poultry in a heartbeat.
If possible, the masalewali chanp (HK$468) is even better — the New Zealand lamb chops again receive the dry/wet rub treatment, before taking a trip to the hot tandoor oven. The thick chops are presented a beautiful medium-rare, tender enough “to be cut with a spoon,” as the staff are prone to boast. Sides are inspired: a copper pot of hot pink beetroot kurma (beetroots cooked down and blended with cashews, cumin and coriander roots) tempers the heat and smoke emanating from the lamb chops, while a perfect ember-roasted onion half is soft and stripped of its pungency for another layer of sweetness. It’s hard to remember the last time we tasted a meat dish as good as this.
Finally we round out the meal with the line-caught cobia (HK$218), which proves to be as meticulously prepared as the meats. The firm flesh of the cobia stands up well to the same heavy spice coating, the darkened crust cracking open to reveal the tender, flaky meat within. On the side, thick, fluffy pieces of butter naan are ideal for scooping up the residual sauces that scatter the table like a colourful painting. The keema naan (naan stuffed with minced meat, HK$78), while fantastic on its own, feels a bit much when paired with the already meat-heavy meal.
For desserts, there are a few lighter, British-inspired sweets to send you on your way — the lemon posset with raspberry sorbet (HK$98) is a refreshing palate-cleanser, chased down with a soothing cup of masala chai presented in a vintage Churchill Georgian teacup.
Dinner will run you upwards of HK$600–$800 per person, which is a steep hike from the average price of a meal at other Indian restaurants around town (a good portion of that goes towards drinks, with waiters overly eager to offer refills as soon as your G&T dips below a third of the glass). This price difference is deliberate: New Punjab Club is meant to compete with other high-end, special occasion-worthy restaurants in town, an alternative to, say, Carbone or Buenos Aires Polo Club, and not your local curry house down the street. To convince people to pay over HK$100 for a curry dish on the merits of the quality of produce and preparation (the “Mughal Room makhani”, or braised chicken in butter sauce, is priced at HK$148), however, remains part of the uphill battle.
With New Punjab Club, Black Sheep Restaurants is adding a new genre into the mix, updating Indian food for the modern era and putting a stylish spin on traditional dishes. It’s as inventive as it is homely and comforting, with a story, setting and style that meshes brilliantly into one. Whether or not you justify the cost to your wallet largely depends on how much importance you place on atmosphere, setting, and the discernment of high-quality ingredients. At the end of the day, there’s just no drawing comparisons to any other Indian restaurant in Hong Kong — and perhaps that’s exactly the point.
Opening Hours: Mon–Sun, 6pm to late
Recommended Dishes: Samosa chaat, chickpea-battered river fish, spiced mutton with milk buns, spice-marinated chicken, lamb chops, line-caught cobia, braised chicken tikka.
Price: Dinner ranging from HK$600–$800 per person.
Noise Level: A comfortable buzz.
Service: Enthusiastic and eager to educate on the customs of Punjab.
New Punjab Club, 34 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2368 1223