In Hong Kong Food Diaries, we ask notable locals and visitors to tell us exactly what they ate and drank over the course of a few days, and where they did it. First up in this new series: Chef Judy Joo.
The woman at the helm of modern Korean hot spot Jinjuu (in both London and Hong Kong), chef Judy Joo spends most of her time around food, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like going out to eat. During her recent visit to our food-crazed city, the Korean–American celebrity chef didn’t hold back at all, feasting on dim sum, ramen, hot pot, and much more with gustatory aplomb — all whilst juggling a busy work schedule of interviews and photo shoots. Read on to discover what she ate and drank at China Club, Employees Only, and TokyoLima in her Hong Kong Food Diary.
Jet lag has taken the best of me and I cannot find my appetite. A cup of black coffee down the street from my hotel at The Coffee Academics is my first point of business. This slick shop wasn’t here last time I was in town, and I gladly christen it as my choice morning buzz. They have a mooncake special going on, but all I can stomach is a bit of caffeine to get me going. I grab my cuppa, sip my gourmet brew gleefully, and walk up the hill to work. Just in time, too, as I’ve got a number of press interviews that I have to perk up for.
Feeling a bit better and it’s time to test dishes at Jinjuu. I order the entire lunch menu and have a bite of everything. Kimchi fried rice with braised Iberico pork belly hits the spot, in particular. Sang, my head chef, cooks with his heart and it shows. And there’s nothing like comfort food when you’re feeling a bit fragile. I also nosh greedily on our signature Korean fried chicken — spicy mixed with a hint of sweetness and salt. He’s put on a new dish, a kimchi baked herb-crusted halibut. It is moist and delicate with a gorgeous tang in the moreish crust from the kimchi with a bit of heat. I wash it all down with a Chinese oolong iced tea.
I have to head to Macau to activate my work visa. I call up an old friend who I haven’t seen in years to meet me at Grand Lisboa Macau, so we eat at her go-to place Round-the-Clock Noodle and Congee. We get the best dan dan noodles ever, full of spice and toothsome handmade noodles, and a fantastic plate of steamed rice rolls with a crunchy crispy centre housing steamed prawns. We treat ourselves with some sweet rice dumplings stuffed with red bean for dessert, and I am ready for the ferry ride back home.
I have agreed to a business breakfast with my directors at Luk Yu Tea House — I’ve been before and truly love this place. We go to the top floor where the local regulars meet literally every morning. A common sight is older couples “washing” the dishes laid before them with hot tea, a ritual from olden times to kill any bacteria on the plates. The waiters here are used to this practice though and dutifully lay fresh linens over the rather wet table cloths post washing ceremony. The dim sum comes around in traditional style on carts and trays. The beef meatballs are a must: juicy, tender and perfect with a bit of XO sauce on the side. The steamed prawn dumplings (har gow) are wonderfully moist and the char siu buns boast the fluffiest exterior. Their signature Chinese black tea is the perfect pairing to this rather hearty breakfast, and I leave feeling a bit like a local and stuffed like a dumpling.
I have a tasting for lunch with Impossible Foods, which is selling their plant-based meat product in over 100 restaurants across the US. I’m very interested in alternative meats, and have been meaning to try this “miracle meat” made from plants; it actually “bleeds” and mimics the characteristics of beef nearly identically. It was developed in a lab in some super-scientific way, but is made with surprisingly simple & natural ingredients. We pan-fry a few patties, toss them into brioche buns with a modest garnish of tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, ketchup and mustard. In one bite, I can’t believe that it is not meat — it does taste different, but really rather incredible. I take some samples and play around, I make a Korean steak tartare (yook hwe) seasoned with pine nuts and Asian pear. Even raw, this stuff tastes pretty damn good. I season some more and pinch together a few dumplings, and steam them. I taste them rather incredulously — you’d never know that it wasn’t meat. My brain starts racing with other possibilities of how to incorporate it on the menu later in the year.
I’m feeling rather peckish and decide to “test” one of my fave items on the Jinjuu menu: our seaweed truffle fries. An umami-packed bowl of deliciousness. I can’t have just one and snack on them happily during our marketing meeting. My ultimate guilty pleasure.
Dinner is with some old friends from college and my banking days at the stylish Mott 32. I know it’s known as gweilo Chinese food, but it is well done and quite tasty. Plus, the décor is spectacular and a must-see in Hong Kong. We have pre-ordered the Peking duck and it does not disappoint, as well as the famous barbeque pluma Iberico pork, which tastes so naughty, but is worth every calorie. There’s more: hot and sour soup boasts a punchy tang; sautéed jumbo prawns doused in rice wine, Chinese vinegar and chillies prove succulent and sweet; and a pleasing plate of wok-fried beef noodles disappears rather quickly. To finish, we order a smattering of traditional desserts and I slurp up some sweet soup-like delicacies. Sweet bean curd cream isn’t really my idea of a pudding, but it gives me my sugar fix and we head to LKF to drink.
We find ourselves in Employees Only, since most people in our group are ex-New Yorkers and have had many memories within the clandestine walls of this iconic speakeasy transplant. I order my usual Negroni, and as the night progresses, my friends start ordering food. Truffle fries appear, as well as a rather oozing grilled cheese truffle sandwich. Shots come forth at some point via the beautiful Korean manager. I find that French fries are a great chaser to tequila shots.
Again, starting the day with a business meeting. This time in honour of the late David Tang, we have chosen the famed China Club for our morning meal. A large sign greets you at street level, declaring the strict dress code including no sneakers. I look down at my Hogans and decide to risk it. Luckily, the fashion police don’t seem to be on breakfast duty. I love the artwork here, and amuse myself even in the elevator reading the comic illustrations. Upon entering the room, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to colonial China. The waiters are dressed in captain’s whites and the napkins are starched to stiff precision. You can go for a Western-style breakfast here if you want, but why would you? We order the prawn and scallop congee. It’s surprisingly packed full of seafood flavour and a rich creamy consistency. I accidentally pour in a bit too much soy sauce and use that as an excuse to help myself to more. Dim sum is again on the menu and we order generously. Steamed rice rolls stuffed with marinated meat, prawn and scallop dumplings, and pretty xiao long bao presented in their own bamboo holder cradling their juicy treasure inside. I feel like I have started the day in style!
I go for a very late lunch at Ippudo just down the street. I first discovered this mecca for ramen lovers in Japan and have been a fan ever since. The lunch rush is long over, and I relish a bit of a quiet respite with a table for one. I order a bowl of spicy ramen and pimp it out with enough extra toppings that I confuse my waitress and she rushes away to get her pen and pad. The little side dishes on the table remind me of Korean banchan and I eat them as such! Two small pots with sesame marinated bean sprouts in one, and a pickled cucumber resembling kimchi in the other. I manage to eat the whole little pot of “kimchi” — and steal the one off the table next to me as a refill. I feel energised and ready for a busy dinner service.
I get out of work late and take the team for their favourite place for Chinese hot pot, Budaoweng in Times Square. I have had many kinds of hot pot before, but none like this. The table is inlaid with two steaming pots of broth — one super spicy with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers, the other a milder, chicken-based stock that tastes a bit medicinal. I let my chefs order, and out comes some interesting meats — goose necks, bovine spinal cord, fried fish skin, fish balls, squid tentacles, among some other very local favourites. I stick to the recognisable cuts, and wagyu beef, but do try the rather rubbery goose necks. It’s Asahi beers all around.
I overslept and have no time for breakfast. I run to work and just have coffee there and plunge into a number of interviews and photo shoots.
Again, I have no time, and decide to check out my neighbours at Beef & Liberty which is above Jinjuu in California Tower. I’m not that hungry and just order padrón peppers to start and a sesame chicken & bamboo salad as my main. The peppers are fine, nicely blistered and salted. A couple of spicy ones catch me off guard. The salad is good, too, but nothing of particular note. The standout, however, was the banoffee pie which was balanced and not too sweet. I ate the whole thing.
Manage to run out of dinner service to meet up with a good friend, Jane, at the new TokyoLima nearby. Nikkei cuisine is so en vogue these days. This place feels a bit like a fancy izakaya. We over-order and our counter is soon covered in tapas-style plates. A tuna tartare cooled with watermelon proves refreshing, and it’s complemented by some meaty, Peruvian-style beef tacos topped with blackened avocado. We suck down some oysters swimming in tiger’s milk and try out some maki rolls, which were a bit disappointing — too much rice and too loosely rolled. Some salty-sweet potato fries make up for the rolls, though, and the sake keeps us smiling to the end.
We decide to hop for dessert to Bitters and Sweets, one of HK’s first dessert bars. We snuggle into a corner seat and I order an interesting libation called Smokey the Pig, which promises everything great in an Old Fashioned plus bacon. I’m truly excited. Jane tries to order wine, but I bully her into getting a cocktail called Snickers. For dessert, we choose an American classic: s’mores. The cocktails are fun and I’m surrounded by a maple bacon smoke cloud after it arrives. The s’mores make Jane giggle when they are delivered—a hot mini cast iron campfire pan full of golden toasted marshmallows with a layer of melted chocolate hidden below. Homemade graham crackers on the side to dip and we are getting drunk and giggly reliving our summer camping days in the centre of Hong Kong.
I actually am starting to feel more like a normal person and manage to get to the gym. Post-workout, I grab a cold-pressed juice at Nood, a green concoction called Spring Clean. It tastes really healthy, and I have trouble finishing it, as it’s overwhelmingly in-your-face-broccoli everything. But, I swig it down, because I feel like I have to.
My chefs have finally decided to show me where they all go to hang out during their breaks. All this time I had no idea and was wondering where they all went. There is a rather casual Thai restaurant with a pool table across the street, hidden in one of the office buildings, called Infinity. I order the papaya salad and tom yum goong soup. I’m surprised as it’s pretty decent and tasty! The papaya salad was nicely seasoned and properly Thai-style spicy, and the soup was full of fresh seafood. I can see why this place has become my staff’s lair. They give me a complimentary dessert of mango and sweet sticky rice. It’s divine.
I take my head chef Sang out to dinner as a thank you for all his hard work. I try booking a few 3-Michelin star places, but I have left it too late and nothing is available. I manage to snag a couple of seats at the sushi counter at Kishoku, though, in Wan Chai. We embark on an elaborate omakase dinner: uni, abalone, razor clams, toro, oysters and wagyu come forth and we eagerly comply. It’s all ridiculously fresh and tastes as gorgeous as it is presented. Small bursts of flavor come in here and there, via shisho leaves, limes and pickled plums. A strange-looking sea bug thing is presented as a main course, and it somewhat freaks me out as I’ve never seen a creature like this before and it’s ugly. No one could tell me the English name, but it’s native to Hong Kong. I did taste it, and it was a mix between a lobster and a prawn, but a little bit softer. We eat course after course and finally it ends with a light flower-infused jelly. We drink sake throughout and toast to Jinjuu and to Hong Kong — a great eating city that I am proud to be a part of.