On a street lined with fitness gyms, bargain stalls and grab ‘n’ go health spots, you may have passed hurriedly by Nove Chinese Kitchen several times without registering that a new dim sum eatery had popped up in the alleyway. Opened over the summer, Nove’s nondescript façade belies the stylish interiors and high quality of the dim sum on offer here.
Run by a bit of star power — the owners are the same team behind Octavium, while chef Umberto Bombana’s son himself is a trainee in the kitchen learning from venerated dim sum masters, executive chefs Wong Yiu Por and Poon Kwai Chung — Nove is a serious contender for one of the best new lunch options for Centralites tired of overpriced, mediocre midday meals.
While Nove saw a relatively quiet opening, word seems to have gotten out in the interim, as we popped in on a weekday at 1pm to a full restaurant and were told there was a 30-minute wait (luckily, we snagged a table in less than 20). The interiors are striking with cinematic allusions to Wong Kar-wai’s famous Hong Kong film “In the Mood for Love”, featuring a centrepiece of auspicious red lanterns hanging from the 4-metre-high ceiling, casting a moody glow on the narrow dining room.
The design is courtesy of Albert Kwan, who’s responsible for several Shanghai Tang projects commissioned by the late David Tang. His stylistic touch is seen in splashes of ’60s Chinoiserie from the old-style ceiling fans to the vintage framed oval mirrors and wall sconces. Red vinyl booths offer cosy seating for two, with other four tops scattered throughout the room, set with dark mahogany chairs against a mosaic tiled floor. Chinese ink paintings scroll across the walls and frame the back entrance to the kitchen, from where bustling waiters hurry out with platters of abalone tarts and steaming xiao long bao.
Food & Drink
Nove is billed as a traditional Chinese restaurant serving a mix of dim sum and Chiu Chow specialties. A moderate sized menu (including a takeout version where you simply tick your selections) is thoughtfully curated, offering enough choice to allow for return visits or lunch with larger groups, while not overwhelming with every dim sum variety under the sun.
A small section of the menu is dedicated to Chiu Chow-style marinated meats — a shallow pool worth wading in for those just getting acquainted with the cuisine, which originates from the eastern part of Guangdong province.
Traditional Chiu Chow-style marinated delicacies range from goose meat to pig trotter’s and gizzard, and are all prepared by chef Poon Kwai Chung, a specialist with over 30 years of experience in this particular strata of Cantonese cooking. Those feeling squeamish about chowing down on meat innards should opt for the goose head/neck platter (HK$129), a generous portion of velvety deboned neck meat steeped in a marinade of peppers, spices and star anise. The meat is tender and the spiced marinade has permeated through, with a layer of unctuous fat between the skin and meat adding extra flavour.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, the pig’s intestines (HK$69) are a solid choice; resembling a platter of wobbly tofu, the innards are coiled in loose folds of soft, spongy fat, the gamey funk hitting us in every bite without being overpowering (a few pieces per person should suffice, however).
Nove’s dim sum offerings have been designed by executive chef Wong Yiu Por, formerly the head dim sum chef at (the now-defunct) Island Tang. The menu offers signature creations — think baked abalone cheese tarts and steamed pork belly buns — combined with traditional classics from siu mai to wontons and rice rolls. Other dishes take cues from the Chiu Chow style of dim sum, embracing a lighter palate with more fresh vegetables, from ‘crystal’ wrapper dumplings bearing a translucent skin made of corn flour, to pan-fried bamboo shoots dumplings. In fact, vegetarians can easily construct their order with plant-based dishes denoted by a small green leaf on the menu.
One of the best metrics by which to measure any dim sum kitchen is how they handle the classics, and Nove’s siu mai and dumplings prove there are experienced and dexterous hands at work here. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is the steamed xiao long bao with lobster broth, which arrive three to a basket for the very reasonable price of HK$42.
One glance tells us the wrappers are a little thicker than preferable (and, as it turns out, slightly undercooked), but perhaps a sturdier dough is needed to seal in the steaming hot filling, which causes the bottoms to sag as we lift the soup dumplings to our mouths. The skins are ready to spill their insides at the slightest rupture, and we relish the juicy pork filling combined with the hot seafood broth. The slightly lopsided shape is endearing — as opposed to the perfectly twisted pleats of say, Din Tai Fung — adding a pleasantly rustic, home-style feel that characterises the half-dozen or so dim sum dishes we try.
The siu mai (HK$42) are likewise fantastic — thin yellow wrappers encasing a generous filling of pork and succulent chunks of prawn that retain their firm buoyancy, rather than falling victim to an overly mushy texture.
Those seeking a hearty autumn warmer can burrow their face in the wontons in soup; priced at HK$69 for five above-average-sized wontons, a thin, lucid skin clings to a plump filling of chopped shiitake mushrooms and vegetables, for layers of texture and crunch. Other varieties include a classic shrimp and minced pork and bok choy version.
Egg tarts similarly toe the line between rustic and refined: elegance exhibited in the silky quality of the vanilla-laced custard and an excellent short crust pastry (HK$29 for three); while uneven bits of browning around the edges add to the rustic homemade quality. We’re more disappointed with the steamed pork belly buns (HK$33): They’re prettily stamped with the restaurant’s logo but the ratio is off, and we get mouthfuls of steamed bun before reaching the meagre char siu filling.
A few noodle and rice dishes incorporate some of the marinated meats such as pig’s trotters and goose meat. We try the chicken with black truffle version (HK$69), and while the meat is juicy, we wish the flavour had seeped into the rice below. Our final dish, rectangular blocks of pan-fried conpoy turnip cakes (HK$33) are studded with flecks of salty ham and dried shrimp, served alongside a piquant bright orange chilli sauce that makes our mouths pucker.
For beverages, Nove serves a selection of teas in vintage copper pots — hot elixirs that range from buckwheat to premium handcrafted single bush tea, offering a soothing mouthful between bites of dim sum. Service is commendable all the way through, with empty baskets whisked away, dishes paced well, and requests attended to with a pleasant demeanour — not a small consideration given the surly staff at many a local dim sum joint in town.
By all measures, Nove is an excellent new addition to the city’s dim sum scene. The categorisations of dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong often lack in one department or another — be it fancy hotel dim sum with sky-high prices, or hole-in-the-wall joints where terrible service is almost always a given. Or, take the trend of new-wave fusion spots that cater to the millennial, Insta-loving crowd, often at the expense of the food. Nove fits snugly in its own niche category, blending familiar traditions and classic dishes with stylish interiors and astute service. Tack on the cheery prices, and we’re calling this one a win.
Opening Hours: Mon–Sat 12–10pm; closed Sundays.
Recommended Dishes: Chiu Chow-style marinated meats, har gao, siu mai, xiao long bao, egg tarts, pan-fried conpoy turnip cakes.
Price: HK$200–300 per person.
Noise Level: Medium.
Service: Attentive and adept.