This article is part of a guide to Hong Kong from FT Globetrotter
Ever since I left home to go to university, too many years ago, there has been one constant among my mum’s entreaties to make me move closer: she would always tell me whenever she had cooked my favourite Indian dishes, in particular her special masala chicken, pakora and aloo gobi paratha stuffed with potatoes and eaten with mango achar (pickle).
While it has never been quite enough to make me go back to Canada, the joys of my mum’s home-cooked Punjabi food has always been one of the things that has made me homesick.
That feeling was heightened during the pandemic. I was living in Hong Kong with my wife and our three sons, and we weren’t able to meet my parents in person for two-and-a-half years. Instead, I talked daily with them on FaceTime, often watching my mum cook or at the dining table for cha, as we call milky Indian tea, with my dad.
Finding Indian food wherever I’ve lived has always been a way to reconnect with home. London, where I spent almost 20 years before moving to Asia in 2018, has long been one of the world’s great cities for top Indian food.
Hong Kong has long been home to people from the subcontinent too, and some great food from the region. Here are a few of my favourites.
New Punjab Club
34 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Good for: Service, food and drinks, atmosphere, Instagram
Not so good for: Price — a meal for two without drinks can easily set you back HK$1,500 (about £155)
FYI: The restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch (12-2.30pm) and daily for dinner (6-10.30pm)
It was a joy to discover, when I was posted to Hong Kong, that the first Punjabi restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star was in the city.
The New Punjab Club is a small venue but it packs a huge punch. Its proprietors, the Black Sheep group of restaurants, claim the tandoori grill restaurant “harkens back to the liberated era of postcolonial Pakistan and India”. The conceit starts as soon as you arrive and are greeted by an elegant, elderly Sikh gentleman at the front door.
Syed Asim Hussain, Black Sheep’s co-founder and a Pakistani-Punjabi who grew up in Hong Kong, has aptly described the eclectic feel inside as “very Wes Anderson”.
The interior is filled with deep red-leather banquettes, walls covered in contemporary Indian and Pakistani art — including a painting of a fat, topless wrestler, who reminds me of more than one of my uncles — and a mix of Churchill plates and fine-cut crystal glassware. Even going to the bathroom is an immersive experience, with recordings of a Punjabi poet reading verse in Urdu piped in as you go about your business.
But it’s the menu, designed by chef Palash Mitra, who previously worked at Gymkhana in London, and top-class service that mark out this wonderful restaurant. (Mitra is one of the most thoughtful and unpretentious chefs I have encountered on Instagram: @chefpalashmitra.)
Start with a cocktail from the drinks trolley. I’d recommend one of the gin and tonics, like the Tanqueray Rangpur, served with a slightly singed kaffir lime leaf that gives off a warm and intense citrus odour.
The menu is refreshingly short, with few options and an aspiration to do everything exceptionally well. They achieve it in spades, and I’ve had nothing that I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
The salad of carrot, radish, mooli and turnip is the perfect level of vinegary, the malai tikka tender and crumbly, and the maa ki dal is creamy and hearty. Keema pau, a dish of minced lamb topped with red onions and lime juice eaten in a fluffy white bun, melts in the mouth. The Masalewali chaanp, tomahawk lamb chop with ember-roasted onions, is done just right and carved at the table into slices that are packed with smoky flavour. Freshly caught cobia soaks up the spices from the tandoor nicely. And the roti, naan and paratha are all done as good as those made by any of my aunties. Round it off with a nice whisky.
The experience isn’t cheap but it’s worth every penny if you’re Punjabi and want to be reminded of home.
1/F, Winning Centre, 46 Wyndham Street, Central, HONG KONG
Good for: Value for money, whisky collection
Not so good for: Service is variable when visiting with a large group
FYI: The restaurant is located in an unremarkable office building, so it can be hard to find — it’s on the first floor. Booking is recommended, especially for the lunch buffet
I had heard about Bombay Dreams long before I had the chance to visit. This is the grande dame of fine Indian dining in Hong Kong — it opened more than 20 years ago and claims to be the first Indian restaurant in the city to be included in Michelin’s Bib Gourmand guide — and I went for the first time at the end of a tough day at work, when a colleague and I both wanted a bit of comfort food and a cold beer.
The restaurant is situated just up the road from the New Punjab Club and is more traditional than trendy. The chefs stand behind a glass wall in the main room, working the tandoor. Copper-coloured saucepans sit atop a marble counter for the buffet. Bells in the shape of elephant heads adorn a wall. The food is excellent, shaped by a chef who is the seventh generation of a family of royal chefs who once served the nawabs, or Mogul monarchs.
The tandoor-focused menu features classic fare done very well, and it’s not especially dear for Hong Kong. My top tip: the weekday lunch buffet. I’d normally run away from them but this one is exceptionally good. For just HK$188 (about £20), which includes a soft drink, juice or beer, you can have one of the best meals in Hong Kong. The weekend brunch, at HK$248, isn’t bad value either. But if you want to eat here on a weekday, be sure to book — the chances of getting in without a reservation are extremely small.
UG Shop 16 & 17, Wing On Plaza, 62 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, and 1/F, Dannies House, 20 Luard Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Good for: Vegetarians, value for money, service
Not so good for: Meat-eaters, alcohol (no-alcohol beer is available)
FYI: This south Indian restaurant says it was Hong Kong’s first Indian vegetarian restaurant, opened in 1981. The Kowloon branch, located upstairs in a nondescript shopping centre, was one of the first eateries my family added to our list of regular haunts
The crisp and light dosas are the signature dish here — so much so, that a gallery of pictures of customers with theirs features prominently on the restaurant’s website. I’d also recommend the south Indian thali, a plate of smaller dishes that provide a nice range of tastes and textures.
This restaurant is not fancy but it is wonderful. If you are lucky — and visit at the right time of year — you’ll be able to finish off your meal with fresh alphonso mangoes or a bowl of kheer, the sweet, saffron-infused Indian rice pudding.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club
North, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong
Good for: Central location, great bar, excellent service
Not so good for: Average food
FYI: Visiting is worth it for the main ground-floor bar, which has been offering a respite for journalists for decades. The bartenders ply their trade from a central island, with dark-wood tables and chairs scattered around the room and framed copies of well-known magazine and newspaper covers hanging on the walls and pillars
If you are really hankering for a place that approximates an Indian takeaway in the UK, try the FCC, which includes a decent list of Indian offerings as part of its expansive menu. The food isn’t amazing but the atmosphere is nice, and they have good beers to help you wash down the chicken tikka masala. You just need to make sure you have a member to take you, but it is not usually too hard to find one of them in Hong Kong.
And the place I wish I had visited a few more times . . .
36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, kowloon, hong kong
For anyone who has seen Chungking Express, Wong Kar-Wai’s classic film that evokes the tightly packed chaotic inside of this building in Kowloon, a visit to this block will be a rush. The food you will find here is simple and cheap, the type you might find at a dhaba, or roadside Indian restaurant. Glass display cases on the ground floor house platters piled with tandoori chicken, samosas and pakoras, and sweet shops offer everything from barfi to jelebi. Places are packed and it’s fun.
Where do you go for Indian food in Hong Kong? Tell us in the comments
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