65 Peel (Hong Kong, December 2018)


Going into my trip to Hong Kong I was pretty much set on eating all hardcore Cantonese food all the time. When somebody I was meeting for dinner early in the trip suggested going to 65 Peel, a relatively new beer bar and small plates place in Soho, I resisted mightily. I talked him into a roast goose outing instead. But then lunch that day was somewhat heavy and the thought of crispy and melty goose skin and fat was not as appealing as it normally is. I began immediately to think of other Cantonese places we could go to but then remembered how much I’d enjoyed Chôm Chôm‘s food the night before and stopped being a resistant asshole. And what do you know, the food at 65 Peel was excellent. I liked it so much in fact that I went back for dinner a couple of nights later—making this the only place other than Law Fu Kee where I ate more than once. Herewith the report. 

I believe 65 Peel opened sometime in 2016 and apparently the name—just the address in English—rendered phonetically in Cantonese becomes “so fucking good”. This kind of thing seems popular in Soho—there’s also a popular place named Ho Lee Fuk a little further down from 65 Peel. Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t know this before I decided to go there after all as it would have prejudiced me against it further. Conceptually, it’s a bar that showcases local microbreweries’ beer and also serves food. But I would have to say that while the beers I had over the two visits were decent enough, it’s the food that’s the real reason to go there. Well, I guess I say that coming from a country with a far more mature microbrewery culture: nothing I drank at 65 Peel can compare with any of the offerings at Imminent Brewing in our small town of Northfield, MN. The food, however, is another story.

One way to describe the food is as fusion cooking. Those who know my antipathy to fusion cuisine in the US may be surprised to see me register so much enthusiasm for food that I would describe as fusion cooking. One way of explaining it may be to say that the problem with fusion cooking in the US is that it seems to generally be aimed at people who don’t normally eat either of the cuisines being fused. Perhaps for this reason the combinations are rarely subtle and usually the attempt is to fuse an Asian cuisine with something broadly Euro-American. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, many cultures come together organically and the fusion—if that’s even the right word—at 65 Peel is of flavours from various cuisines of the broader region, and few people eating there would be likely to be unfamiliar with them in their own contexts. Perhaps for this reason the dishes feel unforced and you don’t think, “ah yes, here’s a bit of Vietnamese to go with that bit of Japanese and that bit of Thai”. Perhaps the better way to describe the food would be as contemporary Asian.

The restaurant is located on Peel St., right across from Chôm Chôm, and it’s a casual, industrial space of the kind foisted on the world by Brooklyn in the last decade: think a lack of comfort and a lot of noise. There are three main seating areas: a few seats at the bar, a section with large communal tables as you walk in, and a few two and four seater tables between the bar and the open front. Those who are just drinking can be found milling around in the entryway as well. The kitchen is rather informal (and exposed); the service is rather harried (though friendly). Prices are reasonable. Each local beer runs $80 HKD for 450 ml (a little over $7 USD) which is not too bad; and the food and drinks across the two meals averaged out to about $50 USD/head, which is not low but is also a good deal for what it was. And what was it?

The menu is divided into small plates and large plates (of which there are fewer) and desserts (of which there were two) and it’s all designed for sharing. This is what I ate at the two meals:

Small plates

  • Baked portobello mushroom with cherry tomato, miso butter and local vegetables: This was tasty but nothing very special.
  • Poached tua clams in exotic coconut milk and homemade pickled young ginger: This on the other hand was dynamite.
  • Golden crispy chicken with Thai hot sauce: The chicken was perfectly fried and the sauce was great. Ideal accompaniment to beer.
  • Burnt Hokkaido scallop with soya avocado causa and seared watermelon: Ordered on both occasions, this was also dynamite.
  • Crab rice ball with red vinegar espuma: nicely fried but not a whole lot of crab flavour.
  • “Ho L Jeng” creamy peanut curd with peanut sprout, piquillo pepper, pickled egg crystals, sour and spicy dressing: I”ve no idea what the “Ho L Jeng” bit refers to; I do know this was bloody good, a lovely mix of textures and flavours, creamy and bold.

Large plates

  • Roasted salmon in maple syrup with sauteed kale and fermented bean curd sauce: The salmon was perfectly cooked and the interplay of the sweet and funky was very well done.
  • Slow cooked 24 hr char siu with poached foie gras in teochow soya sauce, spa egg and aromatic pork fat akita komachi rice: A long, complicated name for rather decadent comfort food. Very good indeed.

Dessert

  • Braised pear in chrysanthemum honey with candy walnut and cheese soya milk panna cotta: Perhaps the best dessert I ate in all of 2018. Beautiful execution and presentation: everything came together well with no cloying flavour or texture. Very refreshing. This was also ordered on both occasions.

You may have noticed from the above—and also if you peer at the menu descriptions in the slideshow below—that everything here appears to be gluten and dairy free. Speaking of peering at the slideshow, please launch it to take a look at the space and the food.

It’s a popular place. We got seats at the bar easily enough early on a Tuesday but on the Thursday it was touch and go getting a table for four at 7.30 pm—we ended up on the communal benches—and many people without reservations were turned away after that. I will also note—with the caveat that this is based on small sample sizes—that the clientele at 65 Peel seemed to comprise far more ethnic Chinese and other Asians than the clientele at Chôm Chôm across the street.

On the whole, these were two of my favourite meals in Hong Kong. If I lived or worked in Central I’d eat there often. If you’re visiting anytime soon I’d urge you to check them out as well.

Coming next on the food front: I’m going to take a break from Hong Kong and hit you with a couple of reports from London and Bombay. And I do still have a couple of quick Scotland meal reports left as well. I’ll be back to close out the Hong Kong reports in a couple of weeks.

One thought on “65 Peel (Hong Kong, December 2018)

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