There are few places in the world where you can find better Cantonese food than Hong Kong. But even at the top, the use of MSG is endemic in the city. The Chairman offers a very welcome fresh approach to Cantonese cooking.
At first, however, Chairman hardly sticks out in Sheung Wan. From the outside, and indeed the inside there is little that distinguishes the restaurant. The main dining room is light, bright, and without much decoration to speak of.
What you notice immediately is the delightful service team. Most of its members aren’t exactly young anymore, but they seem very proud of what they do, and seem to burst with energy. That results in clear statements of pride, such as the restaurant serving the world’s best ice cream.
Ultimately, things come down to the food. And in that respect the Chairman has managed to convince grandees from Richard Ekkebus (Amber), to Seiji Yamamoto (Ryugin) and even wine critic Neal Martin. Why? Because the food here is devoid of MSG, thickened, overly shiny sauces, and based on fine produce.
Take the restaurant’s most famous dish: flower crab with rice noodles and a sauce of chicken fat and Chinese yellow wine. This has been done with bravado at the Manor Seafood restaurant before its closure (and elsewhere too), but the version here is different. The sauce is less thick and grainy. Instead, you have a subtle, deeply flavoured liquid where the oxidised wine, chicken fat and egg yolk all come through to season the sweet, juicy crab meat.
Another superb dish is a steamer of rice topped with a generous helping of crabmeat. The cooking is spot-on, with the meat still juicy and moist, and packed with flavour. Its purity, and sheer deliciousness make it one of the better rice dishes we have had in Chinese restaurants.
With food that is this pure, and served in such charming fashion there is very little to not like about the Chairman. Certainly, it has none of the grandeur of the hotel restaurants that make up most of Hong Kong’s fine dining scene, but it has something a lot of those do not: supremely pure and delicious food.
In a city whose dining scene is dominated by hotel restaurants the Chairman is a welcome alternative. It is a restaurant with soul, which makes it a must-visit for anyone coming through Hong Kong.