Date of review: April 13, 2017 | Reviewed by: Wilson Fok
Happy Paradise’s entrance on Aberdeen Street may be slightly difficult to spot. A narrow corridor opens into a square dining space, with colourful fluorescent lighting adding a psychedelic aura to the vintage-style décor reminiscent of Shanghainese barbershops and old cha-chaan-tengs. The neon-lit bar overlooks the main dining area where tables are generously spaced out around old school banquettes and diner-style chairs straight from the Seventies. The extensive use of mirrors adds a sense of space and depth to the establishment.
At the helm of the kitchen is chef John Javier, whose previous tenure in Australia garnered raves before he headed to Hong Kong to open Happy Paradise with May Chow. Together they created each recipe on the one-page a la carte menu, where classic Cantonese dishes keep their roots but are refined and enhanced by contemporary preparations such as sous vide cooking. We began our meal with salt and pepper Bombay duck, the soft, creamy fish lightly battered and deep fried until golden brown and moreish with a dash of peppered salt giving it a lift in seasoning.
Braised pomelo skin with black sesame, dried shrimp roe, and shrimp oil was a slight let-down. The pomelo skin has always been a tricky treat in Cantonese cuisine. Happy Paradise’s version was mostly soft and spongy but some parts of the skin required longer soaking to rid it of its dense, stringy texture. The black sesame foam and shrimp oil, however, were perfect for adding depth and singular texture to the dish.
John Javier is a master of poultry preparations, as demonstrated by the perfect execution of the restaurant’s signature tea smoked pigeon. The petite bird was slow-cooked until medium rare, deep fried and smoked with jasmine tea, allowing the tea’s floral aromas to linger with the slight but pleasantly gamey flavours of the bird. The slow-cooked chicken with glutinous rice wine, Shaoxing and chrysanthemum was a winner. A crunchy smoky scattering of toasted puffed rice tops slow-cooked chicken with tender breast meat and a thick layer of gelatinous skin, finished with a generous drizzle of mushroom-rich chrysanthemum broth lightened with Shaoxing wine. Layers of flavour are fused and released with each bite, with the Shaoxing wine adding a sweet finish.
The establishment’s version of char siu, silky egg and rice is a riff on the classic cha-chaan-teng favourite - barbequed char siu pork and a fried egg on rice. Here, the dish is elevated by honey-glazed Iberico pluma, draped over stir fried egg whites and rice and drizzled with molten egg yolk, with bowls on the side of melted lard and a locally-produced artisanal sweet soy sauce from the Kowloon Sauce Company. Guests should save room for Happy Paradise’s cheung-fun, a playful version of steamed rice rolls made purely of pounded and pureed scallops which are steamed, pressed into sheets, rolled and served with soy sauce and chilli oil. The faux rice rolls were luxurious, tender and rich in umami.
Happy Paradise offers a wide selection of cocktails, their beverage menu progressing from classics-with-a-twist to ingenious new creations featuring Chinese liquors and Asian elements such as soy sauce, five spice, chrysanthemum, and durian. The Unbeatable Conman is a perfect start to the meal. The fresh citrus notes of lemon and grapefruit match well with a touch of Cynar rounded off with the sweetness of honey. Served very cold, it is a brilliant complement to the starters.
The creative Drunken Plums improves on the classic martini with manzanilla sherry, gin, and Shaoxing wine. The pairing is offset by a fruity sour plum liquor and a touch of orange bitters. With six varieties of wines offered by the glass, two each of bubbly, whites, and red, the bottled wines on the list are affordable and moderately priced.
Notwithstanding the casual ambience and set up, service at Happy Paradise is attentive and friendly. The service team is well-versed in the restaurant’s concept : from the food and drink offerings to design details, all are described and explained with great enthusiasm. The team is knowledgeable when it comes to cocktail and dish pairings, and portion control is on point.
A dinner for two including one cocktail each amounts to a bit over HK$1,400. Happy Paradise offers a deceptively simple menu showcasing dishes and cocktails that are well-thought-out in concept and spot-on in execution. The ambience may not suit those who intend to have a fine-dining experience, but the restaurant is worth visiting. The food and drink will take you to food-lovers’ paradise and you will leave happy as they promise.