Header photo credit: @chiefsblend on foodpanda
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In TS Eliot’s poem, inflicted on all freshman lit students, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, he writes, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” He may have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but this is ridiculous. Coffee spoons? That’s no way to measure your life. Were you brewing coffee as a toddler? What if you mistakenly switched spoon sizes? How do you compare a heaping spoon to a level spoon?
Were you his editor, you’d have suggested he change it to something like, “I have measured out my life in dogs.” Dogs mark life’s stages better. Your first dog. Your most beloved dog. Your hound struck with terror by a grocery bag inflated suddenly by the wind, skittishly avoiding all bags thereafter. Your three-legged mutt, with the ability to smile, who burrowed arduously under the fence into the neighbouring mastiff’s yard to consummate their forbidden love, begetting pups identifiable years later by their ability to smile. If you’re a happy sort, a smiling dog will make you happier. If you’re paranoid, you’re done for.
Or it could go, “I have measured out my life in sandwiches.” Sandwiches are so integral to existence that they’re as useful as radiocarbon dating (a great name for a dating app, by the way). Your earliest memory is of your mom’s Wonder bread sandwiches with Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly. The grape jelly leaked through the fabric of the bread, so it was spotted purple on the outside like a scab. Ever the connoisseur, you noted that she used too much peanut butter in an attempt to bulk you up, much as Kanga gave Roo Strengthening Medicine. Later on, you loved her fluffernutter sandwiches, perhaps the most degenerate sandwiches ever conceived – literally conceived, the offspring of a torrid liaison between a Peep and Mr Peanut, who did not use protection – peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff on white. There were your grandma’s thick chopped liver sandwiches, each a full liver transplant by itself on Levy’s caraway rye, your first hint of bread’s vital importance. Ironic that eating too many of these sandwiches, made without mayonnaise, could land you in the Mayo Clinic.
Significant sandwiches marking your life’s stages followed. The pastrami (or corned beef or tongue) at Katz’s Delicatessen on Jewish rye with deli brown mustard, served with all the fresh pickles you could eat, the same sign hanging there that your dad saw when he was a kid: “Send a salami to your boy in the army”. Your first muffuletta sandwich on a sultry day from Central Grocery in New Orleans, the diameter of a Frisbee. You inhaled it and contemplated another. Fast-food fried chicken sandwiches, Italian hoagies, Philly cheesesteaks to roost in your coronary arteries, blissful banh mi, your wife’s open-faced, garden tomato sandwich on really good toast garnished with only a sprinkle of salt, très amoureux. The sandwiches at Chief’s Blend in Wanchai.
The owners are South African, professional rugby players, which surely affects their culinary outlook. Like them, their food has solid quadriceps. They sell imported South African biltong: air-dried, spiced, lightly salted meats (beef, ostrich, antelope). The jerky-like meat is satisfyingly chewy, delicious.
They sell imported South African sausages. You particularly liked the springbok.
All this plus South African meats, wines and beers can be ordered online at www.biltongchief.com. Or you can stock up right from the restaurant.
The heart of the restaurant is sandwiches.
The signature millennial sandwich is an avocado mash. Chief’s Blend has several. Yours, avo-pomsmash, on excellent toasted sourdough, open-faced, is turfed with avocado and sharpened by lemon, a hailstorm of pomegranate seeds, dabs of feta. You – self-appointed Superintendent of Sandwiches – pronounce it bigly delish. It is a flavour blitz you have never before conceived, which you will unapologetically plagiarise. The march of history is inexorable and, no less, the march of sandwiches. Well done!
As an author, you feel qualified to comment on William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”, which also won the Nobel Prize or maybe the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, something big. Again, ridiculous. Nothing depends on a red wheelbarrow except a load of dirt. If something happens to yours, say it’s run over by an ice-cream truck, buy another. But a lot depends on perfectly cooked steak in a sandwich – your well-being, the survival of civilisation, our planet’s orbit.
Prego steak ciabatta. They marinate rump steak in bell pepper, garlic, paprika, chilil, red onion, red wine vinegar and oil and bang it on the flat grill to medium, no more. Snugged inside toasted olive-thyme ciabatta, conjoined to red onion and tomato, it’s spicy, carnally gratifying. You love it! The fact that they don’t overcook their meat is the cotter pin that holds you secure above the abyss.
The dominant flavouring in frankfurters is often salt because they’re cured. However, if you eat really good, fresh ones (homemade, as you’ve done often, or from a serious sausage monger) and your palate is discerning, you’ll pick up the traditional tastes of coriander seed and nutmeg or mace. Chief’s Blend’s farm-style beef boerewors hot dog is strongly redolent of nutmeg, clove and coriander seed. It’s poetry to rival Eliot and Williams. Ground coarse, uncured, it’s served with sharp Dijon and caramelised onion. Elevated by toasted almond slices, this dog is chum to your inner shark, pushing you to the floor, where you thrash and bite customers’ legs. Well, almost. You liked the roll, which was softer than the others. Your wife wanted it chewier.
Their BBQ pork ribs – of particular pedigree, sold in Hong Kong only by Chief’s Blend – are tasty. But it’s the rare rib that isn’t. They come from South Africa, pre-cooked and pre-glazed in a treacly, ketchupy sauce, and are reheated under the salamander. In a rib-centric city of rib duels, rib assassinations, rib riots, rib conspiracies, Chief’s Blend needs to rib up. They must be meatier. They must be scratch-made, which would open up infinite potential for greatness. The cloying sauce is unstamped by character – almost no tang, spice or style – as though it was created not to offend rather than to delight. Stamp it with character. Is an upgrade worth their finite resources in time and energy and kitchen space? You think so.
Truth will out, their chips are mealy and could be crisper. These are not chips to ninja their way in and out of an enemy castle with fiery arrows raining down. Go thinner, double- or triple-fry. Chef Rowan Thane worked at Black Sheep Restaurants, so he’s got chops. In your view, he should be let loose on the fries and on the sauce.
You drank two standout beers, a South African St Francis Beach Blonde Ale (HK$40) and an Irish Wicklow Wolf Session IPA (HK$48). Your wife had an outstanding glass of South African Creation Syrah 2011 (HK$220/bottle). Many HK places sell a single glass for the cost of this bottle.
A classic South African dessert – koeksisters – is made by Chef Thane, who is strong with the force. They are braided pieces of dough, deep-fried, soaked in a sugar syrup with green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, lavender petals, slices of orange, slices of lemon, served chilled. Amongst the least healthy foods you’ve ever eaten – less healthy than fluffernutter sandwiches, more healthy than plutonium – they’re so nummy, they’re worth the hit. Just for the koeksisters alone, not counting the other toothsome chow, it is worth voyaging here.
Chief’s Blend is a lovely place from which to watch the flow of life. From the counter looking out, an interesting customer – self-confident, inquisitive, in a fine coat, bewhiskered, eloquent ears – ambles by and pauses to drink from a sidewalk-level bowl clearly set forth for such as he. A restaurant with a heart for the finer species warms your gizzard.
Ribs and chips, indifferent. Biltong and sausages, outstanding. Dessert, outstanding. Beverage price-quality quotient, outstanding. Prices, outstanding. Every sandwich, outstanding. Like a valiant rugby player, Chief’s Blend carries the sarnie forward. Gather here with friends, nibble good stuff, tilt a glass and watch the flow of life without mangling your wallet. Or just load up for a BBQ or picnic. Joyously measure out your life in sandwiches.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall greatness: 3.5
Restaurants are intuitively rated within their particular realms. So Michelin restaurants, pizza places and stand-up sandwich joints are judged against like restaurants, not each other. A 5 for a high-end restaurant is not meant to be the same as a 5 for street food.
From my website, here’s how I rate food: “I believe the quality of a restaurant’s food is vastly more important than any other factor. Even if I love a restaurant’s food, I’m very conservative about giving out 4s or 5s. I reserve 4s for food that is uniformly excellent. Preponderantly excellent tends to get a lower score. 5s are for food that is stunning.”
This meal was comped. However, the restaurant is a super deal. The avo-pomsmash is HK$85. The farm-style beef boerewors hot dog is HK$98. The prego steak ciabatta, the most expensive item on the menu, is HK$108. Craft beers are around HK$40. The outstanding bottle of Syrah we ordered is HK$220.
17–21 Burrows Street, Wanchai, no phone, email@example.com
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