At age14, you attempted to make puff pastry. It seemed completely reasonable at the time, but then again, skateboarding in traffic also seemed reasonable. You began rolling out layers of dough and butter. Immediately, it became clear that the butter was belligerent, the dough oppositional defiant and the rolling pin a weapon of mess destruction. Hours later, having managed to butter and flour all the interior surfaces of the kitchen – and yourself and your dog – you were tracked by your floury footsteps to the far corner of the house, collapsed in defeat. But at least you dared!
Soufflés, space flight, happy marriages, Olympic medals, mountaineering and homemade puff pastry all have one thing in common: daring. Daring requires you to dream, to consult your fighting spirit, to apply everything in life that you’ve learned and to leap into the unknown. Of course, knowledge, planning, strength and good sense must accompany daring in order to succeed, but daring is the leap itself. No achievement is possible without it. Cheeky Dog, a hot-dog restaurant in Kennedy Town that’s been open for less than a year, dares.
Its heart is the dogs themselves: 30-day-aged beef, pork-apple, chicken and Käsekrainer cheese. Each is notably flavourful and juicy. The Käsekrainer cheese sausage, made from beef and pork, is most similar to a traditional hot dog. It’s delicious, though you hardly taste the cheese in it, if at all. The pork-apple is slightly sweet, appley, balanced delightfully. The chicken conveys the delicate essence of chicken, thankfully without the horrifying flecks of cartilage you’ve encountered elsewhere. The beef hot dog is not just generically meaty, but distinctly beefy. For all your loyalty to all-beef Hebrew National, Cheeky Dog’s beef dogs are beefier.
The buns are brioche-like, far outclassing supermarket fare. They’d fit right in at a swell breakfast, toasted with butter and jam. This makes sense because they come from Bakehouse, bakery extraordinaire.
The Plain Jane is just that, a plain beef hot dog in a bun with just mustard, ketchup and house-made caramelised onion. It’s like the best ballpark frank you’ve ever had.
Cheeky Dog’s fanciful offerings are what really make it special. Sweet Digs is a sausage coated in panko and deep-fried. There is a house-made rosemary-ginger-pineapple compote, back bacon and katsu sauce. The complexity of this preparation is a prescription for failure. Yet it soars unexpectedly, the flavours layering instead of muddling. You particularly like the texture of the panko against the meat and bread and the way in which the salt of the bacon plays against the sweetness of the compote.
Numb Cheeks, house-made mapo tofu slathered on a dog, shouldn’t work; it’s far too much of a non-sequitur, like pickles and peanut butter. But it’s fabulous, possibly your favourite dog of the pack. The fine-ground Sichuan peppercorn makes you crazy with pleasure. Might there be some way a customer could up the dosage? A shaker of the stuff, perhaps. It was slightly too hot for your wife.
The Ooey Gooey has five melted cheeses and house-made onion marmalade. Sweet and cheesy and meaty and bready – if destiny chooses you for death by cholesterol overdose, may this be the cheese bomb that causes it, so you’ll depart this mortal coil happy.
Hot Mess is a bacon-wrapped sausage with house-made pico de gallo, hot sauce and a Greek yoghurt dressing. You and your wife fought over this one. Having survived two weeks in quarantine together, which would stress-test any marriage, this wasn’t going to bring you down, but you could feel the strain. If your relationship isn’t robust, this doggy is too delicious for sharing.
Sides are where restaurants often slip. Not here. The nachos with pulled pork were terrific. The chips crisp, the pulled pork flavourful, with real melted cheese, not the ubiquitous liquefied cheese glop that’s so often inflicted.
The potato flavour of their shoestring fries really shone through, though they could have been a little crisper, a little hotter. Would it be possible to double- or even triple-fry them like they do at Rubia and Jean May? You’re almost certain this would loft them even higher.
You were impressed by Cheeky Dog’s thoughtfully curated beverages, not the standard Tsingtao and Coke Zero. Your wife’s Gingergella Karma drink was by far the best ginger ale either of you have ever had, zingy, with a fresh ginger taste. You had two great, hoppy brews, an Australian and a New Zealand. But Hong Kong is now producing many superb craft beers. Why not showcase them?
The interior is a handsome (your wife says “cute”), sparkling clean nook that is not visible from the street, giving it a sense of exclusivity. The service is prompt and personable. The music track includes a lot of 70s–80s gold, which warmed your gizzard. The washroom is immaculate.
Prices are amazingly reasonable, with dogs starting at $58. The most expensive is $98. Cheeky Dog is excellent for a date or a bunch of pals. Excellent for kiddles, with food they’d surely like. Excellent for a good brewski or a glass of grape.
All restaurants are daring simply because they’re such risky enterprises. But Cheeky Dog is particularly daring because it has chosen the humblest of foods, the hot dog, as its ride to glory (oh so wisely, it has avoided puff pastry). You admire the audacity and imagination as much as the excellence of their chow. It’s top dog! Credit goes to the visionary founders (who still work the floor), Bibiana Ling and Joe Chan.
You and your wife loved Cheeky Dog. Few restaurants at this price point deliver such consistently excellent food. You highly recommend it. Go.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall greatness: 4.5
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 uniformly stunning.”
This meal was comped.
Shop 29, G/F, Hoi Tao Building, 711 Belcher’s Street (alleyway entrance on Sai Cheung Street), Kennedy Town, email@example.com