Following a three-month renovation, the historic four-storey tenement building that once housed British gastropub The Pawn has reopened as Woo Cheong Tea House. Owned and operated by Classified Group, the same restaurant group that previously owned The Pawn, this refined Cantonese restaurant pays homage to the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop that once resided in the century-old building.
Head Chef Edmond Ip and Dim Sum Head Chef Eric Sun have crafted a menu reflecting classic Cantonese flavours while using innovative, modern presentations. Special attention is paid to serveware in order to tie in with the whimsical presentations, making each dish stand out from other traditional Chinese restaurants.
The restaurant is divided between two levels, with the first floor dedicated to dim sum and à-la-carte dishes, a bar and a premium tea lounge and the second floor featuring private rooms showcasing tasting menus. Each of the intricately decorated spaces is awash in eye-catching floral wallpaper, coupled with flourishes of velvet, brushed gold accents and vibrant pops of colour. Each area, including all the private rooms, is connected to outdoor verandas overlooking bustling Johnson Road and the tramway.
Our tasting began with a pot of ganpu tea, a unique Xinhui speciality of pu’er tea stuffed within a dried whole mandarin. The dried citrus flavour removes the often ink-like undertones of the tea, making it lighter and more refreshing.
To start, we sampled the steamed fish dumplings ($98), folded within wrappers that are infused with osmanthus and jasmine. The tender freshwater white fish dumplings, accented with crunchy water chestnuts, are light on the palate and more subtle in taste than standard shrimp dumplings. The fragrant osmanthus adds a sweet aroma.
The daikon puffs ($78) are coloured golden with a touch of turmeric and filled with Japanese daikon and sweet carrot. Encased in 28 layers of crisp, delicate pastry, these fried treats have a gooey, deliciously savoury centre.
Crafted with house-made tofu, the seared salmon mince and tofu ($88) is a play on a classic Cantonese snack. Made with pumpkin purée, goji berries and bean curd infused with Da Hong Pao tea, this dish is definitely a more deluxe, healthful variation on a classic.
The signature premium barbecued pork ($398) has a crunchy and beautifully caramelised exterior. The deluxe roast meat requires a 24-hour pre-order (each pig only produces two portions of the specific cut used for this dish). Tender and juicy, with the perfect ratio of lean meat to fat and a slight smokiness, this BBQ pork is a rare treat.
The sautéed prawn is an outlier, in the sense that it’s not available à la carte but only on the tasting menu ($1,380/person). Wild kuruma prawns are hand-selected each morning by the chef and carved expertly to form flower-like shapes when cooked at the right temperature. The result is a bouncy, succulent white prawn blossom nestled in a rich, umami-filled shrimp reduction.
The wintry months call for warm nourishment, and the double-boiled soup with sea conch and yellow morel ($288) really hits the spot. Slow-simmered for hours to give the clear broth incredible depth of flavour, each sip feels soothingly restorative.
A unique way of serving sweet-and-sour pork ($268), juicy fried chunks of pork are coated in an addictively sugary yet tart sauce and served atop a wafer-thin slice of fresh pineapple. The pineapple is hand-carved daily – no tinned shortcuts for this dish! Pop Rocks, or popping candy, are sprinkled next to the pork as a fun dipper, and they really get the palate jazzed up with a fun new sensation.
The deep-fried crispy pigeon with tea-cured pigeon egg ($168) is served in a vessel reminiscent of a nest, but there’s no risk of this bird flying the coop! A departure from the traditional way of preparing pigeon, the bird is marinated raw instead of first being poached and is then deep-fried to keep all the luscious juices within. The tea-smoked egg has a gooey yolk and gelatinous texture. A tasty dish worthy of getting your hands dirty (although plastic gloves are provided for finicky eaters).
Another floral dish that reflects the decor of the restaurant, the cabbage in broth is a delicately carved display steeped in a soothing, savoury consommé, adorned with a goji berry at the centre. This dish is part of the tasting menu, so it does not have an individual price.
The dried shrimp roe e-fu noodles are also part of the tasting menu and have no individual price. Accented with garlicky pops of yellow chives and umami-rich dried shrimp roe, this dish is a comforting indulgence.
Steamed red date cake with coconut milk ($68), baked egg tarts with Baileys ($78) and steamed sugar cane juice rolls ($68) ended our feast. Our favourite sweet was the bouncy red date cake, which has a rounded flavour akin to brown sugar. The Baileys egg tart is too strong in alcohol for our tastes, while the sugar cane rolls have a slight grassy undertone, which makes sense considering that the sugar cane is freshly juiced from the renowned Kung Lee shop in Sheung Wan, which has been trading since the 1940s.
Woo Cheong offers a whimsical look at classic Cantonese flavours from a fresh, new angle, without sacrificing on taste and time-honoured technique. We can see this restaurant being popular at all times of the day, and we have our eye on that gorgeous pink private room to host a dinner as soon as restrictions are lifted.
1/F & 2/F, 62 Johnston Road, Wanchai, 2866 3444, book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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