Soul Food marks lucky number 13 in Black Sheep Restaurant's bountiful portfolio. Flying under the banner of 'wholesome ingredients, honest cooking, serious drinks', the original Soul Food in Bangkok amassed a large, dedicated following thanks to its bustling night market appeal. The Hong Kong location aims to replicate the same ambience and bring a taste of Bangkok's street stalls to touristy SoHo.
Inspired by the humble, lively shophouse restaurants of Bangkok, energy sizzles within the tiny SoHo restaurant. Seating here is cramped, and the house is packed to the brim, with a no-reservation policy. A bar counter greets guests up front while back-of-the-house seating is tucked into tiny nooks and crannies. We loved the almost chaotic background chatter and fun, casual atmosphere.
The menu is all about home-town recipes and regional specialities from across Thailand, as Bangkok is rich with migrant workers hailing from all reaches of the country. It's a different kind of Thai eating experience than the typical curries and pomelo salad popular with tourists, with founder Jarret Wrisley aiming to show diners a more authentic facet of the much-loved cuisine.
We settled down at our tiny table with cool glasses of the tai yen yen cocktail ($108), a tangy blend of gin, passion fruit, pineapple, cucumber, lime and ginger ale. It made for easy sipping that didn't overwhelm the palate.
When we read 'soft-cooked duck egg' on the menu, we knew we had to order the yam makrua yao ($128), a sour, smoky Bangkok classic of grilled aubergine, egg and herbs. The aubergine was deliciously creamy and undercut with a smidge of acidity, pairing well with the silky, smooth yolk of the duck egg.
The pad Thai soft shell ($148) gave the popular street noodle a glitzy twirl with the addition of the crustacean. A whole fried soft-shell crab sat atop a bed of rice noodles and was tossed in tamarind, tofu and egg and accompanied by pickled radish. We liked the presentation of the dish but thought that the noodles were a touch over-drenched in sauce.
At first dubious about the half smoked chicken ($208) owing to the fact that none of us like eating chicken breast, we took a leap of faith and trusted the enthusiastic suggestion of our server. Accompanied by three different dipping sauces and marinated in spices commonly used in north-eastern Thai cooking, the local chicken was slow-smoked, then finished on the wood grill to give it incredible texture and flavour. This was definitely our favourite of the evening: the meat was delicate and tender, bursting with mild smokiness. Even the chicken breast was tender, and we fought over every last morsel. In our opinion, the chicken is already so rich in flavour that the sauces are rather obsolete, even the signature massaman.
I only like eating very tender pork belly, so I was worried the gaeng hang lay ($178) wouldn't measure up to my expectations. Thankfully, the Burmese curried pork belly yielded effortlessly to the spoon with its juicy, melting layers of fat. Accents of tamarind, ginger and garlic paired deliciously with this rich cut of pork. In fact, we could have been happily satiated just by mixing rice with the rich curry broth.
After consuming half a chicken and a fat slab of pork belly, we were bursting at the seams, but our gluttonous selves just couldn't resist the house-made coconut ice cream ($58). After all, what's a food review without dessert? So, in the interest of our readers, we bore down and lavished ourselves with dollops of creamy coconut ice cream spiked with salted palm sugar caramel and crunchy peanuts. The contrast between sweet and savoury, which is a key element in Thai desserts, made this dish a clear winner.
Verdict: The most interesting and unique Thai opening this year in Hong Kong, Soul Food takes us beyond the tourist traps into the world of real Thai cookery. The restaurant serves up well-executed dishes along with immaculate, friendly service. The only things we could fault are the long wait and the no-reservation policy.
26–30 Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2177 3544