Riding high on her Best Female Chef in Asia win, May Chow first won hearts and palates with her Asian burgers at Little Bao, developed a solid following with her fusion food at ale house Second Draft and now nails the landing with her neo-Cantonese haute cuisine offerings at Happy Paradise.
You can see the fandango glow of the restaurant from busy Elgin Street below, and behind the banana-emblazoned door, it's like you've stepped inside that 80s episode of Black Mirror. Transported to another time, within another time, and it's down the rabbit hole you go with wonderfully incongruous flavours to match. The arcade-style interior is a display of neon tube lighting in bright pinks and blues and neon art installations, Formica tables and all the best parts of the decade known as the 'ugly one'. It's both futuristic and retro all in one, cheerful with a hint of cha chaan teng and, like everything May Chow embodies, very cool. Rad is probably a better word for it – and one usually reserved for something that deserves it.
Her food is really quite emotive with its nostalgic nod to recipes of the past, masterfully prepared, and she uses carefully considered, choice ingredients. May herself was on the floor to explain the ethos and ingredients to her diners, and this was a great help to our party in understanding the depth of the endeavour to create each one of these dishes. It elevated the appreciation of the entire experience. I'm not sure that without her guidance the meal would have been such a resounding success for us, but with the right passion and training in her staff, it certainly could have been.
It's not crazy expensive – it's pretty much mid-range, considering what mid-range goes for these days, but with cocktails or wine, it'll still come in pretty steep. There's a small, succinct menu, and it's got some very simple dishes on there, like the choi sum ($75), just steamed and served up but teamed with an exquisite oyster sauce from Kowloon Soy Co with a 100-year-old recipe. It's also got some dishes on there that will bring out your adventurous side, notably the pig lung, but if you're in Happy Paradise, you're probably already up for it.
The slow-cooked chrysanthemum chicken ($328) was impressive and aromatic when it appeared. The marginally dry meat was less succulent than we had expected, but it struck all the right floral notes, with the harmonious flavours from the flowers and the strong smack of the Shaoxing wine.
The beef short rib ($488) was a divinely flavoursome highlight. Soft and deeply beefy with a skilful citrus accent from the Fuyu persimmon.
The char siu silky egg rice ($178) was a tremendous way to finish. Thin, sticky strips of pork lay in their shiny glory over a faultless layer of firm and smooth silken egg.
There is a tea-smoked pigeon ($180) on the menu that is reminiscent of one at our fave down the road, The Chairman, so we'll be back to try that next time along with probably every single one of the dishes we didn't try yet, not to mention to work our way through the luscious libations menu.
The service is good too. Lots of cool-cat helpful sorts were milling about, and we got a great wine recommendation on the Zarate, an Albariño from a small organic wine cellar in Spain that was sharp and crisp and an excellent accompaniment to the cuisine (although it did deviate us from the undisputedly awesome aperitifs).
Little Bao has some hot little bevvies, and Chef Chow then opened an ale house, so it's no surprise that Happy Paradise's cocktail list is alight with taste possibilities. The cocktail menu is divided into openers and more powerful closers depending on where you're at during your dinner, and these tasty tipples are reason enough to venture through to this nifty neon nook. There are sweet little umbrellas in the Pink Flamingo, and they all have cool names like The Unbeatable Conman or the pina colada–like Durian Painkiller.
The Durian Painkiller
Utterly delicious dishes, dynamite drinks and an innately cool atmosphere – you'll see. Oh yes, you gotta bring your best self out if you're heading to Paradise. It might even feel like it's a bit too cool for some. Go when you're feeling like a walk on the hip side of the street because it ain't for everyone.
52–56 Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2816 2118
This write-up is based on an anonymous, independent tasting. No monetary compensation was provided in exchange.
Here's what May herself has to say about Happy Paradise and on being named Asia's Best Female Chef: