Joining the vibrant gastropub community in Mongkok is Graceland, from the founders of Momentai in Sai Kung. Momentai will reopen after Chinese New Year in a much smaller space with a focus on local craft beers on tap, but in the meantime, co-founder Niko Smirnov is keeping busy running a smooth ship at the new restaurant. At the tender age of 25, he has a wealth of experience in hospitality, and it shows.
Tennessee native chef Jake Johnson helms the kitchen, bringing Southern American favourites not found elsewhere in Hong Kong. When we think of Southern-style comfort food, we often imagine heavy, fried dishes. So it was with great pleasure that we discovered that this is not the case at Graceland.
The house signature dish is a spicy Nashville chicken sandwich ($135), which comes with two sides. We went for the coleslaw and a serving of tater tots. The chicken fillet has been flattened, which results in the perfect ratio of crispy outer crust to tender meat. It’s coated in a Nashville sauce made in-house from cayenne pepper, and it packs a punch. The coleslaw is the perfect accompaniment to cool off between bites. This is a tremendous sandwich (although we might call it a burger), which we will 100% come back for.
For those wishing to skip the chook, any of the chicken burgers or sandwiches can be switched to TiNDLE at no extra charge, and the feedback for these meat-free numbers has been positive.
We were served a tasting menu in order to try more things, which is a little different from the full portions on the standard menu.
The country fried steak bites are a starter version of the country fried steak ($165). All standard mains come with a choice of two sides from a selection of nine, with additional sides at $20 each. These steak bites are all about texture – light and crispy on the outside, coated in a very thin batter, with the interior all juicy, tender steak. The perfect sides for this are the collard greens with roasted pork knuckle (you won’t find this anywhere else in Hong Kong) and either the pole beans with bacon or the delicious black-eyed peas.
Another very traditional dish is the Mississippi fried catfish ($120). Niko told us that he used to go fishing for catfish with his grandfather, which they would bread with cornmeal and fry. The graining coating of this fish is unusual, but it’s soft and piping hot inside. Niko explained that the cooking at Graceland is all very easy, using simple ingredients but with great care taken with timing and temperature. Hence the dishes we tried thus far were light even though they had been fried.
You can get a state fair corn dog ($95) or six country fair baby corn dogs ($75). We’ll be honest – corn dogs are not our thing, but even so, we were able to appreciate just how perfectly bouncy each bite was.
A special dish on the menu is the chicken & dumplings soup ($125). This is a speciality from Chef Johnson that looks uninspiring but delivers a warm hug in a bowl. The soup is a little thicker than most broths, a familiar chicken flavour peppered with, well, pepper. The dumplings are actually slivers of dough – not too much dough at once – that are fully soaked in the soup. Also starring are slices of chicken, coated in a light batter and fried. The whole dish is very simple and quite wonderful. This has “hangover cure” written all over it, but apparently it also fixes workaday blues.
If hangover cures are important to you, consider visiting for Graceland’s weekend brunch, which offers a ridiculous Bloody Mary called Rockin’ Robin Bloody Mary ($125), served with celery, dill pickle, olives, pickled onion, cocktail sausage, calamari, mozzarella sticks, bacon, buffalo wings and Hot Pickle Lantau Jerky. Whew!
After lunch, what better option could there be but to enjoy a cold Arnold Palmer variant called the Hound Dog Highball ($80), made traditionally with ice tea and lemonade and here with added peach for a twist. This has become the favourite cocktail at Graceland, and we can see why. You could also go for one of the four options on tap (soon to be six), including Kona Hawaiian lager, Deschutes IPA and 2 Towns cider, or consider the large selection of bottled beer. We were surprised to find a couple of our favourite wines on the drinks menu, for reasonable prices too.
Of course we couldn’t leave without trying the jukebox! The only working vinyl-spinning jukebox in Hong Kong is free to play, with a selection of 200 throwback classics to keep the atmosphere lively.
Now we known why everyone is talking about Graceland. Everything we tried was exactly as it was supposed to be, but frankly with far less oil than we had expected. Nothing was greasy, and after lunch, we were completely stuffed but happy. The prices are really reasonable, for both the food and drinks.
We recommend ordering a main and getting a selection of all the sides to share; they are really all very good. Don’t go past the Nashville chicken sandwich if you can tolerate a bit of spice. On our return we will consider a full serving of the the country fried steak, and the black & blue burger ($145), featuring a blackened beef patty topped with blue cheese sauce, also caught our eye.
They are doing a special brunch menu on weekends, with a $180 free-flow package option, and they have takeaway options after 6pm during restrictions.
Graceland is one of those special places that might just become your new favourite hang-out!
12–14A Yim Po Fong Street, Mongkok, 6112 9448 (special hours: 11am –6pm, with takeaway after)
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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