With a life-size comic panda perched right outside its doors, it's hard to miss Panda Café when you're strolling along in Sai Ying Pun, despite its location on a quiet corner of the neighbourhood. Its small interior is decked out in an eclectic mix of furnishings, but the decor is dominated by wood and rustic elements. Wine crates line the walls, whimsical and cute artwork is plastered above the dining area – it's a comfortable, homey setting overall: the kind of place where you want to bring a book to relax on a cloudy, overcast day.
Owned and run by the one-man team of Ares Chong, Panda Café is his baby; homegrown and built from scratch, his vision is simple: to create and serve delicious, healthy and lovingly crafted fare that he believes is hard to find in this fast-paced city. We dropped by on a weekday afternoon after lunch service, and the café was quiet and intimate. Our aim was to grab a snack, and we opted for a couple of light bites: the Thai green salad with brown rice and tofu ($118) and the cold udon with house-made sesame sauce ($108).
Thai green salad with brown rice and tofu
Cold udon with house-made sesame sauce
Despite it being late afternoon and us the only guests in the house, service was slow, and we waited about 40 minutes for our dishes, which wasn't ideal for us as working professionals with tight time constraints, but we let it slide. With only one man on the till, waiting tables and in the kitchen (yes, Ares really did it all that day), we understood that we had come to dine at an unusual hour.
The food, however, spoke for itself. Drenched and dripping in creamy sesame sauce, the udon was boiled to the perfect bounce, not too limp, not too firm. Sliced cucumbers gave it an additional crunch, and the egg provided a warm touch to this cold dish. The Thai green salad was fresh and light, well garnished, with just a slight char on the grilled tofu for that textured bite. The rice and salad combo made this a satisfyingly filling dish.
We'll be back in spite of the hiccups, probably on the weekend with a few friends in tow, or maybe we'll just bring a good tome as a worthy companion. The food alone makes it a good choice for anyone wandering around the neighbourhood who is looking for a spot for lunch or an afternoon snack.
Shop E, Basement, Tung Cheung Building, 1–11 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, 5595 0101