The Korean-meets-Italian dishes served up by Chef Ken Lau at Cafe Joo are both crave-worthy and reasonably priced
Like many café habitués, I’m always in the mood for chilling at a cool spot, preferably with both indoor and outdoor seating, and having quality munchies with my pals to unwind.
I had no idea that such a cosy hang-out would land in the heart of a sprawling shopping complex in Shatin until I arrived at Cafe Joo, ever-expanding F&B group LUBUDS’ first Korean concept. Even better, your furry friends are also welcome here.
I soon found myself stepping into the warm embrace of a modern, minimalist Korean-style café. The main dining area is awash in light wood with soft, warm lighting, radiating a sense of tranquility. Cafe Joo is a perfect spot for city dwellers to unwind from all the hustle and bustle of daily life in the 852.
Veteran chef Ken Lau of Pano, Palco and Pleka has created a Korean fusion menu at Cafe Joo that matches the cool-cat vibe of the space, marrying the vibrant flavours of Korea with Western ingredients and culinary techniques, Italian in particular.
The iced yuzu soda (HK$40) is topped with foamy egg and has a delightfully citrusy burst of flavour – a thirst-quenching sensation on a hot, rainy June evening.
Chef Lau’s take on kimbap, that sturdy staple of Korean cuisine, involves deep-frying the seaweed wrappers, adding a golden exterior to the rice rolls. The combination of the crispy outer layer and tender, fragrant filling of beef and vegetables is incredibly satisfying. This deep-fried kimbap (HK$88 with beef; HK$68 with veg) is a great start to a meal at Cafe Joo.
Korean fried chicken seems to have a special place in Hong Kongers’ hearts, especially for those brimming with affection for K-dramas. Chef Lau’s Korean fried chicken (HK$118 for ½; HK$218 for whole) – made with three-yellow chicken, known for its exceptional flavour – definitely sets itself apart from the rest of the pack. Again, the chef’s deep-frying expertise is evident in this dish. The crunchy coating is juxtaposed against the tender, succulent meat, while the homemade garlic and soy sauce adds a burst of savoury tanginess that nicely complements the chicken.
Chef Lau’s extensive training in Italian cuisine gives him confidence in integrating traditional Italian flavours into Korean dishes. Although many of us are no strangers to spaghetti with squid ink, the chef uses octopus sourced directly from Jeju Island for this classic plate of pasta and adds Korean soy sauce to the squid ink, elevating the dish. A small plate of ojingeo-jeot (fermented squid) is served alongside this Jeju stir-fried octopus with squid-ink sauce (HK$158). I absolutely loved adding a dash of this popular banchan to the pasta, imparting a pop of umami pungency to the springy noodles.
Another creative take on an Italian pasta dish is the roasted tiger prawn with kimchi cream sauce (HK$188). The highlight of the dish – the kimchi cream sauce – brings a pleasant balance of tanginess, creaminess and a hint of spiciness that pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the expertly roasted tiger prawn. This dish truly embodies the spirit of Chef Lau’s culinary innovation.
If you have an insatiable love for indulging in desserts like we do, you should not miss trying Cafe Joo’s sweet treats. We tried the signature Nutella and banana baked croffle with milk ice cream (HK$98), a pièce de résistance. This heavenly creation sees French croissants pressed and baked into fluffy and crispy waffles, promising a tantalising combination of textures in every bite. The dessert is taken to another level with caramelised banana, homemade Hokkaido milk ice cream and Nutella. This Instagrammable plate made our taste buds dance with joy (and left us wanting to unbutton our jeans a little thanks to its generous portion).
Another sweet offering I’d like to recommend is Cafe Joo’s refreshing mango parfait (HK$88). At its core, the parfait showcases the natural sweetness and tropical allure of fresh mango. It’s also mixed with jelly, butter crisps and dices of homemade cake, creating a blissful contrast with the vibrant fruit. This is a dessert that will give you a momentary escape to sun-kissed shores.
Hong Kong has no shortage of restaurants offering Korean food, and the city’s café scene is always growing. However, it’s rare to find a laid-back, cosy spot like Cafe Joo nestled inside a large shopping mall. The Korean-meets-Italian dishes served up are both crave-worthy and reasonably priced. The outdoor seating area also seems quite nice for chilling with the fam or friends (furry or otherwise).
Where: Shop 165, 1/F, Phase 1, New Town Plaza, 18 Sha Tin Centre Street, Shatin
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.