Rating: ★★★★☆

Address: G/F BLK A, No.58-60 Peel Street & No.16A Elgin Street, Central 中環58-60號卑利街地下 16A伊利近街交界

Telephone: 2810 0850

http://www.chomchom.hk/

Chôm Chôm, in its previous life a popular Vietnamese private kitchen on Wellington Street, now reopens as a hip, buzzing eatery on Soho’s Peel Street. Helmed by talented chef Peter Cuong Franklin, a Yale and Le Cordon Bleu alumnus, in collaboration with Black Sheep Restaurants (the guys behind Boqueria and Motorino), Chôm Chôm now serves a selection of creative, reinvented Vietnamese street foods. Inspired by the Bia Hoi (meaning “beer”) experience in Vietnam, where people sit in busy street corners snacking and sipping draft beer, Peter seeks to recreate a similar neighbourhood hangout spot at his Hong Kong outlet. For those who love Chôm Chôm’s phos, you might be disappointed to learn that these will not be served at the revamped restaurant, as Peter wishes to show Hong Kongers that Vietnamese cuisine can be something more than phos (*shock*- really?!!)

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Even though this charming eatery serves Vietnamese street foods, it does not charge street food prices – after all, this is a bright, clean restaurant right in the middle of Soho; a typical dinner will set you back around $300-$500 per head. The restaurant now only opens for dinner and doesn’t take reservations. As it is still in its first few months of operation, do expect some usual teething problems, though these would be forgotten as soon as you sink your teeth into their tangy, mouthwatering street snacks and have a sip of their tasty draft beers.

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(1) We dug into Peter’s creation, the House-Cured Salmon Salad ($88), a fresh, vibrant salad with bean sprouts, cucumber and carrots in a kaffir lime vinaigrette. The salmon, fish roe and sesame gave it a Japanese vibe, but the sharp sourness would bring your tastebuds straight back to Vietnam.

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(2) A Salt & Pepper Squid ($78) was both comforting and exciting – crispy on the surface, these squids have been cooked with garlic, ginger and black bean, and were simply moreish. You could dip it in some spicy Sriracha Mayo for extra flavours.

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(3) These Spicy Tuna Rolls ($78) tasted decent, but watch out for the spiciness which would only hit when you least expected it!

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(4) Even though no phos were available at Chôm Chôm, these Pho beef rolls ($78) were an amazing substitute. The fresh rice noodle rolls were thick and stretchy (rather like a stretchy version of Chinese cheung funs), and a light sauce kept the pho rolls and the grilled beef appealingly moist.

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(5) The funny-looking Grilled Eggplant with Crab Meat ($98) tasted incredibly refreshing – the eggplant had a satisfying char-grill taste and an attractively soft texture, and the crab meat, steamed egg, spring onions, mint and coriander all added lively flavours.

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(6) The VFC ($88), i.e. Vietnamese fried chicken wings, were wonderfully crispy on the surface and meltingly tender in the middle – just the perfect partner for a bottle of beer.

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(7) The Kaffir Lime Chicken Cabbage Salad ($78) was tasty and delightful. The crunchy chicken offered a great contrast with the salad, both in terms of texture and flavours.

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(8) The Grilled Beef in Betel Leaf ($88) might not be for everyone, as it tasted quite strongly of curry and herbs/ spices.

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(9) The Bun Cha Pork Skewers ($118) of pork belly and pork shoulder, served with soft rice vermicelli, were hearty and well-seasoned.

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(10) The Cha Ca Hanoi ($138), a dish popularised in Hanoi, was my favourite of the night – the white sole fillet, invigorated by the perceptible taste of turmeric and dill, was sheer deliciousness. The fillet boasted an alluringly fatty taste, and melted adoringly in the mouth.

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(11) The Shaking Beef ($158) was absolutely inspiring – the beef tenderloin was meaty and well-spiced with a hum of garlic, and the watercress and rocket salad offered some lightness, ensuring that the dish was structurally balanced.

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(12) Our meal ended with a Seasonal Tropical Fruit Platter ($58). As we were bursting at the seams, this was a great alternative to the usual creamy desserts. Some chili dipping salt offered a twist to the fruit platter, and the chom choms (the restaurant’s namesake, also known as “rambutan”) were sweet and succulent!

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Some of my friends have been slightly disappointed by their meal at Chôm Chôm as they felt that their Vietnamese cravings have not been satisfied. Bear in mind, though, what the restaurant is trying to achieve – that is, changing the Hong Kong mentality about what Vietnamese food should be like. If you come with an open mind (and an empty stomach), you will be pleasantly surprised and completely satiated by the exotic dishes that it offers!