And sometimes you just want a place where you know you’ll have a good time. I think Mrs. Pound in Hong Kong might just be one of the places.
It’s clear that the owners of Mrs. Pound know how to have fun. You can’t open a restaurant with a faux facade, neon-covered walls, chopsticks and baubles, and gymnastics rings as light fixtures and not appreciate a good time. Outside, a seemingly benign and traditional stamp shop facade belies a loud, quirky, kitschy interior. The place is bursting with color – red and fuchsia banquettes, jade-green bar stools, and mirrors and shiny things everywhere. There’s a spirited playfulness at work here, encouraging you to order another drink, get loud, and just let loose.
A fun space like this is begging for fun food. There’s no room for tweezer food here – just tasty, satisfying food that isn’t too precious and that pairs well with cocktails (lots of them.) I decided to go in a bar-snacks direction, and in a nod to Mrs. Pound, I took a very familiar Cantonese ingredient, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and gave it an unexpected twist by frying it like tempura. The humble gai lan is very common in Chinese cuisine, usually very simply prepared, sautéed with garlic and drizzled with some oyster sauce. Delicious, but not terribly interesting. For this dish, I wanted to make Chinese broccoli fun and playful. Rice batter gives the tempura just enough of a light crunch – bar snacks always need some crunch – and chilis bring the heat. A squeeze of lime adds just enough acidity to cut through all the textures into one super flavorful bite. You can use a fork or chopsticks if you want, but I’d just go d in with my hands – it’s more fun that way.
For this recipe you will need a food processor and a deep fryer or a deep saucepan.
Serves 4 as an appetizer or bar snack
4 cups of oil for frying
1 pound gai lan (Chinese broccoli), cut lengthwise into long strips. (feel free to add other
seasonal vegetables; here we’ve added fiddlehead ferns and asparagus)
1 cup rice flour
2/3 cup soda water
~ pinch of salt
~ pinch of pimentón (Spanish paprika)
For the romesco:
1/2 bunch carrots
1 bell pepper
~ spanish onion
~ bulb garlic
~ salt and pepper
~ sherry vinegar
~ tablespoon fermented Chinese chili paste
~ Thai red chile, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut in wedges
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
To make the batter:
In a small mixing bowl, whisk the rice flour, salt, and pimentón. Add soda water, in two batches, until batter reaches a thick enough consistency to coat the back of a spoon.
To make the romesco sauce:
In a medium-sized roasting pan, roast vegetables until they are charred and tender, about 40 minutes. Allow to cool, remove any charred or burnt skin, and process roughly in food processor. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, chili paste, and sherry vinegar.
To make the tempura:
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or deep saucepan until the temperature reaches 350 degrees (or when a drop of water sizzles).
As the oil is heating, dip the gai lan in the rice flour batter until they are well coated. Carefully place the battered vegetables in the oil, gently frying for about two minutes. Set aside on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Spoon a generous dollop of the romesco sauce on each plate. Place the tempura gai lan on top, sprinkle with cilantro, red chilis, and a squeeze of lime. Serve immediately. Enjoy.
Seamus Mullen is an award-winning New York-based chef; owner of Tertulia, El Colmado, and El Colmado Butchery; and culinary director of Sea Containers restaurant at Mondrian London. He is the author of the cookbook Hero Food.