We take a perch at Hong Kong’s newest food hall concept, Joint Asian Market, to take a whirlwind tour of Asia’s culinary capitals.
We spoke recently about the newest addition to Hong Kong’s ever-expanding food hall scene, Joint Asian Market or J.A.M. and since then we’ve also had an opportunity to leave the proverbial coalface and pop down to see what all the fuss was about. Here’s what we found.
As previously reported, J.A.M., which is located in Central Hong Kong’s Nexxus Building, is the newest creation of ZS Hospitality group – they of Hansik Goo and Ying Jee Club success – and combines the talents of four different chefs in one relatively intimate (as far as food hall concepts go) space that was once home to Vietnamese kitchen Moi Moi (and even before that, Viet Kitchen by chef Peter Franklin). Essentially you order your meal from the counter, choosing from four set menus from four different chefs and four different cuisines, and then find yourself a little corner in which to enjoy your feast.
It’s a pretty smart concept for the time-poor lunchtime crowd and when we arrived one weekday afternoon it was nearly full with punters munching away on Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese dim sum and Singaporean dishes. We made for an area at the back of the venue that can be used as a private dining room and got cracking with a selection from all four corners of the Asia region.
Soul of Seoul
The first round was from Korean chef Song Ha-seul-lam’s Mamalee Market and included kkakdugi fermented radish kimchi; a single but delectable boneless Korean fried chicken morsel; japchae or stir-fried glass noodles; and a choice of tteok-mandu-guk, a beef rib soup with pork dumplings and tteokbokki rice and fish cakes in chilli sauce on the side; and bulgogi ssambap, a classic Korean beef bowl of stir-fried beef strips on rice and lettuce wraps.
The fried chicken was a winner; perfectly cooked, it could have outshone the main dish if the stock of the soup wasn’t so rich and fragrant and the pork dumpling firm and flavourful. The bulgogi was a corner-filler that was perfectly balanced without being too complicated, making for a great first foray.
I Left My Heart in Singapore
The next round whisked us to the Lion City with dishes created by Barry Quek, formerly of Base Hall in Jardine House. There’s a lot to love about Singaporean cuisine and chef Quek may have toned down the Southeast Asian flavours for Hong Kong palates (a sin now so regularly committed as to be expected) the harmony of flavours that is Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine is still detectable in the sweet-tangy Achar side salad that accompanied the set. The other appetiser, har cheong gai or shrimp paste chicken wings, were a little too punchy in the fishy department and both my dining companion and I left well enough alone.
Mains included either bak chor mee, spicy pork noodles; or iconic Nyonya seafood laksa. The Nyonya noodles were perfectly nice and were accompanied by hard-boiled egg, fried tofu and shredded chicken, but the curry soup was toned down by quite a few notches, as was the ‘spicy’ in the spicy pork noodles, so bear that in mind if you’re looking for the heat.
The set also included bubur cha cha, another classic Nyonya dish of coconut milk, sago and pandan; or kueh dadar, coconut pandan crepes with peanuts. The bite-sized pancake, which is served rolled up, was sweet and savoury at once, and a clear winner.
The Chinese set by SiFu’s chef Cheung Kin-Ming was also a little unusual – without the addition of the ubiquitous char siu pastry, which was warm, sweet and slightly tangy, it could have been mistaken for a Sichuan set instead of Cantonese.
The BBQ pork pastry was paired with the choice of stir-fried rice flour rolls with soy sauce; or steamed chicken in mala sauce; and followed by either Sichuan spicy minced chicken noodles, which again were more ‘dan dan’ than ‘damn that’s spicy’; or sticky rice with Chinese lap cheong sausage, which is a Cantonese staple but more of a side dish than a main course.
The Cantonese set’s dessert of sweet red bean soup with tangerine peel looked a little sinister but I’m sure is thrilling for red beanophiles.
A Voyage to Vietnam
The final chapter of this culinary sojourn through Southeast Asia was Vietnamese fare from chef Dinh Dinh-Tuan, who helmed the venue’s predecessor Moi Moi.
I love Vietnamese food; for the most part, it’s light and zesty and refreshing, making it ideal for lunch, and chef Dinh didn’t disappoint, with bánh tôm, a crispy sweet potato and prawn fritter; or bánh bột chiên, fried rice cake followed by a choice of bún chả cá, a perfectly-cooked filet of turmeric-infused sole with a cold rice vermicelli salad; or bánh canh cua, a rich crab meat short rice noodle soup.
Although it looked like something you could pick up in a 7-11, chef Dinh’s dessert – bánh flan cà phê or Vietnamese coffee crème caramel – is the kind of sweet touch you’ll want to take back to your desk so you can unhurriedly reward yourself for your afternoon’s productivity.
For vegetarians, there’s also a dedicated set that includes chef Quek’s Achar salad; Cantonese-style kolo mee noodles with fried tofu and fungus; and the kueh dadar crepe, which, to be honest, won’t attract any but the most nonchalant of vegetarians, especially with a plethora of other meat-free options nearby. The venue also offers a raft of drinks from the same regions as its food, including craft beers and cold-brewed tea, and we paired our eclectic lunch with Taboocha kombucha from Hong Kong’s first kombucha brewery, which was a great, refreshing tonic for the workweek.
The reality is that foodies probably won’t flock to J.A.M., not because of the rather dull decor or the arguably steep pricing (sets are priced from HK$138++ with drinks a little extra), but simply because of its set-menu format and its made-for-the-masses selection. However, that same format will appeal to many lunch timers and the venue will draw from the same crowds that usually flock to cha chan tengs at lunchtime and as they build loyalty, I’m sure the four chefs will allow themselves to be a little more adventurous with their offering.
So, if you’re simply looking for variety (menus change bi-weekly), simplicity, and a chance to travel to Asia’s culinary capitals during your lunch break, Joint Asian Market is your departure point.
And you won’t even need a passport.
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