I have real issues spending big bucks on Chinese food. Perhaps it’s because my auntie rustles up amazing Chinese cuisine right in the comfort of my own home (and I don’t even need to change out of my pyjamas) or perhaps it’s because my brain finds it hard to shift gear from my usual diet of el cheapo cha chaan teng prices… but if there’s a place for me to start splashing the cash on siu mai, then it sure as hell is going to be Mott 32.
The first Chinese restaurant from Hong Kong hospitality super group Maximal Concepts (the folks behind Brickhouse, Blue Butcher and Fish & Meat), Mott 32 is the very definition of Asian fine dining… And I’m talking seriously “fiiiiiiiine”!
Named after the first Chinese convenience store in New York’s Chinatown located on 32 Mott Street (leading to the slightly disingenuous “since 1891” on the restaurant’s signage), Mott 32 is secreted away in the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank Building in Central. Right from the moment you descend the spiral staircases into this cavernous Chinese secret lair, you know you’re in for something special.
I felt like I was wandering into the culinary equivalent of The Crystal Maze, with different exquisitely-decorated dining zones revealing themselves at every turn. There’s a semi-open kitchen complete with slightly creepy duck carcass-filled air-drying fridge on one side, a cosy bar area with Chinese medicine cabinet-style shelving on another… and then endless curves of open seating that fold into various nooks, crannies and nifty hidden rooms.
Behind one set of curtains was my favourite area, an inviting little den filled with snuggly sofas and hung with hundreds of Chinese paintbrushes. Another curve plays host to the most stunning silkscreen walls, painstakingly embroidered with silver flowers and birds, whilst yet another area features abacus-style ceiling lights and a mishmash of antique vases affixed to the wall. Classical Asian takes on wall graffiti and street art adorn the concrete walls throughout (look out for actress Anna May Wong and Dr Sun Yat Sen!), with each of the five private rooms all boasting distinctly different designs too. It is truly breathtaking.
Joyce Wang’s stunning design really is quite something to live up to – but Mott 32’s menu of Cantonese, Beijing and Sichuan dishes proves itself totally up to the task.
First up: dim sum. Mott 32 uses six different types of pork throughout its menu, and we got our first taste of pig with their baked BBQ pork buns, made with Spanish Teruel pork. These were a little daintier than your average bao – meaning it would be all too easy to gobble down several at a sitting! The bao was crumbly and delicious, the BBQ pork sweet, moreish and happily lacking in that greasy, fatty feel that char siu bao often have.
I was less of a fan of Mott’s deep fried squid with sweet chilli and lime zest, finding it rather dry and dusty in texture; it would make for a good bar snack, though!
Siu mai isn’t really one of my most loved dim sum; I usually find it stodgy and one-dimensional. However, thanks to two magic ingredients – a quail’s egg (one of my not-so-secret weaknesses) and black truffle (one of pretty much everyone’s not-so-secret weaknesses!) – Mott 32’s have easily become my favourite siu mai in town.
Similarly, their Iberico char siu is already being talked up as being the best in Hong Kong… and judging by the amount of photos of it on Instagram, it’s certainly one of the most famous! My anticipation level was consequently pretty high, button set to drooling – but unfortunately, the two plates we had at our table were rather inconsistent. One plate looked seriously sexy, with charred caramelised sections winking greedily at me; the other plate was much lighter in colour and not nearly as appealing. Unsurprisingly, whilst the sexy plate was swooningly succulent, the sad plate was almost too moist with a somewhat soggy feel. Keep bringing sexy back instead please, Mott!
Another Mott 32 signature is their apple wood-roasted Peking duck, plated up in the traditional Beijing style – one dish of pure skin (hands off, that’s MINE), one of just meat, and a third with slices that have a bit of both. I simply can’t get enough of Peking duck and even average versions are enough to appease my inner crispy skin glutton; of course, Mott’s version is way above average and I therefore stuffed myself silly (extra bonus: the pancakes here are really thin, meaning there’s room for even more rounds!). Personally, I found the purely meat slices a little too strong in that trademark “duck” taste, but the other two plates plus lashings of hoi sin sauce and mashed garlic… duck yeah!
Sweet and sour pork is a Canto classic, but Mott 32’s take on the dish is slightly more refined than what you might be used to from your local Chinese takeaway! The batter here is very thin – perhaps a little too light for a deep-fried fiend like me – but the sticky sweet and sour sauce (made using aged black vinegar) is spot on. I found the use of dragonfruit rather than the classic pineapple chunks rather pointless though.
More up my street was the 12-hour slow-cooked sticky pork belly – hubba hubba, come to mama! Ridiculously, meltingly, close-your-eyes-and-think-of-nirvana soft, the only words I can think to describe this are the sounds from around the table upon eating it: namely “ooooooh”, “mmmmmmm” and “guhhhhhh”.
Another surprise highlight was the clay pot black cod with potato, garlic, chilli and spring onion – which I’ve taken to describing as “Chinese fish and chips”. Just in case you didn’t know, fish and chips is my favourite meal ever, so my feelings about this dish should be clear! The potatoes had soaked up all the wonderful flavours of the sauce, whilst the lightly battered pieces of cod were meaty, tender and almost buttery in their deliciousness.
The Wagyu beef with Shitake mushrooms was fine but unmemorable, whilst I simply didn’t have any room left for the fried rice with pork belly. However, my friend Michelle managed to finish both her bowl and mine if that’s any indication of how good it was!
That being said, my “no room left at the inn” policy never applies to desserts, and Mott 32’s green tea coated chocolate mousse is definitely worth saving space for. I normally loathe matcha-flavoured things and believe that the stuff has ruined many a good dessert in its time… but not this one! Instead, the subtle green tea flavour cuts nicely through the richness of the mousse, which is beautifully smooth and dreamy, providing a sophisticated end to a stellar meal.
Given everything I have told you about Mott 32, I’m pretty sure you aren’t expecting to pay Tim Ho Wan prices – most mains are $200-400 per dish, so you’re probably looking at a spend of around $500-1000 per head depending on quite how greedy your party is. For me, that’s pretty pricey stuff, especially given the wealth of other Chinese restaurants in town serving similar stuff; although there are certain dishes I’m dying to get my jaws around again, Mott 32 is probably only restricted to special occasion or impressing visitors status on my salary!
However, the quality of the food and ingredients is undeniable, whilst the environment… honestly, it’s one of the most stunning interiors in Hong Kong. This sense of all-out grandeur combined with a distinct cool factor is what Mott 32 has going for it above Hong Kong’s many other Chinese restaurants; if you can afford to pull out all the stops, a couple of plates of sexy char siu in an even sexier Chinese cavern is definitely the way to go.
Mott 32, Basement of Standard Chartered Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2886 8688
Note: this meal was by invitation