If you haven’t heard of PMQ yet, you’ve been living under a rock! Located on Aberdeen Street (a.k.a. the steep hill between Hollywood Road and Soho), the former Police Married Quarters has been transformed into a creative hub for Hong Kong entrepreneurs. And this includes an exciting new restaurant concept from local lifestyle brand G.O.D. and Locofama: SOHOFAMA. Bakker’s Bites was there last week for a preview, and interview with founder Larry Tang – so get ready for a sneak preview of Hong Kong’s most exciting new Chinese restaurant, which will be officially opening its doors soon…SOHOFAMA is next door (and connected inside) to the G.O.D. store in PMQ. Warmly-lit and decorated with Hong Kong design accents, as well as fresh modern touches, there’s nowhere you can turn in SOHOFAMA without seeing green: there are plants everywhere.The greenery is an important part of the restaurant’s concept: farming. But more on that later… After sitting down in the cha chaan teng-style booth seats, it’s time to get tasting. Like LOCOFAMA in Sai Ying Pun, SOHOFAMA serves organic food – but here it’s Chinese cuisine. With no MSG, chicken powder or other nasties, it was particularly nice knowing I wasn’t going to be thirsty to the point of no return after eating…Among the starters were several “drunken” appetisers. There’s 24-hour drunken chicken as well, but we stuck to egg and prawn. You can tell the prawns are local-caught, because they were damn fresh – and the heady Chinese wine marinade made both of these dishes a real treat. The plateware is so cute, too! Next on the seafood appetiser front was one of my favourite local dishes: fried egg-yolk prawns. Creamy with that signature crisp sand texture on the outside, and tender on the inside, SOHOFAMA’s take on this classic was spot-on.Next, some classy xiao long baos. These were more refined than what I’m used to: with a thin yet flexible skin (i.e. doesn’t break when you lift it up, even if you don’t eat it straight away), the soup filling and meat aren’t overly oily or heavy.This is something a lot of the dishes at SOHOFAMA have in common: achieving the same recipes but in a leaner, cleaner way – and with premium ingredients.Such was the case with the D.I.Y. duck buns, as well. The skin was crispy and meat succulent, but it wasn’t dripping in oil as you’d expect from a Peking Duck, for example.The last main dish of my evening was a fantastic mud crab, served with sticky fried-rice. As good as it looks! Get ready to get your hands dirty, though – you won’t be able to leave anything behind…What’s a sneak peek without a peek into the kitchen? Well, take a step inside with me 🙂 !SOHOFAMA’s kitchen has all the standard equipment you’d find in a commercial Chinese kitchen: super hot fires for wok-frying, dim sum baskets, all manner of sauces, giant chopping knives of different sizes and more…We even managed a snap of SOHOFAMA’s three musketeers: Larry Tang (founder), Head Chef Shing, and mixologist Kit.And now, time for my interview with Larry Tang, founder of Locofama Group… Bakker’s Bites (BBITES): Tell us about how you approached the concept and design, especially considering PMQ is a heritage building?
Larry Tang (LT): Well, PMQ in Chinese is Yuen Chong Fong (元創方)
Yuen Chong (元創) means ‘original creation’, and Fong (方) means ‘place’. So for everything we do, we want it to be original: from the interior; to the food and drinks…
PMQ is the first space where we have Hong Kong entrepreneurs doing something; it’s the first of its kind. We want to create something that hasn’t been done anywhere, including Hong Kong.
That’s where our farming concept comes into the picture. A lot of people talk about “farm to table,” but we will have our own farm at the restaurant. So it will be more like, “table to farm,” instead.
It being a heritage site, we have a lot of design restrictions.
BBITES: Can you give us an example?
LT: Everything that you do to the exterior has to be pre-approved. And there a lot of walls inside that we can’t break down, or even drill holes. We just have to work around it.
BBITES: How involved was G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) in the development phase?
LT: It was a pretty close collaboration [with G.O.D.], they were involved in every stage of the project from the beginning. From the interior and overall concept; the food concept. We also went back and forth with the name.
BBITES: Could you give us an insider scoop on one of the name choices before you decided on ‘SOHOFAMA’?
LT: We were playing around with G.O.D.’s slogan in English, “Delay No More.” At the end we are using the Chinese version of that for Sohofama’s Chinese name, which you can see on our logo.
BBITES: What do the Chinese characters mean?
LT: The first character means ‘ingredient’, and the second means ‘preparation’. The third and the fourth mean ‘farming’. But pronounced in Cantonese, it’s a play on words… a bit cheeky, actually.
BBITES: Did your Chef and Mixologist work together in creating the dishes and original cocktails?
LT: They both followed the philosophy of the overall concept with the restaurant, but they worked quite independently.
BBITES: How would you sum up that philosophy?
LT: First of all, everything we do needs to be delicious and healthy. It needs to be food and drinks that are suitable for Hong Kong people, as well as expats and tourists.BBITES: Please tell us more about the two murals in SOHOFAMA?
LT: The first one in the small dining room is basically a timeline of the PMQ site. It used to be the Central College here in the late 1800s, but it was destroyed by the Japanese in WWII. They quickly rebuilt a police married quarter. It’s thanks to the heritage status that this building wasn’t turned into a typical commercial space, but something more for the community, by the community.
For the second mural, we wanted to do something that was related to the police history of PMQ. My dad was a policeman, so we found a photo of him and we put a warning sign next to it with a message saying, “no pesticides, no junk food”.
The artist behind both murals is a graffiti artist. She’s someone who’s from Hong Kong – born and raised – but she lives in Germany at the moment. We flew her back to HK just for this project.
BBITES: What was the biggest challenge on the SOHOFAMA journey?
LT: Definitely to successfully create healthy Chinese cuisine – without MSG, or chicken powder. I don’t think it’s ever been done. In the beginning none of our chefs thought it was possible; coming from a commercial kitchen background in Chinese cooking, the idea of not using MSG and chicken powder was like not letting the chefs use their left and right hands.
It’s hard to deliver on what you claim, but we’re very proud with what we’ve achieved.
BBITES: You also sourced local and imported ingredients to deliver on your promise of healthy, organic food. Did that change any elements of the food you serve?
LT: It was very challenging to find all the ingredients that we needed: grass-fed beef, organic pork, organic vegetables, and even sauces. For the sauces you use in Chinese cooking, we managed to find a local supplier for that. I don’t think any commercial kitchen used that supplier before.
Once you have the freshest premium ingredients, you don’t need to use the MSG and other bad stuff anymore.
In the past, when Hong Kongers fell on hard times, chefs didn’t have access to good, fresh ingredients so they had to deep-fry and come up with all kinds of sauces to mask the bad ingredients.
At SOHOFAMA, we could use the best organic pork to do a Sweet & Sour Pork, but we want to show people how pork really tastes instead of deep-frying and pouring sauce all over it. With the organic pork, we decided to strip it down, with a ‘less is more’ approach.
BBITES: What plans do you have for the outdoor farm concept?
LT: We have very ambitious plans for the outdoor farm. There’s already a lot of planters and [soil] bedding in our outdoor space. We have a landscape plan, but we need to get the approval before we can convert it into a farm.We already have an in-house farmer working for us who’s ready to do it, but before we get approval we came up with the solution to build “trolley farms”. We can push them around if they need more sunlight, or when it’s raining we can move them as well.At the bar we have two hydroponic systems which are growing herbs for our bartenders, who use them for our cocktails. Hydroponic means you don’t use soil but just water – infused with minerals and nutrients – to grow vegetables and herbs.
BBITES: It seems like you’re keen on showing your guests the possibilities of healthy living and sustainability…
LT: Yeah, definitely. That’s why farming was such a big component to our concept. We want to educate, as well. We’ll have a lot of workshops, and teach people how to make their own farms at home if they like.
It’ll be impossible for us to supply all the vegetables we need for the restaurant with our outdoor farm – the main reason it’s there is to teach people when they visit us. I will also learn more, too.
BBITES: Last and not least, are there any more surprises on the menu I haven’t seen yet?
LT: We’ll be introducing some very special soups. Our chef worked with a Chinese doctor to come up with the herbal soup recipes. We’ll have things like The Hangover Cure, The Detoxifier, so stay tuned!
On my way out, I couldn’t help noticing the wacky chandelier of water guns. Definitely appropriate for a zombie apocalypse – wouldn’t expect anything less from quirky G.O.D. design…
I look forward to going back for an interview with Kit, to learn more about the original cocktails at SOHOFAMA. He’s waiting on the final glassware, so I resisted posting on the cocktails I already tried out of respect 🙂 After all, details are everything!
Thanks for reading, and hope you’re as excited as I am for this awesome new organic oasis…