Cantopop has been opened for quite some time and it got quite some attention in the media at the beginning thanks to its sustainable dining concept carried throughout its chain of restaurants such as Linguini Fini and Posto Pubblico. It is not until recently that I finally got a chance to visit Cantopop. It was by invitation (which nowadays seems to be a very popular thing amongst restaurants but I do have something to express on this point on a later post, so stay tuned) but my experience at Cantopop was a pleasant one with a few misses of course. I will explain why a bit later but one thing I have to say is that I admire and support their sustainable dining concept by sourcing locally and minimize food wastage by using all animal parts if possible, but the question is where to draw the line at times. I am spending quite some time to writeup this post because I think there is a need to, a need to express my opinion in all perspectives which may or may not be different from the general public or even fellow foodies.
Many will notice the sheer amount of negative reviews out there on Cantopop's food especially the often criticized Homemade Luncheon Meat and Homemade Char Siu (inspired by the commonly known BBQ Roast Pork in Hong Kong). Let's get the story straight here, at least to my humble knowledge. Cantopop is more or less a cross-over of two ideas / concepts, 1) sustainable dining in Hong Kong & 2) "Chinese tea café" aka cha chan tang. It is actually quite smart to link the two concepts, cha chan tang being a unique dining category in Hong Kong and setting up a restaurant under this theme by offering locally sourced ingredients sounds like a plan right? I certainly think so but it is for the same "linkage" that got itself the negative reviews out there. Comparisons are being made to the "finest details" with traditional cha chan tang, be it the food, the atmosphere and the greasiness of the food as well.
Take the Luncheon Meat for example, Cantopop make their own homemade luncheon meat using locally sources pork and tends to be very lean compared with ... ... . See, I almost made the same comparison with traditional canned luncheon meat used by many cha chan tang. Why are we comparing? Simply because they named it luncheon meat so we instinctively would compared with the canned version we are very familiar with. However, in my opinion, the so-called "homemade luncheon meat" by Cantopop is not luncheon meat, it is a sort of ham. If we treat this as a piece of homemade ham, would it result in a different valuation? It is an open question by the way. The same applies to their homemade sous-vide char siu (roast pork). Again, the problem here is the naming if you ask me, if they name it different, the response would be different. Obviously the way they are making their luncheon meat and char siu is greatly different from the so-called tradition method, can we still name them so and judge them accordingly? Maybe I am being ignorant here but why sous-vide cooking could be judged on its own category while homemade "ham" inspired by luncheon meat cannot?
This post is going to be more of a overview rather than an item by item review because I fell like doing it this way for a little change. For better or worst, it is up to you to decide but I do like a little change in style once in a while. I honestly like the homemade "ham" aka homemade luncheon meat be it the in the Homemade Luncheon Meat and egg sandwich or the Luncheon Meat and Egg Rice. Quite lean yet flavorful, did not overpower the flavors of the egg in both dishes. If you are looking for traditional "spam" which I am a great fan of, then better visit another store.
One of the featured items was their homemade soup which was made without MSG. Actually if you ask their staff or PR, one thing they do stress would be the fact that they DO NOT USE MSG in anything, hence the lighter flavors in all their dishes. It is a known fact their items are light in flavors or some may say under-seasoned. However you like to put it, they would say we don't use MSG.
Okay I get it, there is no MSG in any of the dishes but without the use of MSG does not mean dishes had to be light in flavors right? What happened to soy sauce? I am sure there are many locally produced soy sauce brand which they can use and make suitable dishes from it right? The objectives of no-MSG and health-focus do not need to be at the expense of flavors in my opinion. They just need a little twist on their menu I think.
One of my favorite dish of the night got to be the Luncheon Meat Egg Fu Yung which was basically a huge egg omelet with various ingredients in there. When having dinner at Cantopop, the sustainable dining concept might be kept in mind throughout the meal because there can be occasion whereby you want to complain about the texture of the lettuce or shrimps but once you recall how they sourced them locally you may phrase your concerns differently. Instead of asking why ... one may ask, how do you ensure consistency in food quality when you source almost everything locally?
I think by now you will notice from the images that many of the dishes have one thing in common, egg! Yes most if not many of the items we tried that night contained egg. Their egg is actually the so-called Musical Eggs which means the chickens listened to music throughout their life in the farm. You can actually find these type of eggs everything in Hong Kong but it seems Cantopop is proud to present it in more items than one can imagine. If you are an egg lover like me then you will be fine but if otherwise, pick something else perhaps. I think Cantopop tried very hard to push out as many relevant items as possible in order to fit within their sustainable dining concepts that some ingredients will be repeated a little too often. Then again, it is good to be focused right? Each to his own ...
One thing Cantopop differs from other Cha Chan Taeg, you can have Champagne here. Whether this is a good thing on a Monday night is totally a separate issue!
It was a rather complicated experience here at Cantopop, not that I don't like it, I do to a certain extend but I think they can work on the menu and present itself with its own identity and personality and not merely a reflection or shadow of Cha Chan Taeg. They can create their own category perhaps, a category that put more focus on the sustainable dining concept yet "sustaining" the ... food creativity (ie:: homemade items) without the need to let go out necessary flavors.
I do think it is worth at least a try if you are in doubt (especially from the many reviews out there) and BE YOUR OWN JUDGE! This brings me back to one of the most frequent asked question on my blog, why no ratings for my reviews? It is because I believe when it comes to food, the most important is what you, the actual diner, prefers; I am merely here to share my experiences in a factual way as best as I can for readers to decide. Of course I am entitled to my own opinion you may disagree as you please, I actually welcome your opinion as well, so feel free to drop me a note anytime!
UG/F, The L Place,
139 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong