There are countless restaurants that take inspiration from Asia’s street food scene but perhaps none that embody the concept as fully as Vietnamese eatery, Chôm Chôm. This casual kitchen recreates the vibes of Hanoi’s street-side bars with a selection of Vietnamese beer to be enjoyed on the ‘stoop’ – the jagged front steps that lead down to Peel Street.
Black Sheep Restaurants’ third venture in Hong Kong, Chôm Chôm, was named after the Vietnamese name for rambutans. The lychee lookalike has a rough exterior, but once opened, it features a sweet fruit that can be enjoyed in just one bite. In opening the venue in 2013, restaurateurs Christopher Mark and Syed Asim Hussain wanted to convey this idea of deceiving appearances with Chôm Chôm, expanding on the phenomenon they experienced in Hanoi. During their travels they realised the mediocre experiences they had at some of the city’s refined restaurants were eclipsed by the raw, authentic burst of flavours and generous hospitality from the street-side vendors.
They have created a lively spot in the alleyways of SoHo, which has since become a neighbourhood staple. Here, friends gather for happy hour on warm afternoons and evenings, spilling out into the streets on makeshift tables and chairs with buckets of beer and Vietnamese fried chicken.
The kitchen team is led by Christopher, who in addition to being co-founder of the group, has almost 30 years of culinary experience working in top kitchens in Canada, Shanghai and Hong Kong. For much of the menu, produce is sourced from local vendors at the Graham Street wet market just down the road.
With a beverage list focused on craft beers, it’s no surprise that the menu is comprised mostly of street snacks and skewers. Start with a round of ‘small bites’, including salt and pepper squid, lemongrass chicken skewers, Sriracha grilled corn, and the addictive Vietnamese fried chicken boasting a tangy, crunchy coating.
Rice paper rolls are a lighter option, ranging from shrimp with mango and avocado, to crispy sole fillet with tamarind and kaffir lime. Alternatively, opt for a fresh salad such as smoked eggplant with crab, and chicken cabbage with mint and cucumber –tossed with fresh ingredients, the salads burst with a range of textures and flavours.
While street snacks are the main draw, larger plates shouldn’t be ignored – there’s a particularly wonderful sticky-sweet caramel black cod finished with fish sauce, garlic, shallot, ginger and fragrant Jasmine rice. For a DIY option, the short rib lettuce wraps are a delicious mouthful of braised short ribs, vermicelli and veggies.
Of course, all this food needs to be paired with copious amounts of beer, and you’ll discover some of the best regional labels from Vietnam served up in the rotating selection.
If you’re not much of a beer drinker, you can still enjoy the smashing cocktail selection, including a riff on a mojito (the aptly named Pho-jito) featuring rum, lemongrass, lime, mint, Thai basil and pepper; and the frothy Mekong Lady, made with gin, lemongrass, lemon and egg white.
Allow Chôm Chôm to draw you into the spirit of Hanoi’s bia hoi traditions, sipping fresh beer on busy street corners and enjoying a vibrant menu of street snacks.