There are three things that go into making a good hamburger: the patty, the sauce and the bun. For Michael Chan, the owner of bespoke Wan Chai burger joint Honbo, perfecting these components means making them all in-house daily – a feat that qualifies Honbo as a true labour of love.
Sinking your teeth into one of Honbo’s delicious homemade burgers, it’s hard to believe that Michael has had no formal training in the kitchen. He’s a doctor by trade who just happened to turn his favourite food into a career, with Honbo his first venture into the F&B industry.
The burger joint is named after the Cantonese word for hamburger, yet the menu is distinctly American. It all boils down to one particular preference: Michael is partial to the American style of using potato buns over brioche, that latter of which pops up often in Hong Kong burger joints.
Honbo’s signature buns are made out of potato flour using a Japanese baking technique called tangzhong, resulting in a crumb with a hint of sweetness and a delectable chew. This modern version of a potato bun lands somewhere between traditional bread and the American-style bun. It’s soft yet sturdy enough to hold the structure of the burger, whether it’s a juicy all-beef patty or a crispy, whole (yes, whole) soft shell crab.
For the beef burgers, Honbo uses a blend of American prime beef with local cuts, with the former adding fat and nuttiness and the latter rounding out the deep beefiness that lingers on your palate. Moulded by hand, the patties are smashed and griddled to form a nice char before being topped with house-made pickles, stacked on the bun and slathered with the kitchen’s secret mayo-based sauce. Simple? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely.
For those who want to go an alternative route, there’s the scallop burger doused in pico de gallo, the vegan burger and the soft shell crab – an Instagram star with its lightly battered pincers sticking out from all sides over a bed of crunchy purple cabbage.
Local brewery, Moonzen, provides all the beers on tap, from the Jade Emperor, rife with citrus and floral notes, to the Monkey King golden amber ale with silky notes of caramel and peaches. Honbo’s commitment to supporting local businesses also extends to the ingredients, including the sweet potatoes and lettuce that are sourced from a hydroponics farm in Yuen Long.
The minimalist menu is matched by minimalist decor over the typical chaos of a burger-slinging diner. Large windows facing the quiet pedestrian-only Sun Street let in plenty of natural daylight, and subtle brass detailing adds another component of chic.
All this combines to make Honbo feel unique in a category of its own: an American burger spot that still feels 100 percent homegrown. A commitment to supporting local farmers, growers and artisans gives Honbo social merit in the community, while delicious patties have scored the burgers a high standing among serious foodies. With three more locations planned by 2019, Honbo is proving that passion and dedication can take you far in delivering a true gourmet product, one delicious hand-packed patty at a time.