Sometimes eating out as a coeliac feels a little like playing Russian roulette; despite assiduous assurances of waiting staff you are left wondering whether or not you will soon pay heavily for your pleasures. Eating at the Vietnamese restaurant Chom Chom in the heart of Soho, on a lively Saturday night, was definitely one of those.
The enthusiasm of the person meeting us at the door of the restaurant when asked ‘the gluten question’ reminded me of our waiter at Bellbrook. Perhaps the resonance was unfortunate as sadly the earlier one didn’t end too happily. Still, l I tried to put that to the back of my mind as we aborbed the atmosphere of this lively part of Hong Kong.
Despite more assurances from the person taking our order, “nearly all their dishes are naturally g-f,” the lurking sense of danger was compounded when I saw the number of nuts used as a garnish on the dishes we ordered–cross-contaminated nuts were the prime suspect in the Bellbrook case – I was left with the conumdrum: do I risk it or not?
Happily as it turned out, the effects of the Pho-jito, a heady spicy mix of Pampero Blanco, Lemongrass Syrup. Lime Juice, Mint, Thai Basil , Pepper and Soda garnished with chilli and served as we sat outside waiting for a table to come available, swiftly dulled the protective senses.
After the first couple of forkfuls of the Mango and Papaya Beef Salad and the Kaffir Lime Chicken Cabbage Salad I heard myself saying that, if I came out of this unscathed, Chom Chom would become my new favourite restaurant. Surprisingly these dishes were inspired by the Vietnamese born chef, Peter Chuong Franklin’s recollections of Vietnamese street foods. All I can say is that these sublime salads weren’t like any street food I have ever tried anywhere.
These were followed by Cha Ca Hanoi, white sole fillet coated in rice flour and turmeric and served on rice vermicelli, and black cod in a caramelized sauce accompanied by stir fried vegetables. Of these the sole was the stand out. For me at least, the sauces accompanying the cod and vegetables lacked the subtlety of the other combinations.
This is a great restaurant, somewhere that is an ideal venue for those avoiding gluten and somewhere we would be happy to return again and again. Whilst it will always be the venue of the inadequate photograph of the impromptu flame thrower – if only we had known he was going to do it again we would have left our seats to capture the moment – it is also a reminder that there are sights in Hong Kong that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world.
They don’t take reservations but do provide blue plastic stools on a small terrace for those who are waiting, and with great cocktails or chilled Vietnamese beers, that certainly isn’t a hardship.
Chom Chom, G/F Block A, 58/60 Peel Street,Central, Hong Kong – No reservations