The editor of a luxury lifestyle magazine recently told me that Asian buyers don’t buy brands indiscriminately: they choose to spend their money on things that have history behind them and a story to tell. Visiting The Pawn is a reminder that this response doesn’t have geographical or ethnic boundaries.
The Pawn is an inspired way to revitalise one of the few remaining Victorian colonial buildings left in Wan Chai, many of the rest having been ripped down to make way for high rise housing, giving Wan Chai the dubious honour of being one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Stepping into The Pawn it is easy to imagine this building in its previous incarnation as the venerable Lo family’s business, the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop. Incidentally, the Woo Cheong enterprise has moved just around the corner into a smaller building in a side street overlooking its previous home.If you are interested in the history of Hong Kong (and the attractive design of their card is definitely a nod to that), it is fascinating to see how many pawn shops are still in business on Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Just look out for the shape of the sign on the pawn card, mimicking the outline of a bat holding a coin. These days, rather than such signs being traditionally fashioned in wood, as they would have been in Victorian days, they are now manufactured in bright neon lighting tacked on to the side of a pawn shop or hoisted high above jostling with all the rest.
Before it’s designation as a historical site and its sensitive restoration, the Woo Cheong pawn shop business was conducted in one of the four ground floor shops with the upper floors being the domestic space of the business owners. Perhaps appropriately enough, a couple of these now house Sir David Tang’s lifestyle emporium, Tang Tang Tang Tang (yes, that is its full name)*. The restaurant is three floors up. With its dark wooden floors, mismatched old chairs, wallpaper panels and old green metal lights it still has the air of lived-in domestic space. What has changed is that the restauranteurs have opened up the balcony, previously enclosed by the owners. This is a generous space large enough for tables and seating for atmospheric dining if you don’t mind filling your lungs with Hong Kong’s heavily polluted air. From here you can experience the unmistakable rattle of Hong Kong trams (along with riding the Star Ferry, taking a trip on one of these is one of the unmissable bargains of Hong Kong**). Incidentally, if you look closely at the wallpaper what looks like attractive organic shapes resolves itself as a sometimes subversive text.
As to the g-f experience: this is the second time we have used Chope, the online reservation system. Unlike last time, at The Principal, the note I left of the need to be able to eat gluten-free was ignored, which meant starting from scratch with the waiter. Fortunately this wasn’t difficult: whilst he wasn’t aware of the range of foods containing gluten, he was willing to check with the kitchen. I have to conclude that the kitchen really didn’t know either as the waiter checked whether eggs, milk and cream contained gluten. Whilst this is a bit surprising, it is preferable that they asked.
We concluded it would be safer if the baby spinach salad and granny smith salad with walnuts, red onion and stilton cheese was served without a dressing (although this was balsamic and may have been perfectly fine, it is sometimes tricky to negotiate things like this through the intermediary of a waiter). Whilst the dish would have benefited from a dressing, it was attractively presented and the salad leaves and fruit tasted very fresh.
The lovely mushroom risotto needed no amendment and was a definite success – the arborio was cooked perfectly and the risotto itself had real depth of flavour, complimented by the peppery argula: this is definitely comfort food I would order again given the opportunity.
For pudding I had to forgo the chocolate syllabub as they couldn’t be sure the chocolate was g-f. I asked whether I could have the accompanying berries instead. All credit to them as it was a set lunch, they brought rather more berries than would have been used for the garnish.
We returned a few weeks later for Sunday brunch. At first the waitress seemed a bit put out that I had ‘special needs’ but soon warmed to the task. It was decided to serve the lamb without the customary gravy that was thickened with regular flour. Despite some misgivings the lamb was so tender it didn’t suffer greatly from the absence.
I also loved the delicately flavoured pomegranate rose petal pannacotta, although I might suggest avoiding trying to eat the rose petals: they definitely work better as a garnish…
A creditable g-f effort both for lunch and brunch, and a great place if you want to experience a bit of Hong Kong’s history.
The Pawn, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong – Tel: 2866 3444www.the pawn.com.hk
*Tang Tang Tang Tang, 66 Johnson Road, Wan Chai, Hong Konghttps://www.tangtangtangtang.com
** Fare: HK$ 2.30 irrespective of distance (exact change required) HK$ 34 for 4 days HK$ 200 for a month