The Mitchell Lin Guide: Liao Fan

A re-review of that Michelin-starred hawker stall
by JUNK
Mitchell LinJune 20, 2018
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Restaurant

Liao Fan HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle

 Cuisine

Casual Hong Kong

What Mitchell Lin says...

“An undeniably great plate of chicken, served up with heart and soul.”

Best for…

Value for money, celebrity chef experience

Worst for…

“Chicken rice”

The Food

If you are a newcomer to this stall, the first thing to note is that you will not be served a standard plate of Hainanese-style chicken rice. There are no steamed chickens here, instead there are four types of meat on the menu: the signature braised chicken, and char siew, roast pork ribs, and roast pork belly.

First things first, the chicken. Hawker Chan’s chickens are braised early in the morning by the man himself, then hung up all around the stall – beautifully plump, browned, and glossy from the soya-sauce braising liquid, with their fat and juices still dripping onto the steel trays below. This might not be artfully plated, “I finessed this with a tweezer” cuisine, but it’s a sight that whets the appetite, which is the whole point.

Happily, tasting the chickens does not lead to disappointment. The braised skin serves up a savoury hit of soya sauce flavour first, before giving way to the natural sweetness of the chicken meat. The texture of the meat is really tender, almost pillowy. Care was put into the cooking of this meat, and you can tell when you eat it.

As for the rice, the stall is called “Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle”, but really, it’s not about rice at all. If you think about this place as “a roast meat stall that happens to specialise in soya sauce chicken”, rather than a gold-standard “chicken rice/noodle” stall, everything starts to fall into place. You won’t get fragrant Hainanese chicken rice here, just plain steamed white rice, with a dollop of sweet black sauce on top.

The noodles are a step up; pleasantly plump and springy, definitely the recommended choice if you eat here. They’re not the best egg noodles we’ve ever eaten, but at the very least they offer something more interesting than the rice.

So what’s the fuss all about? Well, Hawker Chan’s chicken does stand up to other hawkers’ roasts for its exceptional tenderness and taste. But the whole package is not that remarkable. For a truly elevated experience – whether it’s in a hawker centre or the Hilton – you expect a certain level of thoughtfulness to be present in every element of your meal. Hawker Chan isn’t that consistent. His top priority is really good roasts; less so everything else.

That being said, there’s something really endearing about Hawker Chan himself. Watching him hustle about his tiny stall – chopping chickens, boiling noodles, stirring sauces, and serving up every single plate with his own two hands – reminds us that a fancy kitchen is not a prerequisite for a chef’s expertise, skill, finesse, and hard, hard work.

Given that frankly disappointing restaurants such as CUT and Bacchanalia were deemed worthy of Michelin’s accolades, then we don’t see why Hawker Chan is any less deserving. By all means, he is worthy of his star. But apart from his marketable story, we’re not quite sure what lifts Hawker Chan head and shoulders above his other hawker brethren. From a food-only perspective, is he truly worthy of a kueh tu tu?

If eating were an exercise in pure logic, then the answer would be no. But eating is not about the mind, it’s about the gut. It’s about the feeling you walk away with after the cutlery is put down and the plates have been cleared.

What does Liao Fan make us feel? Well, faced with the prospect of international fame and an easy ride into the sunset, Hawker Chan did what most of us wouldn’t do. He gave himself more work, and refused to raise his prices. Sure, he cashed in with a franchise deal, but who can blame him? When it comes to his original stall, the one that won him the star in the first place, Hawker Chan stuck to his principles. There’s an unspoken nobility in that. And maybe we’re just sentimental suckers. Maybe some of that Michelin marketing works. But if you ask us, this rare kind of integrity that is entirely deserving of its own kueh tu tu.

The Extras

Ambience

Actually, pretty good. Situated above a market, Chinatown Food Complex is by no means fancy, but it instinctively feels like the kind of place where good food is waiting around every corner. The only thing that taints the experience are the occasionally obnoxious tourists who wander around looking for Hawker Chan.

Overheard

“Over there, dude! DUDE, it’s that one over there!!!”
“Aiyah, char siew sold out already?”
“Hey, this juice stall looks good. Do you want juice?”

Service

Speedy and efficient. Can’t complain.

Price

$$$$$

Ranges from $2.50 to $3 a plate and servings are generous. Respect.

 
 

Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.

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