Chef May Chow's Happy Paradise
The cocktails are strong and aromatic, cuisine adventurously delicious, and yet the space is the opposite of stuffy or pretentious. We discuss food, Hong Kong, and the inspiration behind it all.
WHAT'S THE IDEA BEHIND HAPPY PARADISE?
I think it has to do with the idea of “comfort food.” When I came home from the US, I was wondering what my comfort food was here in Hong Kong. Really, I wanted to do something special for myself and Hong Kong, and I also wanted to create something iconic for the city. I didn’t want people to just say, “Oh this place reminds me of New York,” but rather, “This reminds me of Hong Kong in 2019.” Sure, we do some more adventurous, authentic stuff like the pigeon brains, but we also do fun stuff like sourdough egg waffles, which is basically a street snack. Mainly, I think what represents Happy Paradise is a balance between fun and adventure.
AMAZING. I DEFINITELY FEEL THAT VIBE IN HERE. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT HONG KONG?
My favorite thing about Hong Kong is the contrast. You can ball out and dine and eat like a king, or you can eat on the street and that contrast is in everything we do here. There’s a building that’s about to fall down next to the most beautiful skyscraper in the world, the city is young and old at the same time and people are hungry for change.
TALK TO ME ABOUT THE DECOR HERE AT HAPPY PARADISE. WHAT ALL INSPIRED IT?
Honestly, I think the décor here and music is a culmination from my days partying at school in America. [laughs] I love things that are almost borderline ugly…but you’re not sure if they really are? [laughs]. But mostly, I was inspired by massage parlors. A guy from Adelaide came and helped me, too. I showed him my favorite barber shop, mahjong dens and a massage parlor, called Sunny Paradise, (which we stole the name from). We went to Nathan Road where all the neon lights are and got inspired from that and the exchange/money shops there. Just love that sense of randomness. It’s like our bar is more of a neon light art installation than just bar décor.
Also, you can see there’s a bit of a Chinese diner feel in here, too from maybe the 70s or 80s. To me, that was the golden era of Hong Kong. There was this guy Leslie Cheung who was openly gay doing music shows that the public didn’t even understand, so there was a lot of creativity in the air. It was an avant guarde time. So I take a lot of that vibe from the 70s, 80s and 90s but didn’t want to create a fusion. I want Happy Paradise to be authentically Hong Kong-feeling.
TALK TO ME ABOUT THE FOOD HERE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOU'RE TRYING TO EVOKE?
Mmm, that Chinese food is not just fried rice! [laughs] I would say our food evokes Hong Kong as a place and all the senses that Hong Kong activates. Teas that remind you of the morning, the smells of roasted goose and Chinese BBQ. The crazy thing about Hong Kong is that there could be one tight little street and you have ten different smells emanating from it. I think as a food culture we’re greedy in Hong Kong, too. We love having nine different dishes to eat from and share with friends and family. That’s the whole point of the ‘Lazy Susan’ right?
But, yeah, in Hong Kong the smells can also be very bombarding. Like, is that a sewer? Or, wait is that the best smelling BBQ goose? It’s a rollercoaster and I enjoy riding that rollercoaster. And that’s the thing about a really modern city like Hong Kong. How do you keep your soul? I believe it’s to preserve your culture and celebrate it. I think as part of the creative community, we try to preserve these stories in the old flavors we continue to use here.