Who doesn't love Fried Chicken? It's such a simple dish in a lot of ways, but there is something immensely satisfying about well breaded and fried poultry, with a crispy exterior encasing perfectly juicy meat inside. For many people growing up in most places with a strong American influence on their fast food, the Colonel's Southern-style secret recipe would have been their first taste of Fried Chicken but in the hipster-driven shift away from fast food conglomerates, smaller restaurants serving more idiosyncratic takes on Fried Chicken have come to the fore. Although the ascendency of independent American-style food establishments has seen many a 'craft' take on the Southern Fried style, it is Korean Fried Chicken that I find particularly interesting given the Asian influences on the Fried Chicken format. Having tried versions of Korean Fried Chicken in Australia, Alissa and I were keen to visit a specialist while in Hong Kong, and we decided to check out Chicken Hof & Soju (AKA Lee Family Chicken), a restaurant credited as having started Hong Kong's love for this other KFC.
Located in Tsim Sha Tsui a short walk from the Hong Kong Museum of History, Chicken Hof and Soju primarily open for dinner, however due to their popularity now open at 2pm in the afternoon. Preferring to dine at the original branch rather than the nearby takeaway only outlet or the branch in Wan Chai, but not wanting a long queue at night, we decided to head to the restaurant for a late lunch at opening. The dimly lit interior is pretty ramshackle, with boxes piled up in corners and a certain messiness about the setup. It's a look that might put some people off while screaming 'authenticity' to hipsters who might appreciate its 'NASFWG' attitude.
Other than Fried Chicken, one of the other attractions of Korean Fried Chicken is Soju - a traditionally rice-based spirit that is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. We ordered a pitcher of the Grape Soju, which proved to be a mix of Soju and either Grape Soda or some kind of Grape Syrup. The result was deliciously sweet, with a great fake grape flavour that made the drink taste a lot less alcoholic that it really was. For those who have fond memories of grape bubblegum or sodas, the nostalgia trip that this drink offers is very much recommended.
Korean Fried Chicken restaurants often sell a number of different chicken variations, and Chicken Hof and Soju were no different. Although the Spicy Fried Chicken was very tempting, we decided to go with the slightly more unusual Spring Onion Fried Chicken which consisted of a whole jointed chicken topped with a salad of Spring Onions. The Fried Chicken itself was excellent. The breading was similarly crunchy and well seasoned as the Colonel's Extra Crispy, while being milder in heat than the Hot & Spicy version popular in Australia. What distinguished it from Kentucky Fried was the the fact it was considerably less oily tasting, and the meat within was uniformly juicy and tender. As a final touch, the salad of Spring Onion that topped that plate gave the dish a really delicious fresh onion heat that distinguished this as great Fried Chicken - some of the best we've had the great pleasure of eating.
Accompanying the Chicken was a rudimentary Cabbage Salad topped with 1000 Island Dressing and cubes of Pickled Daikon. These were decent enough sides that served their purpose of providing some vegetal crunch, as well as cutting whatever oiliness the chicken did display.
In hindsight,the plate of Chicken was probably more than enough food, however we also ordered the Cheese, Hot Sauce, Chicken and Rice Cakes and didn't regret it. This very spicy dish was awesome; I've eaten versions of this dish in Melbourne (sadly pre-blog days) and Momofuku Seiobo serve a milder Rice Cake dish at their bar, but this was better than either versions. The crispy and chewy Rice Cakes were lovely with the very spicy Hot Sauce, with the richness of the cheese and even more chicken making this a very decadent dish.
The Verdict: Excellent
In spite of the rather shabby appearance, Chicken Hof and Soju proved to be a really enjoyable experience. Their Spring Onion Fried Chicken may have been rendered unusual due to the Spring Onion Salad piled on top of the Chicken, however they got the fundamentals of a good Fried Chicken right as well, preventing it from just being an on-trend gimmick. The Rice Cakes too were excellent, being a better example of this dish than I've had elsewhere, and extremely decadent due to the nicely melted cheese on top. Given that the Rice Cakes and the Fried Chicken together are arguably more food than two people can comfortably eat, it'd be a hard decision picking between the two dishes, so we'd advise that its best to bring two friends along or make two visits so you can try both.