“Hey man, wanna go for lunch”
“In a bit Carlos, I’m just in the middle of something”
“No man, let’s go now”
“Ok, let’s go”
As a six-foot-something hulking Colombian, Carlos is not a man you argue with.
We work in Quarry Bay where there’s quality eatery abound. From the more agreeable chain restaurants, to over-priced client entertaining joints, to hygienically satisfactory mom and pop shops; there’s probably no greater concentration of interesting lunch spots in Hong Kong
“Where do you want to go Carlos? La Rotisserie? Sen-Ryo? We could even walk to Big Bite?”
“No, man, I got a treat for you”
“Cool, where are we going… there are no restaurants that way… that’s a taxi rank… oh, we’re getting in a taxi”
As a Colombian who has been shot at three times and stabbed once, Carlos is not a man you argue with.
No, my creative compadre thinks nothing of a thirty-minute taxi ride on a busy Wednesday lunchtime.
After our half-hour traffic stunted journey, we pull up to an unassuming storefront at the top end of Graham Street. Despite the long queues of chirpy young office workers that hung out of Soho’s more fashionable restaurants, our destination, Chullschick is half full and we sit straight down.
Chullschick is Hong Kong’s authentic Peruvian outpost.
Our wooden table gently rocked on three legs. Machu pichu and Cholas murals were painted on the terracotta wall. And the sound of Latin crooners filled the air. It’s all very reassuring.
This was not a restaurant with something to prove and therefore, not a restaurant that was likely to overwhelm or disappoint.
Looking around, many people we’re digging into the eponymous chicken. On another day a whole bird and plate of chips would have rendered me very content. But Carlos was ordering and, as you’ve no doubt now realised, Carlos is not a man you argue with.
We ordered three dishes.
The first, Lomo Saltado, was a fantastically daft dish that looks looked like it had designed by a six-year-old on a sugar high. Fries, rice, egg, beef, tomato and onion were all stir fried and piled onto a single plate.
This Peruvian staple has a distinctively Chinese bent courtesy of a rich soy-based sauce. Part BBQ sauce, part gravy, part tears of a fallen angel who wound up in a South-American protein orgy, the liquid that bound the unlikely cast of ingredients had incredible depth. The juicy chunks of tenderloin were relegated to the sidelines by the oyster sauce and molasses of the black liquor, while rice and fries became mere absorbent vessels for it.
The name and description of our second dish, Duck Rice, didn’t really do justice to its end result.
The entirety of the plate was covered in deliciously viscous rice, turned swampy green thanks to a aromatic blend of coriander and spinach. On top of which perched confit duck leg and smoked duck breast. The breast was sweet, pink and succulent without it’s fat being clammy or cloying. The leg confit was nice enough. There was an unnecessary egg.
Our third and final dish was Peruvian Grill. Hunks of chicken, steak, chorizo and sweet potato arrived sizzling on a stainless steel platter. The baked sweet potato was fragranced with cinnamon and a light scorching of the skin. The meat was jovial and juicy, swimming in it’d own garlic imbued swine, bovine and poultry nectar.
“What’s the damage, Carlos”
“What are you talking about, man?”
“How much did it cost?”
“Ah, don’t worry about it, man. You can get it next time”
As a generous man who never lets you pay – even next time, Carlos is not a man you argue with.
Plodding down Graham street’s decline with gravity taking a greater toll on forward momentum due to full a tummy and lethargic legs, I felt happy. And what’s the point of food – beyond sustenance of life – if not to make us happy.
Slouched, smiling and gurning like smacked-up addict in the returning taxi, I had a chance to reflect on our mood-altering meal and a year of eating out.
Looking back over my 2019 reviews, there’s a lack of restaurants that made me feel this happy. Uncomplicated restaurants that deliver big plates of big flavours with a complete lack of pretence and artifice. Restaurants like Chullschick, Serendib and Northern dumpling Yuan are a remedy for sadness, and I should seek them out with greater fervour.
I don’t really go in for new year’s resolutions, but in 2020 I’m going to make it my mission to find simpler restaurants that put a smile on my face.
“That was bloody good, Carlos”
“I told you, man”
As a man who knows damn good food and exactly where to find it, Carlos is not a man you argue with.