When The Pawn closed in July after a six-year stint, it was like an abrupt end to a beautiful love affair. It really was a fairly emotional experience for frequenters of the former pawn shop, which sits in a magnificent heritage building. They’d come to love the colonial charm of this resto-bar, even if there had been some mutterings that ‘the food wasn’t as good as it used to be’. And, when it closed, banners shouting ‘It’s not you. It’s me. I’m changing’ were emblazoned across the front. We’d been jilted. But no more. The Pawn is finally back after a massive renovation. And we’re hoping to rekindle our little love affair with the restaurant.
The reopening of The Pawn was launched with a viral #imworththewait campaign as well as sporadic announcements from head chef Tom Aikens. It created quite the stir. But now the jury’s out on whether or not diners are ready to accept this new version of the colonial-inspired institution. Fans of the old English gentleman’s club decor have championed the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude, whereas other patrons have been excited to see the changes. And, indeed, it has changed. Gone are the dark plush leather-bound chairs and oldy-worldy surrounds. It’s now all about clean angular lines, smooth slates, warm wood tones, potted herbs and a rooftop that has been converted into a herb garden for the restaurant’s use. The designers have thrown nostalgia out the door and gone for utility and modern chic. And it works. Each of the floors has a ‘wow’ factor, particularly the second, which is much roomier than it used to be, with an open kitchen and sleek furniture. The dining area blends into the terrace better than ever. Now we understand why our darling had to have some time on its own.
But has The Pawn improved in terms of the food? After chef Aikens promised us a ‘strong mix of casual and high-end cooking’ in the new menu, we prepare ourselves for a quality dining experience. First to arrive is the duck liver parfait ($200). It comes on a chopping board with slices of toast perched on top inside some rolled-up chicken wire. This may seem excessive but it’s a feast for the eyes and, when you dig in, a feast of textures too. When the richness of the pâté subsides you can chew on the stringy rillettes on the toast. Yeah, we could do with a few more pieces but, overall, this ‘wow’ starter matches the ‘wow’ factor of the new interiors perfectly. Next up is the salmon confit (pictured above, $150), which is beautifully presented with preserved cucumbers and flowers. The flavours also reflect the botanical theme smoothed out with vanilla notes from sago pearls that, in turn, intensify the flavour of the salmon. Again, we could do with an extra piece or two but overall it’s a taste sensation. So we brace ourselves for the mains.
Tasty but traditional: Lobster mac 'n' cheese
And here is where this ‘wow’ factor fades. The menu’s duck bolognaise ($225) is more of a shepherd’s pie made with duck instead of beef. Beautifully cooked but presented as a run-of-the-mill English dish. Same goes for the mac ’n’ cheese ($130), despite us adding lobster for an extra $120. Arriving in a cute little crock pot, the sauce is creamy yet safe and the lobster is an addition to the pasta that creates an interesting and fragrant bite. This dish takes us back to the old favourites of the old Pawn and tugs our heart strings with a tinge of nostalgia. Our only comment would be that the mains could do with a bit more of a va va voom element, like the presentation in those glorious starters.
Lime leaf and basil panna cotta
The desserts get us right back on track, though, particularly with some more fancy plating. Immersed in a pan of sticky sauce, the toffee pudding ($60) is spot on. The cake is just the right consistency, with the outer layers absorbing the sauce but dense enough not to be over-soaked. It also works beautifully with the date ice cream served on the side. Lastly, the lime leaf and basil panna cotta ($80) refreshes with tangy macerated strawberries and a milky foam on top that cuts any sharpness and helps us leave on a high.
So, for the most part, The Pawn mark II is a complete success and lives up to all the hype. It’s a great leap forward and the new look, new menu, new concepts and deliciously innovative starters and desserts should be embraced by regulars and visitors. These are classic dishes cooked well, but why play it safe with mac ’n’ cheese or ‘bolognaise’ when you’ve just created some of the best starters of the year? With Aikens at the helm, we’re sure that they’ll be more innovation to come and we’re certainly not breaking our love affair with The Pawn just yet. Go on, Aikens. Charm us with improved mains and keep us coming back for more. Naomi Locke
The Pawn 2/F, 62 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai, 2866 3444; thepawn.com.hk.
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2/F, 62 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai