Reviews

New Punjab Club: a labour of love

The party music couldn’t be coming from New Punjab Club, although if it were, I was ready to stretch my imagination for Black Sheep Restaurants’ 15th – and reportedly, most personal – dining venture yet.

As it turns out, the Wyndham Street restaurant is located below a gym, whence the club-like tunes were playing. Thankfully this LKF-esque situation ends at the door, guarded by a man in a salwar kameez suit. Once inside, all beats and bass lines fade into memory.

New Punjab Club is an homage to Black Sheep Restaurants co-founder Syed Asim Hussain’s days in The Punjab Club, a private social and athletics club in Lahore, Pakistan; as well as to his father’s former Mughal Room restaurant in Hong Kong. It’s a true labour of love; the kitchen is said to house tandoori grills from Mughal Room, re-bought and restored, while the walls feature Pakistani and Indian art from Hussain’s personal collection.

The dining room, harkening back to post-colonial Punjab, is an intimate enclave with low-hanging light fixtures. Walls are intricate with patterned embossing. Plush leather seats are in burgundy. Plating throughout our dinner featured ornate illustrations in porcelain blue, burgundy and white, and uniquely designed steak knives. Even the unisex restrooms are a gold-tiled stunner.

When it comes to its look and feel, New Punjab Club nails it – it’s the kind of place you’d take friends to for a birthday dinner, or friends who are in town to visit, or a dinner date you’d like to impress.

On the evening of our visit, we were served a few dishes from the menu, devised by Hussain and chef Palash Mitra, from award-winning restaurant Gymkhana in London. If your preference is for strong, spicy kicks easily associated with Indian cuisine, you might find New Punjab Club’s offerings a bit watered down. The flavours, while clean and refined on the whole, lean more toward the mild side.

Some were a bit cloying, like the samosa chat, filled with potatoes and topped with colourful streaks of yoghurt and crispy noodles. Although interesting with the kernels of pomegranate, a tinge more savouriness would’ve been preferred. The aloo gobhi, cauliflower with potatoes, coriander and ginger, registered only barely, rather simple in taste.

Yet the hits of the night were winners in aromatics and contrasting flavours. The masaledar phalli, spiced peanuts, drizzled with a bit of lime, lent a nice nasally kick to pre-dinner munching. The keema pau, ground lamb meat, was piping fragrant – you could inhale the juicy meat just sitting across from it at the dinner table. The full-flavoured, savoury treat is made to pile onto sweet, soft milk buns.

The Mughal Room makhani, butter chicken submerged in curry, was a balance of savoury and sweet, scooping perfectly well into a tearing or two of pillowy butter naan. The Lahori seekh, minced Wagyu kebab, with green chilli chutney is a fantastic pairing of contrasting meat and herb flavours. The masalewali chanp, roasted lamb chops, is the most tender we’ve had in a while, easily giving way under the pretty steak knife.

Desserts were intriguing: the toffee cake, topped with homemade popcorn ice cream, was achingly sweet – in a good way – while the popcorn ice cream, one realises, is more salted than caramel. The chai ice cream ‘affogato’ – chai ice cream aswim in chai tea – was a favourite, with the ice cream rich in flavour, its texture lending the suspicion that crumbled chai tea leaves might be in the mix. A surprise was the lemon posset, a yoghurt-like dessert topped with raspberry sorbet – creamy, tart and indulgent.

Drinks were served by way of a trolley lined with gins; we had the Tanqueray, nice and bubbly with tonic to kick off the night, followed by the smoky Monkey 47.

New Punjab Club punctuates a nice evening with a good meal, rounded out by an ambience that’s intimate yet lively, and waitstaff that’s keen to serve (and sometimes, to entertain). We wouldn’t call it a place for down-to-earth authentic Indian and Pakistani cooking, but for what it aspires to be – an interpretation of Punjab cuisine, for the diverse crowds of one of Hong Kong’s culinary thoroughfares – it aims, and hits pretty close to target.

Johnalene Baylon

Restaurant Details
34 Wyndham Street, Central
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