This smart little Chinese restaurant is set out like a fast-food joint, and the name also suggests the kind of service you might expect. Tiled floors, bright lights, fast-food style tills and a serving bar all contribute. But wait! These crazy Hong Kong people simply don’t seem to have grasped the basics of how a fast food outlet really works. The design of the place is stylish, understated. The tables are decorated with large, beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers. Everything is glitteringly immaculate, even the heavy cutlery and wine glasses. Yes, wine glasses. What’s going on here?
When the hungry customer arrives at a fast-food joint, he expects to stand gawping at the menu and shuffling his feet until he gets to the front of the sullen queue. But here, smiling and friendly staff come out from behind the bar to greet you, and show you to a table if you so wish. Madness! Then, naturally enough, the customer expects to hang around for a while. That’s the idea of fast food, right? But not here! No, they say ‘express’ and they mean it. Everything is produced within five minutes, more or less. So surely, it must have been raked out of a freezer and flung into a microwave? Not so. Once more, the Hong Kong Express really hasn’t worked this one out. You can actually watch them cook this food with fresh ingredients right there and then. In five minutes!
So, finally, the downside has got to be either the food, or the prices, has it not? What sort of a fast food restaurant would it be otherwise? In both these areas, Hong Kong Express plays its trump cards. The prices are fast food level, alright – less than £5 for a main course, rice included. But the crowning glory of this delightful restaurant is the quality of the food – such delicious, fresh, and tasty fare can be hard to find even in the fanciest Chinese restaurants. Admittedly the menu is neither vast nor adventurous, but it does not need to be. Every dish is simple but splendid, a generous portion, attractively served and piping hot.
It may seem churlish to criticise but, hey, that’s why you’re reading this, right? Matt and Cat usually visit the restaurant in the daytime, but it’s worth remembering that in the evening it is a bit of a fast-food hangout for those emerging from pubs. On a recent visit M and C found that the place was a bit cluttered up with scruffy hangers-on, who were not dining but sat around idling, and passing to and fro from the kitchen for no apparent reason. They may or may not have been delivery drivers awaiting orders, or just off-duty lorry drivers keeping warm. Anywhere else this would have gone unnoticed, but it seemed to jar with the stylish slickness of this place. Perhaps Hong Kong Express can invest in a couple of silk embroidered sheets to throw over these chaps when they are not in use.
You may not be too shocked to learn that Matt and Cat are regular patrons of this place. It does takeaway too, if you want it, but frankly, the eat-in experience is so positive and quick that it seems pointless not to just sit there and enjoy it.
UPDATE March 2006: Following an accidental fire and some major roadworks outside, this fine eatery seems to be closed at present. We hope it’s just seasonal! There appears to be plenty of work going on inside so we expect them to be back soon.
UPDATE April 2006: Yes, they’re back! Matt and Cat have been back to try their favourite Chinese within a few days of their reopening, and can confirm with great pleasure that the Hong Kong Express is firing on all cylinders again.
Hong Kong Express, Ryde