Ok, I guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. After years of criticising restaurants on my food blog, The Shanghai Kid, I have actually been running my very own restaurant.
Update 26th May 2016: Hello Miss Dong won CityWeekend’s editor’s pick for Outstanding South-eastAsian restaurant of the year! 🙂
In the winter of 2014, I opened my first restaurant in Shanghai, named Hello Miss Dong (after my wife, who runs the place daily). It was a massive leap of faith, diving head strong into the restaurant business as a first time sole investor, and featuring my own recipes along with a couple of dishes I had curated from Chef Dong’s (my brother-in-law). Luckily, being a creative designer myself, I saved a ton of money by designing every aspect of the restaurant, including the branding and marketing myself.
As of the time of writing this article, we have been opened for 1 year 5 months, and are doing considerably ok — Not losing money.
Truth be told, 2 years ago, the restaurant scene in Shanghai was a little bit different from what it is in spring 2016. Now, the competition between restaurants of nearly every genre and cuisine had grown so fierce that there are restaurants practically closing down every day.
I’ve been very fortunate to have been researching and writing about the business since 2013, and during this journey, learnt quite a bit about restaurateuring and also made many important friends in the business.
I would not have done it without the advise of my friends and peers, thank you very much, you know who you are.
Hello Miss Dong is located on a charming little street in the Former French Concession of Shanghai, called Yong Kang Lu. The street is split in two halves, with the more popular half filled with expat bars and restaurants, while the other half is more peaceful with more residences and two schools. My restaurant, Hello Miss Dong is located on the quieter half, which many of our patrons appreciate, for the serenity although being weaker in terms of foot traffic.
The restaurant itself is a tiny two-storey 34 square meter old Shanghainese house. The first floor housing the bar counter, kitchen and a small washroom, and the second floor seating a total of 14 patrons.
One of the original tenants of this shop operated a Japanese restaurant, hence there is a sushi bar counter on the first floor, of which I now use as a sort of Chefs table where we mingle with guests who dine here and eventually befriend many of them.
The motivation behind opening my restaurant was simply to share my recipes with everyone. This was quite scary to me at first, because I am no professional trained chef, and had merely starting cooking seriously after I moved to Shanghai 10 years ago. It all started because I missed my mother’s cooking, and thus, began to try to re-create her popular dishes here in Shanghai.
After awhile, I realised that I really enjoyed cooking, and found great joy in creating delicious dishes that pleased not only myself, but friends and guests alike.
It was also a fortunate timing, as the cooking pop culture began booming on TV. Chef Gordon Ramsay began his rise to fame with the first season of Hells Kitchen and his succession of subsequent shows. They introduced me to the man, the ‘glory’ of being a chef, and led me to research on the internet days and nights on cooking.
Practise made perfect as I continued to cook quietly at home and collected inspiration from cooking shows, magazines, food blogs, you name it.
Fast forward to 2013, I felt I could open a restaurant with my basic repertoire of recipes, together with some of my wife and brother-in-law’s hometown recipes, utilising a quirky name to draw attention, and I did it.
Today, Hello Miss Dong is a destination for people to enjoy authentic Singaporean flavours, in a friendly and comfortable setting. We like to treat all customers like friends, and many have, become friends, good friends in fact.
We played it really safe when we first started in the November of 2013. We boldly opened the restaurant with just 4 dishes on the menu, and this lasted 3 months before we launched a more extended menu with 10 items; The four pioneering dishes were: Curry Chicken, Bak Kut Teh (A herbal pork rib soup from Singapore and Malaysia), a creative cold tofu dish that we called Sister’s Tofu and Chef Dong’s potato fritata. The former two remain to this day our best sellers, whilst I’ve removed the latter 2 dishes due to their difficulty to prep.
Come Spring 2016, I have launched a brand new extended menu featuring some of the most sought-after Singaporean dishes like Bak Chor Mee, Shrimp Paste Chicken and Banana Leaf Grilled Fish. Occasionally, I do pop-up specials like Mee Siam and Lor Mee, and more.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce some of our signature dishes.
Signature Curry Chicken
Our style of curry hails from Singapore and was adopted by the Hainanese chefs in Singapore, at the time. This is a family recipe that I had been cooking in Shanghai for many years. Each portion comes with 2 chicken legs, 2 wings and new potatoes, coated with our mildy spicy velvety curry sauce.
Bak Kut Teh (Black / White)
Bak Kut Teh is a full bodied herbal pork rib soup from Singapore. It was originally created by the teochew docks workers to nourish their bodies after a hard days work, and had since bcome a classic cultural dish in Singapore and Malaysia.
The black version is more popular in Malaysia with herbal notes, while the white version is more commonly had in Singapore and boasts a white peppery kick.
Mama’s Braised Pork (Tau Yu Bak)
This is a rich Hokkien style braised pork recipe from my mum. Featuring slices of tender pork belly, resting ontop of braised tofu. Our version replaced braised chicken eggs with quail eggs because good things come in small packages. Seriously, quail eggs are better.
Sambal Kang Kong
Morning glory or water spinach, furiously stir-fried with our house-made sambal sauce which I have personally cooked for the restaurant every week since our opening.
Nonya Mixed Veggies (Zhap Cai)
It is said that a famous chef had to make a dish during closing hours with only leftover vegetables of the day. Little did he know it would later become a house-hold favourite. Comprises of cabbage, mushrooms, wood-ear fungus and gluten balls to soak up all that beautiful gravy.
Nanyang Chicken Rice
My take on the classic hainanese chicken rice, using my unique cooking technique that combines western and chinese cooking methods. We only use deboned chicken thighs as they are the most flavourful and juicy part of a chicken. Asking for chicken thigh at chicken rice stalls usually command an extra price premium.
My take on a classic Singaporean BBQ squid dish. My version features elevated ingredients in the form of octopus tentacles, boiled till tender and then furiously wok-fried till charred and crispy, resting ontop of a sambal-onion chutney.
Sole Fish Grilled in Banana Leaf
This is my take on a popular BBQ Stingray dish in Singapore. Here at Hello Miss Dong, we use bone-less sole filet, grilled on banana leaves and slathered with our signature sambal sauce.
Bak Chor Mee (Mee Pok)
Without a doubt, one of the most popular and sought after Singaporean noodle dish, by Singaporeans worldwide. The difficult part of the dish is in achieving the perfect balance in the noodle sauce. This is my recipe that I had developed over the years from trial and error. Flat egg noodles with minced pork, braised mushrooms, fishcakes and crispy pork lardons. Available spicy or non-spicy.
Shrimp Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai)
Also known as Har Cheong Gai in the cantonese dialect. Chicken wings, halved and marinated in shrimp paste, and then deep-fried to a searing crisp. Think buffalo wings, infused with the umami of a hundred shrimps. Even vegetarians have been known to succumbed to them at Hello Miss Dong.
Chef Dong’s Spiced Potatoes
Something new on the menu to replace the previous Potato Frittata. These are potato medallions, wok-fried in cumin, sichuan peppercorns and other aromatics to achieve a spicy smokey flavour.
Not the Italian frittata, but a potato fritter that is signature to Yichang, Hubei. Every portion is hand juilliened on order, quickly tossed with the seasonings and flour mix before being fried with Chef Dong’s unique technique.
So there you have it, this is my introduction of Hello Miss Dong, a restaurant by Fred Lin aka The Shanghai Kid. Come by and say Hi if you’re in town, or better still, book a table and enjoy some of the finest food I have grown up eating, along with some of my modern interpretations of Singaporean classics.
Many people have asked if we will expand and open more stores in Shanghai, I feel that if we open more, we will lose the the soul and atmosphere that has kept many people coming back. Eventually if situation permits, we might open a bigger flagship store while retaining this location.
Our end-game plan is to move to either Hawaii or Melbourne, and restart our restaurant there. So people of Honolulu and Melbourne, stay tuned!