I was told that Mrs. Pound’s was at the corner of Pound Lane and Tai Ping Shan Road — but even with directions as specific as that, the restaurant was proving impossible to locate. We’d been walking for half an hour and with every step, it seemed less and less likely that this gritty neighbourhood could house Hong Kong’s trendiest new restaurant.
When we did eventually reach Pound Lane, it was disturbingly unremarkable — the intersection of two narrow, pedestrian-only pathways lined with tall, brooding towers encrusted with rundown aircon units and last evening’s washing. Of the buzzing restaurant that all of Hong Kong was talking about — there was no sign.
We hunted for something, anything to convince us that this hadn’t been a wild goose chase. The imposing high walled building opposite from us looked like a likely candidate — until closer inspection revealed that it was a public lavatory. And it was clearly not hidden in the temple across the street with the hundreds of spiral incense sticks hanging from its ceiling. Which left the shop with hundreds of jade stamps in the window...
It was clearly closed for the day but it fitted right in with the surroundings — an anachronistic hangover of an older time, completely irrelevant in today’s day and age but still unique and worth a visit in the light of day. Then, as I examined it more closely, I noticed that twisted over-wrought gilt edged logo on the top right actually spelled out the words “Mrs. Pound”…
Mrs. Pound was a burlesque dancer who travelled the world on the arms of her lovers. Though the primary purpose of her travel was passion, she made it a point to pick up flavours from each of the countries she visited. You see, despite her baser profession, Mrs. Pound had an abiding passion for food.
Then all of a sudden, Mrs. Pound mysteriously vanished from public gaze, never to be seen or heard from again. Rumour has it that she ran away with her lover, the affluent Mr Ming, who gave her his lucrative stamp shop to do with as she wanted. To this day the stamp shop is her sanctuary and hides her true location.
It seemed we’d reached our destination — if only we could figure out how to get in. We searched for a door, an entrance of some sort — but there was nothing. In frustration we circled back to see if we could locate a service entrance. We didn’t find a door but did find a couple of kids smoking on the sidewalk.
They let us fumble around for a while till one of them took pity on us and lead us back to the storefront. He fiddled around with the fixtures and miraculously, a portion of the store display slid soundlessly sideways to reveal a green door that lead into Mrs. Pound’s Restaurant.
The restaurant itself is tiny. I don’t think it takes more than 30 covers by resolutely foregoing personal space. The maitre de (or what passes for one) stands at the end of the bar with a clipboard keeping track of diners and ensuring that tables turn around quickly.
You see — Mrs. Pound doesn’t take reservations. You can arrive any time after 6 and wait at the bar for a table to get free. We were late but got lucky and managed to snag a corner table.
Mrs. Pound’s offers a curious version of Pan-Asian Fusion, in line with the legend of Mrs. Pound’s unsavoury origins. The one stand-out dish had to be the Rendang Poutine — a bowl of French Fries dipped in (and flavoured with) beef rendang. Mouth-watering, and completely addictive even after (or perhaps especially when) the french fries had grown soggy from the rendang.
The other outstanding dish was the Avacado Crab, a particularly rustic rendition of a delicious food pairing that was served cold and unadorned. The avacado was roughly split down the middle and de-seeded and piled hig with cooked crabmeat seasoned with Sriracha Sauce. We had to scoop out the avacado out of its skin and mash it up with the crab meat before eating it.
There were many other riffs on this Malaysian theme. The Pork Belly Bulgogi was interesting (though the pork could have been a bit more tender). The Mac and Cheese Chilli Crab was unusual though a bit ambitious in concept and a tad cumbersome to consume (they’d have done well to shell the crab before serving it with the macaroni). The Grilled Eggplant with fried garlic was excellent — a simple enough dish but executed so well. As was the Street Corn — sweet corn cob with cheese and a Sriracha sauce — a combination I am definitely going to try at home some day.
The meal was not without its low points. The tiger prawn topped with yolk was way too rich and heavy on the palate. I felt like the eggyolk had coated my tongue and it was never going to wash off. The morning glory came highly recommended on Foursquare but it was just stir fried greens — and certainly not worth raving about.
Its Not the Food — Its the Experience
But there is no point dissecting the food at a place like Mrs. Pounds. At the end of the day you didn’t come here to find the next Redzepi or Adria. This is a restaurant that is unlikely to be mentioned in the Restaurant Magazine’s annual guide to good food. But is it a place you should put on your list of things to do in Hong Kong?
Mrs. Pound’s is an adventure you would do well to treat yourself to. From the schoolboy thrill of discovering the secret entrance to the speakeasy, to the hours you will spend arguing over the legend of Mrs. Pound (is this is all just a marketing gimmick or is there some truth behind the tale), a night at Mrs. Pounds is an evening well spent.
And so you will forgive the restaurant its minor short comings. You will look past the shabby presentation (the food is splashed down like slop, without a care for presentation or aesthetics) and the rudimentary serving dishes (mostly stainless steel canteen cutlery) because you will love (once you get over the discomfort of rubbing elbows with complete strangers), the joy of dining communally. And of sharing, with everyone in its crowded confines, the secret of Mrs. Pound’s.