Dominion Road Chinese barbecue joint Mr Hao's emphasis on sharing makes them the perfect place for a catch up over seafood, chicken, beer and xiaolongbao.
Paul Wong has owned French Restaurants, Italian Restaurants and Szechuan restaurants. He’s had restaurants in New Zealand and in China. All together, he’s had 12 establishments all over the place and all over the culinary show - but until now, he’s not had a restaurant that opened its doors a week before a global pandemic came along and shut those doors again.
Needless to say, that was disappointing for him and his team. But they made the best of it and opened for delivery as soon as they could… and got about two orders a day.
Luckily, custom quickly picked up for the Chinese barbecue restaurant and they were away laughing again. I have a few guesses as to why…
My first guess is that their copious seafood menu items (scallops, deep fried squid, whole snapper) not only works a treat for pescatarians, but they have Pacific oysters. Being a rarity on dominion road, oysters are a draw point on their own but when combined with a mountain of garlic and a good lager, such as, say, the Mr Hao lager, oysters are just beyond incredible*. They also have a brief yet comprehensive wine list (and dangerously yummy $8 cocktails) if you happen to like a different sort of drop with your shellfish.
Oysters at Mr Hao
My other guess for the popularity of this little place is that particularly now, after lockdown, people have been craving that commensality that comes with sharing a meal with a friend. And sharing is central to Mr Hao’s entire menu. The skewers come in pairs and arrive on a little gold plate on the table (the beef is smokily spiced, juicy, tender and any steak fan will absolutely melt upon tasting them). All the other dishes arrive as one plate that you then decant onto your smaller plate to eat. And the specialty dishes? Oh my the specialty dishes...
Think of the biggest plate you’ve ever eaten off. These specialty dishes are that big - or bigger. They are meant to be shared. Both the spicy 'numbing fried' chicken and the chicken wings are delectable, but spicy. The wings are decadently juicy and mild enough that you’ll be able to handle them but for the numbing chicken, mild butter chicken eaters need not apply: it's seriously spicy. There's also a large seafood dish which is as mild as the wings too, but each of these large dishes are all quite different from eachother.
Fans of traditional Chinese chilli chicken that uses the cartilage will be pleased to find that this uses a mix of cartilage and softer thigh. The mass of chilli in which the chicken sits impart a huge amount of spice, but you don't eat the chillies. The wings on the other hand sit in milder dried and fried chillies that you can eat like chips. The wings are mild enough that you can eat a lot of them and they are also smoky and piquant with citrusy flavour - our recommendation is to try both and see what suits you better.
Mr Hao's chicken wings
Then there's the xiaolongbao. If you've never had them, please do because they are dumplings with rich, brothy soup inside them. Mr Hao's are delicious, soft and full of umami flavour and come with a little bowl of vinegar sauce which you dip them into. These special little dumplings are suitable for children, but it'd be easier for little hands in particular if they served these alongside a little bowl and a spoon to catch any soup that falls out and to transport the dumpling safely from bowl to mouth.
Xiaolongbao at Mr Hao
The dishes are well and truly made for sharing - having one to yourself just wouldn't really work. Afterall, Mr Hao's, being full of seafood, is styled after the cuisine from the little towns along China's coast. The food is loved for the way you can have it at night with beer, and of course, share it with friends or family (yes, even children!). To match that casual seaside small-town ideology, the prices at Mr Hao won't break the bank. they're completely affordable yet the festive decor, atmosphere and buzz of the restaurant makes it really feel like a treat.
*In fact, Mr Hao means, Mr Oyster. They did consider going for Mr Oyster but found that Mr Hao has a ring to it.