Hong Kong Food Diaries: New Punjab Club chef Palash Mitra is a fan of butter chicken and Circle K sandwiches

In Hong Kong Food Diaries, we ask notable locals and visitors to tell us exactly what they ate and drank over the course of a few days, and where they did it. 

Palash Mitra is the head chef at Black Sheep Restaurants’ New Punjab Club, a boisterous tandoor grill house celebrating the meat-driven cuisine of the Punjab region. Recently relocated here from London, where he helmed North Indian restaurant Gymkhana, Mitra attributes his cooking skills to growing up in India cooking alongside his mother and grandmother, and is specially adept with tandoor ovens.

With the busy reservations book at New Punjab Club, Mitra’s scarce moments outside of the kitchen are filled with trips to the local wet market, neighbourhood walks with his lab, scoping out other Indian eateries around town, and nightly drop-ins to Circle K. Read all about it in his Hong Kong Food Diary.

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Palash Mitra is the head chef of tandoor grillhouse New Punjab Club.

SUNDAY, 26 NOV
It’s my first day off after a long week. Looking forward to a day to reset and recharge. My wife, daughter and two dogs just moved here from London and it’s so good to be reunited. Our two-year-old wakes us up every morning, and the morning is spent feeding and entertaining her then taking our chocolate Labrador and German Shepherd out for some exercise.

I stroll down to the Sai Ying Pun wet market just to window shop. The variety of fresh seafood and local vegetables is fantastic. The shop below the market does some very nice congee. It’s cloudy outside, so I grab a steaming bowl of crab congee with extra spring onions and dough sticks. To drink, black tea with extra sugar.

Next, I head to Tin Hau for a highly anticipated Indian specialty lunch. Along the way, an elderly couple outside the MTR station is wok-roasting fragrant chestnuts on a gas stove. They also have steamed red sweet potatoes and soft-boiled quail eggs. Jackpot. I can’t help but stuff my face with these local delicacies and feel like autumn is around the corner. Coming from London, this usually means wellingtons and heavy jackets. Here, people are still in sandals and breezy outfits. At least the food is fall-like.

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Lunch is at Palki Indian Restaurant. Arriving at 11:15am, there’s already a long queue out front, but thankfully I’m prepared with a reservation. The food is flavourful and fresh, albeit a bit mild. The Mixed Kebab platter is smoky and features chicken tikka, fish boti and seekh kebab, some of my all-time favourite comfort foods. The butter chicken is smooth and aromatic. The palak paneer garlicky, full of cumin and spinach. The naans are skilfully cooked, both crispy and soft at the same time. I thank them 100 times before heading back home and napping until dinner.

Quick jaunt down to the local Circle K to grab an egg salad and watercress sandwich from the cold case as well as iced lemon tea. We don’t have any furniture at the moment so cooking at home is a bit tricky. The lovely people at Circle K are starting to recognise us because we go so often.

MONDAY, 27 NOV
Morning cuddles with my daughter, a brisk walk with the dogs, quick cheese omelette, kiss for the wife and I am off.

Mondays are always hectic with the morning deliveries: fish, chicken, beef, lamb, fruits, vegetables, dairy, dry groceries and on. The prep tables are laden with ingredients and it’s a race against time to get them chopped, braised, boiled, dressed and sorted before service. I wolf a quick bowl of rice with a spicy fish-trim curry then it’s already time to roll.

Ready, set, go! Service is a blur. We’re now a well-oiled team, but the tickets keep flying in. So many of our guests have never had this type of cuisine before. The common misconception is that Indian food is all vegetarian curries and rice. Food from the Punjab region could not be more different as it’s meat-focused with lots of breads. We have some guests that expect a curry house when they come, but mostly everyone has been very receptive to the cuisine and it’s exciting to introduce them to this food.

I never eat or drink during service so that I can accurately taste for seasoning. Just small sips of water to keep me going. Things finally slow around 11:45pm so I scarf roti, yellow lentils and an onion and chilli salad. Then I take the 30-minute walk back home to decompress and start planning for tomorrow’s prep.

TUESDAY, 28 NOV
I make a traditional hot chai and cream custard biscuits for my wife and daughter. Walk and feed the pups. Then back to the neighbourhood wet market to search for some inspiration. I notice new produce and seafood coming in with the seasonal change and nab some super fresh white bait and briny fish roe.

Bring the haul into the restaurant to make everyone lunch. I dress the white bait with chilli powder, gram flour and lemon juice before deep-frying. There’s a stir-fry of garlic, choy sum and lime served with steaming bowls of khichdi, a hearty lentil and rice stew. One of the boys smuggled a pineapple tart from Buenos Aires Polo Club so we finish the lunch on a sweet note.

Chef Mario Carbone is in town from New York City and comes in for dinner tonight. The team is honoured to cook for him and he leaves a nice note in our guest book. Another pit-stop at Circle K on the walk home for a deli case sandwich. I really need to expand my repertoire.

WEDNESDAY, 29 NOV
It’s Cup Noodles for breakfast. Longing for a real kitchen. Can’t believe I am tracking my diet right now because it’s kind of embarrassing looking back. I promise I can and do cook at home, only when we’re not in the throes of moving.

I do frequent site-visits to our new home in Sai Kung because our contractor is hell-bent on turning it into a gaudy rendition of Aleksander Meerkats’ drawing room and needs guidance otherwise. Scope the kitchen progress and fantasise about home cooking.

Sai Kung has some very good seafood outlets, but I frequent a local lunch-only joint for barbecue pork. There is a language barrier but I feel like the server and I are getting to know each other. They slide over a plate of the most delicious sweet and sticky barbecue pork sliced perfectly with crispy skin pockets of juicy fat, sticky rice and gravy. The greens are usually questionable (Wilted iceberg? Cabbage? I don’t ask.). Instead, I whole-heartedly focus on the carnivorous carb-filled meal.

It’s a dash back to the restaurant to prep for another busy dinner service. The days are getting busier and we’re starting to develop regulars. Feels good to be in the swing of things.

Before bed, a late supper of roti and butter chicken. Sip an ice tea tetra from, you guessed it, the Circle K on my nightly walk home.

THURSDAY, 30 NOV
I enjoy a cup of sweet milky chai at home. The apartment we are staying in overlooks the harbour, so I’m savouring these views before the big move. Then it’s in to work early today. Prepping, sautéing, grilling and steaming alongside my motley crew of four loyal and enthusiastic cooks. Bollywood love songs keep the energy high.

The menu is focused around our two restored tandoor ovens, so I spend a lot of the prep over those fiery pits. They say a good tandoor chef has no hair on his arms because it’s all singed off in the hot ovens. My head chef Sidhu and I don’t have any hair on our heads. Does that mean we’re extra good?

I skip lunch because we get a late delivery of lamb tomahawks from Australia and need to prep them stat. But I make up for it tasting more than usual during service.

It’s a stop at 7 Eleven on the way home. It’s surprising how at 1:30am one can still get a decent meal in Hong Kong. That’s what I love about living here. Food is so available, affordable, fresh and tasty, no matter where or when. And the variety on offer is staggering.

FRIDAY, 1 DEC
We have our management team debrief on Fridays, so I always skip lunch these days. To fortify myself, I make it a point to have a solid breakfast at work. Today it is mooli parathas, raita and homemade Indian lime pickles.

We’re testing some new dishes: padron peppers stuffed with goat cheese and pickling spices, chicken livers with corn and a baby beet and whole-wheat paos.

It’s a very smooth yet busy service. I finish the night with a moreish Kadai-style lamb stew with baby shallots. Siddhu is experimenting with makki rotis, made with corn flour, so we eat those, too.

SATURDAY, 2 DEC
I switch it up this morning with chocolate rice flakes and cold milk. Have more kid-friendly foods around now that my daughter is here.

In our industry, Saturdays are always workhorse days. We have more than 90 reservations. We’ve been barely open two months and have only 35 seats, so it’s very encouraging.

I sneak out after service to a secret Nepalese apartment in Wan Chai for momos, noodles, wai wai bhel (instant snack noodles), pork stir-fry and egg fried rice. Cheers to the end of a great week with Johnny Walker Black Label before heading home.