The remarkable Dominic Chiu is a third-generation fishmonger; his father owns a successful seafood wholesale company that caters to top hotels and restaurants such as The Peninsula Hong Kong and Maxim’s Group. Growing up, Chiu lived a privileged life and worked as a manager in a purchasing company, but that all changed when his father had a stroke and he had to return to the family business.
“It was very hard at first,” recalls the 30-year-old owner of Kennedy Town’s best-kept secret, Seafood Corner. “Having worked in an office for so long, this labour-intensive environment was new to me – and I didn’t even know how to handle fish, let alone clean or butcher them. I had to start from square one, and the elders would look down on me and end up doing everything themselves. They would say I was too slow and I was in their way. I felt really disrespected and sometimes I was so angry there would be tears in my eyes, but I had to prove them wrong. I had to gain their respect.”
After a few years back at the family business, Chiu successfully learned the ropes, but the wholesale seafood industry was facing tough times. He had always dreamed of opening his own little restaurant to serve diners fresh seafood at a fair price, so he suggested the idea to his family, but he faced a good deal of criticism. Promising that he would continue to work in the wholesale seafood market, Chiu borrowed money from his supportive girlfriend and opened Seafood Corner, working at the market in the morning and his restaurant at night. “Eighteen hours a day can really burn you out – but when you see diners happily eating your seafood, it makes everything worthwhile,” says Chiu, proudly.
At its core, Seafood Corner specialises in top-notch seafood at affordable prices – think Sai Kung seafood without the tourists and inflated prices. The small restaurant feels like an extension of Chiu’s family kitchen and has live fish tanks outside to keep the seafood fresh. Diners are encouraged to tick the dishes of their choice on the paper menus provided, dim sum-style. The signature dish, and Chiu’s personal favourite, is the slow-cooked garoupa fillet: a whole wild garoupa sliced into individual fillets, then slowly fried in warm oil. This results in a crispy exterior with silky-smooth meat on the inside; the fillets are then loaded up with fresh scallions and house-made soy sauce drizzled on top.
Other restaurant favourites include the seven-inch razor clams that are cracked to order; they’re either steamed with vermicelli and garlic, or grilled with just a touch of salt and pepper to enhance the natural sweetness. The chilled abalone, fresh uni and conch sashimi platters are also popular appetisers to go with sake, beer or wine, as well as Canadian lobster toast and bamboo basket-steamed shrimp of various sizes. Diners can start their meal with a hearty bowl of homemade fish soup or conclude with a big bowl of fresh golden crab congee, family-style.
Chiu believes that fresh seafood should be prepared in the simplest way possible: either steamed to retain the natural juices, or grilled. All seafood is directly imported from the fish market he works at. The menu also offers a small range of yakitori, as well as family favourites including Sichuan pepper chicken wings, homemade minced shrimp cakes, steamed glutinous rice with seasoned dried meats, and curry udon. Everything is made with the freshest ingredients by the two chefs, Ben and Hei. “Sometimes diners come in and ask for the golden roe mud crab, but we don’t always have them, because if it’s not up to standard or in season, we don’t serve them – just like with all other seafood items on the menu,” says Chiu.
Apart from the seafood, don’t miss the sweet-and-sour pork. Made the traditional way, with more than 15 ingredients such as hawthorn and plums, it’s extra-crunchy and comes in a darker sauce than other places that use ketchup or Worcester sauce as the base. “A lot of places nowadays don’t bother using so many ingredients; they need to save time, so they only use a few ingredients as a shortcut,” explains chef Ben. “Here, we put a lot of love into our food and you can really taste the difference.”
Some tips on buying seafood? Chiu suggests buying from reliable sources and choosing seafood that’s alive, then having the fishmongers butcher the fish directly in front of you. His go-to market is the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market, but he also recommends the markets in Tsuen Wan and Kowloon City for good live seafood.
The next time you’re thinking of trekking out to Sai Kung or Lei Yue Mun for seafood, why not hit up Kennedy Town instead to support this young owner with big dreams?
This feature originally appeared in the June print issue #legend.