On the weekend I walked by the new Hopewell property, Queens Road East, on Queen's Road East, and noticed the long boarded up store front of Fatburger is no longer boarded up. There's a buzz of activity, but I just finished shopping at Park N' Shop so it was not convenient for me to check it out. Instead I went there purposely to give Fatburger a try. As many readers and Twitter followers know, I favor burger joints and is a self proclaim burger connoisseur of hamburgers. Before Fatburger there are four main premium hamburger chains: the local "Shake 'em Buns", Canada's Whitespot "Triple-O's", Japan's two invasion "Freshness Burger" and "MOS Burger". By "premium" I mean more than simply McDonald's or Burger King.
With such well established competition the first impression is the most important, then comes services and finally the quality of the product. On approach the store is well lite, but strangely one of the two entrance to the restaurant was locked and a sign instructing patrons to use an alternative entrance.
After I walk in, I was surprise to find missing the aroma of cooking burgers, although the restaurant is 90% full in terms of seating capacity. There were two order counter to receive me, but the area between the door and the counter was fairly short. I can imagine line ups must overflow to outside during lunch hour rush. I was not rushed to order like I order counter staff at Freshness Burger or MOS Burger. Unfortunately, that was the end of my present experience at Fatburger.
After a quick browse of the large menu hanging high above and behind the order counter in English and surprisingly in Simplified Chinese (it is not unusual for a restaurant in Hong Kong to have a bi-lingual menu sign, but very unusual for the other language to be Simplified Chinese), both my friend and I had decided on what to have.
When I placed my order in bi-lingual (Cantonese and English), I found out why I was not rushed to order by the order counter staff. It is very apparent that the staff speaking to me behind the cashier does not speak English. Being a returning Hong Kong Chinese Canadian, I do not read Chinese well and definitely not Simplified Chinese, so the cashier and myself were not communicating, but the only English words I used were names of their products from their menu, and ingredients that are normally found on a burger.
I ordered "a[Cantonese] Triple Burger without[Cantonese] pickles" and "a[Cantonese] Veggie Burger without[Cantonese] pickles and[Cantonese] onions". The cashier repeated the order in Cantonese, but I have no idea if she got the order correct as she did not use any of the English names of their products. Nor did she mentioned any of the condiments that I did not want on the burgers.
I repeated my order and received confirmation from the cashier happened three times, and I even asked for the number of burgers she took as my order. When another colleague of hers said she now had 4 burgers in my order I quickly told the cashier to cancel everything and had someone else help me. This processes lasted about 10 minutes. Another, who appears to be more experienced staff, took over immediately, completed my order, confirmed it and gave me the exact change in less than 5 minutes. Strange that there would be more experienced staff, since Fatburger only opened for about a week in Hong Kong.
Next comes to the most important thing, the product! After a fairly short wait, our burgers arrived at our table. it was wrapped conveniently with half the burger exposed, allowing you to pickup the burger and take the first bite. This gives a fairly realistic presentation as pictured in their menu, but I do find this strange as the burger was sitting exposed on top of a paper place mat on the tray. The staff who brought us the burgers even reviewed a second tray underneath, which she then place in front of my friend. I found this totally unhygienic.
The burger itself was piping hot, which is good, but the juices that was pouring out was so hot it burnt my hand. The taste of the burger reminded me the ones I get at Freshness Burger, but the smell of the burger was still not that engulfing. After taking several bites I did not notice anything special about the burger, but it did reminded me of the kind I used to get in backyard barbecues in Toronto.
The triple patty burger I ordered was just slightly thicker than the ones I get at Triple-O's and Shake 'em Buns; the latter had since shrunk their patty substantially compared to just a month ago. The price was definitely way more at HKD80.00 without even cheese, bacon or egg.
So, after giving Fatburger a try I conclude that there are still four major "premium" burger chains ("joints") in Hong Kong, and Fatburger is not one of them. I question if I will give it a second chance too soon. May be several more months to give the operators (franchisee) time to get used to the operation and the staff to learn the menu.