Not just any Chinese, Happy Chappy

Published 30 November 2016   

Location:
SEMINYAK – BALI

Written by:
DAVID TRAUTS

Happy Chappy is quite a phenomenon. Opening just over a year ago under the direction of Australian-born restaurateur David Kearns, the Chinese restaurant has not only made the boss happy but also its legion of fans around Bali too. So much happiness in fact that there are now three more Happy Chappys on the way.

l1050585A shade of red
Chinese in all it’s finery.

FRV Bali dined recently at the flagship Happy Chappy restaurant in Seminyak and spoke with David Kearns about the quick rise in fame of his, and his partner Tjok Max Kerthyasa’s latest dining concept.

Right from the outset Happy Chappy is unashamedly Chinese. From the Chinese gate entrance to the long main dining area and sumptuous bar at one end, the restaurant is bathed in red, with hanging lanterns, Chinese paintings, oriental rugs and other Middle Kingdom paraphernalia adorning the walls and floors. It’s a little piece of China right on a back street of Semimyak.

It seems an obvious choice to have a Chinese restaurant but no-one seemed to be able to pull it off properly in this bustling tourist area.

How exactly did Happy Chappy come about?

“I always felt Bali needed a good Chinese restaurant,” starts David Kearns as we tuck into some dim sum at one of the round table booths that line one wall. “When I say good Chinese I don’t only mean the Indonesian style, we wanted an international Chinese too. All parts of this region and beyond; Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, or even England have their own styles and what I wanted was an international taste where a line is drawn down the middle taking the best of all these Chinese styles and creating what I call international Chinese.”

The Happy Chappy menu has traditional dishes like noodles and chow mein, the Peking duck, the Char Siu all the traditional dishes that every Chinese culture enjoys. “When we started we made sure that all those standard dishes were good and with that we knew we had the backbone of the business right. The Chinese market would come here and hopefully they would like it.” And he was right. Chinese visitors to Bali have been arriving in droves and nodding their approval to the well-known, plus also the lesser, maybe a little reworked, dishes on the menu. There are dishes that are slightly reconstructed like pork belly taco, wasabi har gow or John Dory Bao, which have been created by partner/chef at Happy Chappy, American Bill Collier.

dsc09374Chefs for each station.
The wok chef fires it up.

What’s the basic concept?

“You know, I got tired of walking out of average restaurants paying around Rp 1.5 million every time you go out for dinner,” says Kearns. “I am just not doing it anymore. When I started this I wanted a place that when you are on holidays you could come three times and not ruin the bank. And the Tripadvisor reviews reflect that. People get it. Happy Chappy is a fun concept where the dining is good and inexpensive.”

However, Chinese is not so simple.

Chinese restaurant kitchens are not like the usual western variety. While a western kitchen has a head and sous chef overseeing the entire kitchen, Chinese kitchens have a different chef for every style of food, at every station. There is a dim sum chef, a wok chef, the barbeque chef, etc and they do not interfere with the other stations. “I don’t think people realise how big a job it is having a Chinese restaurant, it’s massive,” says David.
However, Happy Chappy got lucky. “Well, right when we first started preparing the restaurant Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta closed. They had a top Chinese restaurant and when we got wind of this we were able to hire most of their top staff with which we opened Happy Chappy. In the end, we had 12 of the Four Seasons staff in the kitchen and most are still here.”

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l1070488The dining is exquisite
Some of the favourites off the menu.

And how about the menu?

There are all your Chinese favourites and more. To start with there is an a la carte selection of succulent dim sum, which consists of bak pao, steam buns, Peking duck long rolls, prawn and vegetarian spring rolls, chicken feet and duck bakso. All very tasty and arrive with their appropriate Chinese sauces. Then there are the dumplings. You have a choice of steamed and juicy shu mai, emerald dumplings, prawn har gow and others, or fried pieces of prawn gou gee, prawn sesame cakwe, Szechuan wontons and more crispy parcels of tastiness. Or let Happy Chappy take the work out of it and order the dim sum platters, which are a steamed or fried mix of 19 pieces of the above mentioned dim sum. I think I could actually be the proverbial happy chappy just doing the dim sum and dumplings, but there is more – a lot more.

After the Classic Entrees list, which features small dishes, with a western meets eastern leaning, like salt and pepper squid and sesame prawn toast, there is a complete selection of meat and seafood dishes with a variety of Chinese sauces, vegetables and cooking styles. Soups, rice, noodles, and vegetarian dishes are all on the menu. Actually, the menu is nothing less than enormous.
A must try and probably the most popular part of the Happy Chappy menu is the BBQ & Roast section with specialties like Peking and Hong Kong roasted duck, Hong Kong pork belly, BBQ pork brisket Char Siu, pork spare ribs and crispy skin chicken. I’ve tasted a number of these dishes over a few trips and they are all delightful in their combination of crunchiness and tenderness. Everything is cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of seasoning and sauces. Take the half crispy skin chicken, for example, which is stuffed and tied up with spices, air-dried and glazed for 12 hours, roasted for 1.5 hours, then hung again and finally, wok fried when ordered. Kaboom. The succulent moist meat and the crispy skin are divine.

The Peking duck is cooked in a similar way but since the duck has more fat content the meat’s even juicier. The dishes on the BBQ list are a must try and truly show how far ahead Happy Chappy has come in the past year.

As I said, I have been to Happy Chappy a number of times, it’s just around the corner from my house. I’ve seen and tasted it from day one more or less, and with the passion that the owners and chefs possess, the upward progression they have mustered, which continues every day, Happy Chappy just gets better every time I return.

hcinterior1Spacious surroundings
The blazing red decor of Happy Chappy.

How about the future?

With the quality and standard they now have, it’s not surprising there have been a number of people knocking on David’s door with proposals to open Happy Chappys all over the country and region. “Just about every two weeks we’ve had offers of doing something new together with a variety of people,” says Kearns. However, they don’t want to do franchise style eateries, they would like to keep the vision and execution under their control, and with David’s long history of managing hotels, systems and procedures are his forté.

A couple of months ago Happy Chappy Express opened in Berawa, Canggu which is the first of a smaller, new breed of Happy Chappy outlets. It too has been a big hit with the local residents and the burgeoning tourist market in that area. “60% of our trade in Berawa is takeaway, which is great since the HC Express is a smaller sized concept, fitting approximately 40 diners. The special ‘DVD video with your takeaway’ deal on Sundays has been a runaway success, and now getting your Chinese takeaway in Canggu has become a lot easier,” says David. They use the enormous, main kitchen in the Seminyak restaurant to feed the smaller Expresses and a few more of those outlets are on the agenda to open soon.

“Sanur, Legian and Ubud are in final planning and should be open very soon,” concludes David Kearns.

Happy Chappy has come a long way in a very short time and I might add, for all the right reasons, so don’t be surprised if you see one pop up in your neighbourhood very soon. And you know what, your neighbourhood will probably become a lot more fun and delicious with it around.
Not just any Chinese, Happy Chappy

hcfront1midChinese from start to finish
The red door entrance welcoming guests.

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