Dinner at H.E.L: From Another World

Photo: Martin Henningsson

When something aims to be “genuine” and “just like home”, and yet words like “imagination” and “fusion” are thrown around, I can’t help but be wary. Restaurant H.E.L. claims to be an authentic Chinese restaurant without any of the ‘Swedefied’ flavours that most other Chinese establishments serve up, while still adding a Swedish touch to the concept. To me, that is a major oxymoron. But I can’t help but be intrigued.

H.E.L – short for Harbin Engineering Lab – is run by Jessica Wang and Ye Tian, two engineers who decided to change life paths because the longing for mother’s Chinese cooking got the best of them. Although named after Tian’s home city of Harbin, the menu features dishes that derive from a number of the, in total, eight great regional cuisines.
To be completely honest, which is the point of a write-up like this, the spring rolls (120 kronor) and crispy prawns (120 kronor) served as starters make me question what it is about H.E.L. that differs from any other Chinese place down the road. The deep fried pieces served with an iceberg lettuce salad and a Thousand Island-like dressing feel weirdly familiar, and not in a good way.

The mains are more ambitious. ‘Tipsy’ (280 kronor), a chopped fillet of beef that is stir-fried in a wine and garlic sauce, is flavourful and fresh, although I find the graphically laid out pieces of vegetable – four sugar peas, a slice of courgette, three pak choi leaves and a couple of pieces of grilled pepper – quite peculiar. Is this supposed to represent the Nordic style of plating? The ‘Crispy’ (220 kronor) fried duck slices could have used a little more crisp before being smothered in Chinese spices sauce, but are really quite delicious.

What comes as a major surprise is H.E.L’s elaborate desserts. They’ve paired up with local patisserie and chocolaterie Prince Philosopher to create an array of inspiring afters that show a level of creativity few restaurants can muster up. There’s the ‘Forbidden City’ (140 kronor), a gorgeous, ruby-red creation which features traditional Chinese flavours such as jasmine and litchi, as well as lemon, honey and meringue. The chocolate tower of ‘Tai Chi’ (150 kronor) is a sight to behold and dig into, with different layers and textures of dark chocolate, green apple, sesame, almond and caramel.

Kommendörsgatan 40
08 663 68 68

Words: Micha van Dinther