Author: Sgt Noms

Where:
Happy Paradise
UG/F 52-56 Staunton Street (Entrance on Aberdeen Street)
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2816 2118 (but predictably, NO FUCKING RESERVATIONS)

Price:
We got out at HKD650ish per person, including two drinks each.  The receipt claims that all service charge/tips goes directly to the staff which I give a resounding FUCK YEAH.

The deal:
May Chow’s latest restaurant, with John Javier as Executive Chef, occupies the space where the old Butchers Club Steak Frites (RIP) joint used to be, above Stanzione Novella.  Whoever would have thought that charging too much cash for steak frites when every second restaurant opening in 2015 was a steak frites place would not have the staying power to limp through the battlefield of fad hungry HK consumers and nefarious HK landlords, driven wild by the desire of always getting more?

Snippy obvious observations aside, Happy Paradise is stylistic as fuck though and you can read any number of reviews of Happy Paradise and tick off the following phrases like a restaurant review bingo board – “neo-Cantonese”, “neon filled dive bar”, “80s inspired”, “modern cha chaan teng” and “cantopop soundtrack”.  For me, it reminds me of a glossier version of the old Forever Lounge in Tai Hang (before they renovated themselves only slightly to take some of the edges out), shiny purple and pink neon but without the buckets of Blue Girl, slightly sticky worn out furnishings and the heavy, weary acceptance written across the faces of tobacco soaked older men.

Our waiter is immediately onto us all Misty Copeland style (ie. ON POINT) and setting us straight on how to order our drinks and food. The drinks menu is split into two pages, one named “easy” and the other “adventurous”.  No, it’s not just how I like my eggs paramours but Happy Paradise’s code for drinks that are best before dinner (“easy”) and ones after food (“adventurous”).  I get the “Pink Flamingo” (HKD118 +10% service charge), Jamaican rum, passionfruit, Campari and lime, which shows a fuck yeah balance between sweet, bitter and acid.  Keeping with the pink theme, I sneak a sip of my homie’s “Swoon Lee” (HKD108 +10% service charge), white rum and watermelon with a salted black lime rim, reminding me of the salty lemon lemonades I used to suck down in the cha chaan tengs.

Our first dish, is the Scallops “rice roll” (HKD110 +10% service charge) is the one dish that almost every single person who goes to Happy Paradise will tell you to order.  It’s a take on “cheung fan” (ie. rolled rice flour noodles) except pureed scallops are made into flat sheets which are steamed and then rolled.  Served with soy sauce and chilli oil, there’s only four tiny pieces. A flicker of concern dances across my psyche given that one of the concerns I had with Happy Paradise was spending all my money on stylish but tiny ass food for ants.  I guess my old fears die hard, especially given that May Chow is also behind Little Bao (yes I know, the clue is in the first half of the name).  Regardless, it is fucking delicious and an innovative take on this traditional Cantonese dish and reminds me of the upside down interpretations like the fucking amazing Mapo Tofu Burrata that you also get at May Chow’s other restaurant, Second Draft.

I was seriously jonesing for the cuttlefish toast, because it reminds me of my nostalgic Strayan childhood with bastardised versions of Chinese food like prawn toast.  But I also balk at paying HKD58 (+10% service charge) per person for tiny bits of deep fried bread.  I obviously don’t balk hard enough because I ordered it anyway and it’s fucking great.  Of course, how hard is it to fuck up deep frying things on white bread? Regardless, it’s a good combo with the sweetness of the cuttlefish brought out by the accompanying sweet corn puree and rounded out by the black garlic puree.  HKD58+ enjoyable for a few bites?  I’m not entirely convinced and make another entry into my ever increasing autobiographical tome, “The Carbs Made Me Do It“.

One of the specials when we were there was a cold steamed egg (HKD88 +10% service charge), which sounds fairly unremarkable.  But fuck, this was one of the most incredible dishes we had that night.  This steamed egg was the smoothest, silkiest thing that I’ve eaten in recent memory.  I don’t know how the fuck they got this egg into this wondrous state of being but one bite in and my heart is filled with the snaking guitar licks of Santana and before I know it, Rob Thomas is imploring me to “Give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it”.  YES, IT’S THAT FUCKING SMOOTH:

robthomassmooth

Topped with ginger, scallions and yuzu, there’s this green shoot on top which I can’t quite place.  I ask our waiter homie what is up with this slightly crunchy, not quite gelatinous vegetable and he tells me it’s ice plant that they’ve, quote, done some “special stuff” to.  Upon some research, I’ve since discovered it’s also known as kudzu and has the tendency to become an invasive species, choking ou the habitat of native vegetation.  Well, invade my heart Mr Ice Plant Man because I am most def into the way your unique, slightly stiff though yielding cellular structure is doing its thing against the smoothest, egg custard ever and is topped with the slightly sweet and vinegary dressing.

iceplantbaby

We were pre-warned that the Tea Smoked Pigeon (HKD178 +10% service charge) comes out medium-rare.  Happy Paradise are not kidding and it comes out closer to rare.  I am ok with this though and I thoroughly enjoy every meaty, just cooked bite of this sky rat, with the follow through of the smokey tea.  I also like that Happy Paradise serve the whole bird up, its head attached traditional Chinese style and its scrawny limbs all askew.  Perhaps don’t order this if you have squeamish homies.  Or maybe a better alternative, find yourself better homies.

tracy-wanttobemyfriend

The Yellow Wine Chicken (HKD328 +10% service charge) is the most expensive dish of the night.   It’s a fuck yeah, the slow cooked chicken served with a broth made from glutinous rice wine, Shaoxing, and mushrooms, topped with chrysanthemum petals and crispy puffed black and Japanese rice.  A chicken claw is perched just on the edge of the bowl, like it’s trying to make some bold but ultimately futile escape from its Shaoxing infused fuck yeah fate.

To close it out, we finish with the Char Siu Rice (HKD158 + 10% service charge).  It’s inevitable that everyone will compare this to their local char siu joint and how their local haunt is soooo much cheaper.  Happy Paradise’s char siu is leaner than what you’d traditionally find at your local BBQ shop and served on top of a deconstructed egg, the yolk forming the sauce and a egg white patty.  There’s a side plate of the locally produced, sweet Kowloon Soy Company soy sauce and an earthen pot shaped like a pig, which holds liquid lard for you to mix into your rice.  In combination with the rice, soy, egg and lard, it’s obvious that this magical equation is gonna come out at as a celestial FUCK YEAH. Live lard, play hard because for the sake of my heart’s health, I’m glad that lard isn’t served this way with everything I eat but for the sake of my heart’s happiness, I sure wish it was.

naomicrying

I reflect upon this meal as the pulsating synth of Madonna’s 80s pop-new wave classic “Into the Groove” shimmies across the Happy Paradise landscape, it’s here I realise that for me, I’m into a place like Happy Paradise.  Why?  Because it’s a place which acknowledges where it comes from in both a time and place while dragging it unabashedly into a decade that’s sitting closer to 2020.  I think of how fucking bold it is to put yourself in whatever form that may be out there and not give a fuck what other people might think and in the candy tinged lighting and formica tabletops, Madonna closes out our night by singing about only feeling this free when she’s dancing.  In some sort of dramatic as fuck corollary, I can’t help but think that perhaps when you’re running your own kitchen and doing something that runs right down the vein of what you are as a chef, this must be your own version of throwing your head back and unapologetically dancing free.  And I’m so fucking into that.

Verdict:
I’m not convinced this is gonna be a hit for everyone but for someone who wants to see what a stylistic, new interpretation of HK food could be without resorting to smothering shu mai in truffles and gold flakes, it’s a resounding fuck yeah.

Where:
Pici
GF, No. 16 St. Francis Yard
Wanchai, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2755 5523 (but no reservations so I dunno why you want the number)

Price:
HKD200 per person, including one drink.  No service charge, so don’t be a stingy asshole and leave a tip on top of that, ok?

The deal:
The Pirata Group, owned by Manuel Palacio and Christian Talpo, are behind the pasta bar, Pici.  Pici is their fourth HK restaurant as they continue their march to HK restaurant domination.  At least they’re going about it in a far more dignified manner than their Black Sheep Restaurant compatriots and thinking up their own new shit rather than just jetting around the world and nicking licensing concepts from places that they wanna flog.  OK I’m joking my Black Sheep Restaurant fanboys before you rabidly start shouting “HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THE ORIGINAL CONCEPTS LIKE BELON!!! LE GARÇON SAIGON!!! BUENOS AIRES POLO CLUB!!!” at me. I’ve always been a Pirata fan, handing out fuck yeahs to both The Optimist and Pirata and I frequently trot them out as recommendations when homies ask me where to eat in Wan Chai, cause what’s not to love about fuck yeah casual restaurants which still bring the good vibes, generally attentive service and fuck yeah food with strong, well executed cocktails on the side.  Pici is situated in the cute but often disappointing Star Street Precinct in Wan Chai.  I mean, I always feel that there should be lots of cool shit happening in Star Street but how often do you actually get your ass down there?  I guess every time I need to buy posh as fuck candles that smell like spruce for rich, stylish friends who already have everything or that rare occasion when I can think of nothing better than throwing my cash at a HKD2,400+ canvas bag which is tucked in next to a succulent and a Japanese analogue alarm clock for HKD1,850.

Pici is named after a thick, hand-rolled pasta, which originates from the province of Siena in Tuscany, Italy. So it’s no fucking surprise that its specialty is pasta and they only serve freshly rolled hand rolled pasta made daily. I’m fucking into this idea – do one thing, do it well and don’t have a menu which is the length of a queue of people lining up for free Tempo tissues in Causeway Bay.  I arrange to meet Ms This is Bullshit (refer to this review of 27 Kebab House to check the vintage source of that nickname) at a very leisurely 2:30pm on a Friday and assume that we’re gonna be fine for a seat, because Pici is running that NO RESERVATIONS game.  BZZZZZZT INCORRECT, even at this late hour on an alleged work day, it’s a full fucking house and we still have to queue and wait.  What the hell HK, don’t any of you smug assholes have to go to fucking work??

no-guyonphone

FUCK ME, LET ME KNOW YOUR FUCK YEAH SECRETS SO I CAN MAKE MY ESCAPE FROM THE SALT MINES AND DRINK WINE ALL THE TIME AT 3PM ON A FRIDAY.

Once the Tai Tais with the Good Hair clear off and I squeeze myself into the tables to get stuck in.  My first order of business is to order an Aperol Spritz (HKD80) and in a promising sign for an Italian restaurant, it’s fucking beautiful, resplendently orange, fizzing with the hope of good HK times while an orange peel and a mega fatty green olive chills out on the side, living la dolce vita.  Sìììììììììììì motherfuckers, welcome to the good Italian life.

sophia-passion

To start, we get a serve of the parma ham and get stuck into the complimentary bread with some olive oil.  I’m into this simple shit and appreciate restaurants that still give you free bread.  I gotta say that in Singapore, no one seems to dole out the free bread anymore which makes my carb loving and free stuff loving heart sad.  I rectify this sadness by eating three bags of free bread with olive oil.  The parma ham is A1 fucking delicious but I guess it doesn’t really require a red hot kitchen to produce this, just a chef who knows where to procure the good shit.

This is all just warm up for the main namesake event, the pasta course.  I ordered the Pici Amatriciana (HKD85) – which is the restaurant’s namesake hand rolled pasta and a sauce made from cured pork cheek, tomato sauce, black pepper and cheese.  When I was ordering it though, the waiter did stop to let us know that it is quite a salty sauce, and checked whether we were ok with this.   I swing pretty salty when it comes to not only my opinions on half-assed restaurants, but also when it comes to food, so I didn’t think that this was going to be a problem.  However, give the Pici homies the truth in advertising award because their pasta sauce for this dish is, surprise surprise, really fucking salty.

It’s no doubt due to the salt-cured pork jowl and the generous amount of pecorino cheese, but given I received a warning, what was I really expecting??  Am I now one of those dumb ass customers who order dishes like tomato soup and then sends it back for tasting too much like tomatoes?  Like ummmm, cash me ousside howbow dah, food which was given a salty warning is predictably, really fucking salty.  This makes me start to think about how I should just take to pre-warning everyone and everything in my life about potential shit that could go wrong so I can always pull the Get Out of [insert relevant bad shit] Here card.  I mentally note to tell any future lovers that I’m a bit shit in bed with a tendency to dial it in because I’m a lazy fuck (literally), so I’ll never disappoint anyone ever again.

whydoyoubringmeexcuses

Turning my attention away from my future excuses and putting the salt levels aside – what is more galling is the white, greasy chunks of fat which haven’t been rendered down properly, which is strewn all through the sauce.  Pici are not shy about the sauce amount too which means that their very fucking good hand made pasta is completely overwhelmed by this salty, greasy mess and it isn’t given any space to sing its glorious, Ode to Carbs.  It wouldn’t have taken much either to make this dish right either, just dial back the salt levels a bit and take out some of the fatty chunks, give me a little bit more pasta and it would have been fuck yeah pasta times vs this so-so dish which I guess was ok enough for only HKD85.

davidoyelowoacademysoso

I cast some longing looks at the table next to me as they get involved with some fuck yeah looking carbonara pasta and in a rare show of restraint, turn down the offer of ordering dessert because I’ve decided to stop saying yes to dessert when the mains were disappointing as you rarely find the redemption you want in the pudding course.  I step out in search of liquids to parch my raging thirst and feel sad about my choice in dish because a fuck yeah hand made pasta drowning in fat and salt just seems to be so contrary to Pici’s whole concept.  That is, a restaurant with straight forward food that is perfectly simple and only uses the best quality ingredients and I assume, should be executing its shit perfectly as well.

Verdict:
These don’t happen often but I’m handing Pici a JURY’S OUT.  Everything about it was stacking up for a fuck yeah except for that overly fatty, salty pasta sauce. I’m normally super digital as to whether I’d go back to a place or not but in this instance, I feel that I probably just chose a dud dish and the other pasta dishes on the menu are probably in fuck yeah territory. Pici homies, you are fucking lucky that your actual pasta itself was up to scratch otherwise I’d be handing you a big fat, fuck no.

Where:
Burnt Ends
20 Teck Lim Road
Singapore 088391

Phone:
+65 6224 3933

Price:
It really is gonna depend on how much steak and wine you order, I’d estimate around SGD90 per person including 200g of the cheapest steak each, before booze and tip (no service charge included). And it’s SG, so of course booze ain’t gonna be cheap.

The deal:
Burnt Ends is the one restaurant in Singapore that I get asked about all the time by my HK homies re: whether they should bother going.  Before I moved to Singapore (yes for the blog only homies, it’s true – I’ve left HK and it’s all about Majulah Singapura.  But why be a blog only homie?  Get onto my Fuck Yeah Insta or follow the rad as fuck Fuck Yeah Noms Facebook page or if you wanna get personal, friend the fuck out of me on my personal profile), I never made it there on my previous SG visits because I was too busy throwing myself head first through all the hawker centres ever.  Burnt Ends is definitely a restaurant that has all the indications of a restaurant that international visitors are going to be all over because it always appears on those lists.  You know, those stupid destination lists you read in the airplane magazines accompanied by a moody night time shot taken from outside the restaurant with the glow of the restaurant illuminating some beardy, tattooed chef in a leather apron with his arms crossed.  It’s also #14 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list (as sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Pana) which means from a FYN perspective it’s also highly likely to be overrated AF, overpriced and a total ball ache to get into.  For reals, when did we start giving any sort of weight from a problematic list sponsored by a WATER company, which doesn’t even require its “voters” to remain anonymous or pay for their own fucking meals??  Despite all of this, I ended up at Burnt Ends cause I still fucking love to check out hype beasts even if you’re odds on to be disappointed and destitute by the end of proceedings.

aliceinwonderlandadvice

Now I get that reservations are a pain in the ass for every restaurant because customers are total dick bags who like to no show without giving any warning which kills your ability to get dem dollars, but as a diligent booking honouring customer, I just want to be able to book my shit and not have to wait hours for a table.  Burnt Ends has this booking policy of only taking dinner bookings at early o’clock (ie. 6pm or 6:30pm) otherwise it’s walk in only.  I’m definitely too much of an old, grumpy fucker who needs instant gratification to be dealing with being told it’s going to be two hours before I can get a table, even if it means that I can wait at Potato Head Folk across the road and get involved in some fuck yeah cocktails. 

idontwannadeal

After about 90 minutes, I’m well liquored with fuck yeah cocktails and our table is ready.  It’s the outside bench which faces onto the road, which I’m cool with but I’m guessing if you’re here for a special occasion or date night, you’re going to want to be inside so you can see the Burnt Ends show.  As a restaurant that bills itself as Modern Australian barbecue, it’s all about its custom built four tonne, dual cavity ovens and three elevation grills.  I can get behind what they’re trying to do, using wood ovens and grilling techniques to bring the best out in the fresh ingredients, letting the produce dictate what the daily menu should be. With everything that may be going on from a vibe and interior perspective, nothing can distract me from the fact that prices on this menu are substantial by the time you’re looking at whole point of being at Burnt Ends (ie. the roasted meats).  Sure there’s some affordable snacks which range from SGD10 – SGD20, but by the time you’e looking at the meat section it’s SGD26 per 100g for flank, SGD50 per 100g for striploin and if you want to get into some 45 dry aged Mayura OP Rib, you’re gonna be laying down SGD490 per kg.  Or perhaps you wanna try their famous roasted leek (with hazelnut and black truffle) at a mere SGD42 (+7% GST) – FUCK ME AND PAINT ME A POOR CONSERVATIVE for not wanting to get on board with laying down SGD42 to see just how good a leek can be.

Our server is friendly and efficient, talking us through the menu factually but not giving much more colour on top of that.  When ordering our starters, it’s clear that they aren’t gonna be big and they are designed to be eaten by one to two people.  The Grissini and Taramasalata (SGD12 +7% GST) is good fuck yeah times.  Taramasalata is a Greek dip made from bread, onions, olive oil, fish roe and lemon juice.  This brings back the memories of my Aussie-Greek friends would always bust this out at parties and as a mark of respect, I’d park myself right next to that dip bowl and pay it grave reverence by bowing my head and inhaling as much of this bread dip on more bread.  But fuck, Burnt Ends’ version surely is delicious but SGD12+ for one piece of crisp flatbread with some dip on it? I’m not so fucking down with that but it does make me estimate the cost of the Taramasalata Takedowns I’ve executed at my Greek homies’ parties at around SGD180.

Next up is the Duck Hearts Peri Peri (SGD8 +7% GST) which I’m excited about cause I fucking love organs and all their chewy, interesting textures.  There’s some peri peri sauce to give some contrast to the deep, iron of the hearts, but who fucking cares when these duck hearts are bitter little fuckers which have had the life cooked out of them?  I try to move past this by having some Sobrasada (SGD14 +7% GST), but as delicious as raw cured sausage is with bread, there’s just nothing exciting at all about this dish.  The Beef, Marmalade and Pickles (SGD14 +7% GST) is absolutely fine too, some braised beef which is using the acidity of the pickles and sweet marmalade on some more bread.  I deliberate and chew on this, trying to process what is exactly so exceptional about this place which causes the hype machine to praise it as a BEST EVER or MUST VISIT in Singapore, nay, ASIA.

The Burnt Ends’ Sanger (SGD20+7% GST) is one of their famous, signature dishes which can only explain why I ordered something which sounds like the epitome of basic, boring “OMG FOOD IS SO GOOD, I’M SUCH A FOODIE, FOOD IS LIFE” fare.  For reals, pulled pork shoulder – CHECK, coleslaw – CHECK, chipotle aioli – CHECK and you know it, my eternal and undying nemesis – brioche bun – CHECK.  Wahhhhhhh, get my hair shirt out and squeeze it onto my cliche filled body cause I’m obviously a sadomasochist fucker who wants to flog myself with the cat-o-nine tails of trendy food cliches.  The hits keep coming and even though it’s SGD20 and stuffed full of trendy food tropes, it’s so fucking tiny and most def food for ants.  I get my scalpel and surgical mask out so I can dissect this to share amongst us and find it hard to focus because my eyes are starting to glaze over as I choke back another yawn.  In that one bite there’s the pulled pork which is a bit dry and soggy coleslaw, which causes the brioche to lose its structural shit because NEWSFLASH, BRIOCHE IS GOOD FOR FUCKING NOTHING.  Oh, you know where this is going, FUCK NO.  But because it’s minuscule, I guess at least its lacklustre SGD20+ fuck no sting is swift?

gotcerseieyeroll

For our steak, I opted for the Flank with Burnt Onion and Bone Marrow  (SGD26 per 100g +7% GST) cause fuck no, I can’t afford no SGD50 per 100g + 7% GST striploin shenanigans.  Like most things I ate at Burnt Ends it was cooked well and tasty enough, but there’s nothing exceptional that sticks in my memory. Maybe it’s cause I cheaped out and didn’t go for the ball breaking SGD50/100g option? But I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I expect that a SGD26/100g steak option should leave some sort of impression on me other than “I guess it wasn’t fucking terrible”?

In this sea of high priced malaise, it’s the Bone Marrow Bun (SGD12 +7% GST) which finally manages to shake a little bit of fuck yeah excitement into my Burnt Ends #asiastop50 life.  A sesame flecked bun which is wrapped in foil and baked til it’s crispy as fuck on the outside but still soft on the inside with its fuck yeah bone marrow stuffing, all melted and buttery.  I have so many fuck yeah feelings regarding this bun, that I double down and get another order of it.

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So, I get that Burnt Ends’ jam is meant to be food which show cases the ingredients but there’s the difference in doing the ingredients right and not overcomplicating things, while still showing me something new and then just doing shit in a fine but completely unremarkable manner.  Burnt Ends is in no way terrible and these hyped up restaurants are always battling against expectation but for me, if I have to lay down the big bucks, I want something that makes me pause and think about what’s going on.  Not just that each bite is costing me too much money for a complete lack of excitement, regardless of whatever fancy as fuck grill and oven contraptions you may be slinging in the kitchen.

Verdict:
Fuck no because shit ain’t worth the bucks nor the no booking palaver.  But if you’re visiting Singapore and really wanna get involved, I recommend ordering two Bone Marrow Buns and smashing a glass of red before applying the appropriate hashtags to your Instagram post and moving along.  But I will concede, there’s a few people where you’d still be so fucking excited about Burnt Ends, such as:

  1. You’ve been in a coma for the last 15 years and someone using a grill on meat in a restaurant and eating something delicious on a piece of toasted bread is the most amazing concept you’ve ever heard of
  2. You like going to restaurants which are on lists because getting to tag your shit with #asias 50best, thank the chef for looking after you and listing which arbitrary ranking number it came in at because this still counts for something in your dull, desolate existence.
  3. You’re an old fucker who’s now living DA ASIA LYFE and you need to take your hot new young thing to DATE NIGHT to show you’re still hip with the homies but you also don’t want to feel too Old Man River eating a SGD45++ serve of sea urchin on a grey, soulless slate while an immaculate waitress listlessly serves you extra bitch face as you try to get your ancient bones to deal with sitting on a concrete slab bench as ambient techno discretely throbs in the background.
  4. Someone else is fucking paying, so who gives a fuck if you’re dropping all the bucks ever on pedestrian but still delicious, overpriced bits of meat on bread.

For everyone else, there’s most def more interesting and fuck yeah eats to spend your Sing Buckas on.

Where:
BlackSalt (FB Page)
14 Fuk Sau Lane,
Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong

Price:
I’d estimate around HKD300ish per person, before booze/drinks.

Phone:
+852 3702 1237

FYN Hot Tip:  It’s not large and they have two seatings for Friday to Sunday service – so make sure you book if you wanna go and avoid fuck no disappointment.

The deal:
One of my FYN homies messaged me yonks ago about BlackSalt and they spoke with such passion that I was almost convinced they were a PRBot or even the owner, because they were running at the BlackSalt compliments as hard as a bunch of lads who’ve flown specifically to HK for Jonno’s Bucks at the HK Rugby Sevens.   However, after sustained grilling and being told they couldn’t comp my shit for a favourable, shit-hot review (jokes, I didn’t really ask), their story checked out and finally, months later, I got myself there.  In fact, SPOILER ALERT, I enjoyed it so much that this review is actually based on two separate visits.  Fuck, it’s like I’m becoming a pro-reviewer, taking my food writing shit seriously and not just sitting around making flippant quips on Facebook and neglecting my actual blog.  YES, THE AIR IS THIN UP HERE, WHEN I SIT ON MY LOFTY THRONE OF LIES:

rihannalovetheway

The Chef/Owner behind BlackSalt is Taran Chadha, who has done his tour of duty around various HK restaurants and has stepped out from the shadows of cooking for big soulless HK restaurant groups to live his own life – presenting his take on the Asian subcontinent, referencing the food of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal while throwing in some western influences.  The menu is split into three parts – Short Plates, Sides and Puddin’, with the recommendation that you show your homies some love and share food.  While making some critical decisions about what to order because everything looks A1 Delicious, I take down a Rum & Thums Up! (HKD108 +10% service charge), consisting of Kraken Black Spiced Rum and Thums Up cola with an orange twist.   FYN Fun Fact:  Thums Up is an Indian cola brand which was initially launched to fill the void when Coca-Cola evacuated the Indian market in 1977 rather than sell a 60% equity stake to an Indian company and was eventually repurchased by Coca-Cola in 1993, to give it a take-down position of its nemesis Pepsi during the Great Cola wars.  Regardless of the long and arduous Indian cola wars that form the base of my drink, I make light work of this delicious AF drink which gives me shades of nostalgia, tasting vaguely of all the poor decisions and youthful angst of my cheap Coke and Bundy Rum uni days but in a much posher and socially acceptable fuck yeah format.

jacksparrowrum

To start shit off, Black Salt give you some free tiny papadums, accompanied with stewed lightly spiced yellow lentils and a bit of yoghurt.  I appreciate the delicious crispy fuckers and I just wanna make sure that the HK restaurants out there know that I do notice the little touches like this at the beginning of a meal.  More and more in HK I feel that restaurants don’t wanna give you a little something to start your meal off and I can’t even be mad, because I know bread and all that jazz costs money and every tiny bit helps a HK restaurant survive in this crazy ass, sky high, ferocious rental market.  So yo, my BlackSalt homies please note that I gave thanks to the Gods of Complimentary, Thoughtful and Delicious Shit as I smashed away those thoughtful mini pappas.

My FYN homie that made the initial recommendation, insisted that we had to order the BS House Okra Fries (HKD68 +10% service charge).  Long slices of okra are coated in a tempura batter made from chickpeas, seasoned with black salt (GEDDIT?), mint and a shallot slaw, served with a side of chilli kewpie mayonnaise. Of course deep frying any vegetable in a batter exponentially increases its fuck yeah rating and these okra fries are no exception. I can almost hear the thunder of a thousand cliched HK bloggers punching “fried to perfection” into their Macbooks with perfectly manicured fingertips as they drink soy milk lattes at The Cupping Room after a “great sesh” at H-Kore.  But for real, these fried fuckers are crispy as fuck and the fresh mint is swiping right with the chilli kewpie mayo.  However, it’s also deceptively filling so order one between three to four homies as a little something something to start, cause you don’t wanna burn out too early in the BlackSalt game.

The Lamb Rhapsody (HKD168 +10% service charge) is also stellar.  I’m always starved for lamb in HK because it’s either just not available or I gotta plan to rob a bank or perpetrate a phone scam which preys on the elderly and stupid to finance such Eating Lamb Out in HK Japes.  BlackSalt’s take uses a combination of  roasted Aussie lamb rump korma and pulled lamb shank served with slices of paratha, crispy puffed rice, pomegranate and mint chimichurri. The serving size is not microscopic and once I’ve collected myself from not being bankrupt from eating lamb in HK, I thoroughly get into this dish from its textural combos and the rich, punch-you-in-the-face korma paired with the fresh as fuck mint chimichurri.

But it’s the Kathmandu Meatball Mo’s (HKD98 +10% service charge) which are mega.  Everyone knows that I get hot and heavy for the Nepalese dumpling, known as the momo, because MO MOMOS, NO PROBLEMS.   BlackSalt’s version consists of five large handmade dumplings,  stuffed with Australian grass fed pork,  smoked buffalo bits, garlic chives and spring onion.  The momos themselves are a FUCK YEAH, stuffed full of just fatty enough pork and seasoned with chives and onion.  But it’s the jhol achar which is fucking rad times in pure liquid form made from a puree of tomatoes, onion, chilli, garlic, coriander, turmeric and lemon juice to make it tangy and as bright as my undying love for the #carblife. BlackSalt’s menu states that their Meatball Mo’s are “swimming in a spicy wild sesame “jhol gravy”” and if this is what is in the pool, sign me up for swim school cause I’m ready to get my Michael Phelps on and power myself to multiple Olympic gold.

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In the final stretch it’s the Poulet Tikki Masala, a BlackSalt signature dish and I tried to order a full chook but got cut down by the waitress who insisted that we only needed a half portion, given that we’d already ordered so much (HKD278/Full Chicken, HKD178/Half Chicken +10% service charge). A Danish Antibiotic and Hormone free chicken which is “flash roasted, palm leaf smoked and slow cooked in a rich onion jus”, accompanied by a stack of sides including the truffle garlic flatbread, pilaf, chopped salad, and a raita remoulade.  The chicken is very good, living up to its claim that it “melts off the bone” and I can’t say I’m thrilled about the breast meat but that might just be cause it’s breast meat which in my mind is always dry and boring, but I know that a lot of people (ie. white folk) are into that boneless, dull breast meat shenanigan.  However, the sides are plentiful and it’s nice to get my rice on but there’s some misses.  I can’t get that excited about chopped lettuce and tomato and in more disappointing news, considering my deep and relentless love for all Indian bread, I’m just not into Black Salt’s flatbread/paratha.  The paratha reminds me of a wanker banker trying to get laid after a long night on the piss – JUST WHYYYY with the shameless peacocking of wealth with the completely unnecessary truffle and then after all’s said and done, it doesn’t matter anyway cause it’s too floppy and not up to expectation.

I’d been eyeing off dessert because it sounded fucking amazing with all of the Indian spices and flavours, opting for the Carrot Halwa Cheesecake (HKD68 +10% service charge) and the Coconut & Rum Creme Brûlée (HKD68 +10% service charge).  The flavours of the cheesecake were bang on, cardamom spiced carrots cooked in milk, which is then whipped with cream cheese before being topped with coconut sugar coated cashews, accompanied by a side scoop of Tahiti vanilla bean sherbet.  What let this dish down though was the texture of the cheesecake, being far too gummy.  Maybe they were going for something in between a cheesecake and a kulfi (a traditional, dense Indian ice cream), but whatever it was, I abandoned eating this half way because it doesn’t matter how delicious your flavours are if it feels like you’re fighting against the texture of eating PVC glue, even if it’s punctuated by crunchy, sweet cashews.  The Coconut & Rum Creme Brûlée also suffered from the same fate of delicious as fuck Indian flavours with crappy execution.  This dish incorporates  fresh young coconut, turmeric, medjool dates and pistachio, but the caramelised sugar crust wasn’t caramelised enough resulting in it being a bit grainy, the pieces of the young coconut were still quite large and didn’t make sense in the custard and texturally, I just couldn’t get behind this.  I was bummed out by this in quite a major way cause it was like BlackSalt almost managed to pull off a fuck yeah dessert triumph by showcasing those Indian flavours but then couldn’t hold it together at the final hurdle.

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Despite the execution issues on dessert, BlackSalt is doing something which is different in this increasingly bland and homogenous HK dining landscape.  Chef Taran Chadha is creating dishes which come from an honest place, based on flavours and places which clearly mean something to him and for the most part, is pulling that shit off.  BlackSalt is low on pretentiousness so  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a fuck yeah low key place for casual, intimate dinners where you can expect food which should feel different to the standard dinner tat, decent fuck yeah attentive service and a chef who clearly gives a fuck about what he does.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhhh, get into this fresh modern sub-continental influenced shizzzz!  But don’t get your paratha dreams up and maybe get dessert elsewhere, unless you’re more forgiving on clumsy pudding textures than I am.

Where:
Frantzén’s Kitchen
11 Upper Station St
Tai Ping Shan, Sheung Wan
Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2559 8508 or email info@frantzenskitchen.com.  There’s an online booking system but it might be more useful to punch yourself repeatedly in the balls so you can achieve the same levels of frustration without actually using their godawful booking system.  FRANTZEN’S KITCHEN USER INTERFACE DESIGNERS, Y U no let us see WHAT time slots are available or make suggestions as to what is free rather than making us stab randomly in the dark until a slot magically reveals itself as available???

Price:
HKD1,200ish per person before alcohol and not that much food.  We got out at HKD1,600ish per person after wine / drinks.

The deal:
Frantzén’s Kitchen bills itself as “a modern Nordic restaurant serving medium-sized dishes with Asian influences, all set in a casual and relaxed environment”, and it’s appeared as the first overseas offshoot of Björn Frantzén’s Swedish restaurant empire at the former site where Nosh used to be.  That is before Nosh, the casual brunch / lunch eatery, closed down and transformed itself into a “Let us deliver healthy low carb shit to your desk so you hate yourself a little less at work even though the very light is subsiding in your eyes” service.  Frantzén’s Kitchen’s á la carte menu has been created by Björn Frantzén and Jim Löfdahl (who is the executive chef of Frantzén’s Kitchen in Hong Kong and previously held down the same role at the two Michelin starred Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm), the restaurant created in collaboration with the property developers, Arne and Helen Lindman.  I understand that the Lindmans were behind Nosh and actually own this Sheung Wan property which means props to them because their Nordic gastronomic adventure will not be at the mercy of the cruel and unnatural HK Landlords who are eating this town alive, one over priced square foot at a time.  From the get go, Frantzen’s Kitchen is an ambitious concept, stating that it is going to fill the gap in the Hong Kong market for modern Nordic cuisine (RIP forever Nur, Y U so fucking great but so commercially unviable?), their website stating that the restaurant will represent the “best of Swedish gastronomy”.

The restaurant itself embodies this Swedish sensibility, all clean lines, dark wood and grey marble tops with heavy stoneware, gorgeous as fuck cutlery which hasn’t happened by accident and a pair of chopsticks at each setting (cause hey fuckers, we are in Asia, amirite?).  Each menu is a series of black and white line drawn doodles by the chef which sketch out the ingredients and as I’m getting acquainted with the menu, the utterly charming Jean-Benoit Isselé, Frantzén’s Kitchen’s restaurant manager and head sommelier, swoops in with his dashing as fuck moustache and infinite amounts of charisma rolling off him in every direction. He’s warm, sincere and engaging, explaining carefully the menu and making sure everything’s perfect for his guests.  I react to this gorgeous act of kindness and off the charts service the only way I know how, by eating these feelings welling up inside of me, my fat little fingers shovelling as much of Frantzen’s Kitchen’s delicious as fuck browned butter and wafer thin bread crisps into my face with a heaping side of a futile attempt to not appear too gauche.

Frantzen’s Kitchen has a compact menu split into three categories, with only a choice of four “Snacks”, nine “Dishes” (with the recommendation for each person to have three to four each) and three “Desserts”. The one thing that every single server will make very clear is that they DO NOT recommend sharing.  Of course, this throws me into a tailspin because the prices per dish are not inconsequential and everything looks fucking delicious which means I want to comprehensively smash through the menu and somehow still make rent when it’s due.

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Reluctantly putting down the browned butter covered bread wafers, we get started on our “Snacks”.  It’s clear when the “Snacks” arrive why the Frantzén’s Kitchen homies are most def NOT about sharing because this is bona fide food for ants territory.  Maybe even micro, baby ants territory.  I get started with the Poached Oyster (HKD70 + 10% service charge) – a poached oyster prepared at 63.4c, topped with frozen sea buckthorns, seaweed powder and a walnut and juniper cream. It’s interesting as fuck, a contrast of temperature with the poached, just warm oyster playing against the tart, icy frozen sea buckthorns as the metallic hint of the briny oyster and seaweed powder is thrown against the warmth of the walnut and the hint of the resinous, coniferous juniper berry. This is rounded off in a cream sauce, which ties it all back to the creaminess of the oyster which hits you at the back end.  Despite this dish kicking serious goals, I guess I’m just an oyster purist though because whenever I have a fancy as fuck oyster I just always think, why mess with something that’s already so perfect just as it is?

Despite the repeated NO SHARING warning, I judiciously extract a tiny bite of the French Toast from Sir Crunch-a-Lot, served with winter truffles, balsamico vinegar & aged cheese (HKD125 + 10% service charge).  When I say a bite, this is actually half of the entire fucking dish.  It’s a predictably delicious given the ingredients involved but truffle smothered delicious items can just feel so played out by this stage.

However, what really moves the fuck yeah needle on Frantzén’s tiny Swedish snack time is the “Swedish sushi” (HKD75 + 10% service charge), where crispy white moss is used as a shari / rice substitute and it’s topped with hay ash, fallow deer, ceps (a type of mushroom) mayonnaise and a thin slice of frozen foie gras.  It’s a dish like this which makes you feel something because it’s not like anything you’ve ever had before (unless one of you assholes is on the reg, foraging about the Arctic Circle, hunting reindeer, making cep mayonnaise and then fashioning white moss snacks in your log cabin while wearing some sort of knitted woollen hat at a jaunty angle and drinking cups of sun dried lichen tea).  It’s distinctly taking something from the ingredients of Scandinavia while referencing a Japanese dish we all know, bringing it all together by using texture, taste and ingredients you can place but presenting it in a way that makes you think about what’s going on and feels so representative of what you’d imagine this Nordic world could taste like.  It’s thought provoking and a major fuck yeah and I do my best to eat this tiny portion of “Swedish sushi” as slowly as possible so I can piece it all together in my head and then revisit it to see if everything it made me think was correct.  However, before I can comprehensively reach a point where I’m ready to say goodbye, it’s already disappeared from my life and there’s no more Swedish sushi left on my plate.  CUE THE COMMENCEMENT OF MY SAD, BEREFT AND CRISPY MOSS-LESS TIMES.

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Given the open nature of the kitchen, you get to see all of the  dishes are all prepared right in front of you with deft hands and amiable smiles. It’s time for “Dishes” and there’s a reason why these bad boys aren’t called Mains because they’re still delicately tiny as fuck.  The Roasted Hokkaido scallop in ”Nordic” dashi (HKD205 + 10% service charge) is first up and it’s four pieces of gently roasted scallops topped with spruce shoots and fingerlime caviar, which the chef then pours a “Nordic” inspired dashi over it, made from smoked, dried scallops and also infused with ginger oil and truffles. It’s an elegant and forthright fuck yeah, with every element there for a definitive purpose – the sweetness of the scallops set against the greenness of the spruce shoots, with the bright edge of the citrus from the fingerlime. The dashi and the touch of oil in it creates a fullness to the dish and in this dish’s embrace, I find love that should be eternal because it’s not like anything I’d ever had before, but like a fleeting Summer romance slipping through my fingers, this scallop filled dream is over before I know it.

The North Atlantic cod “Janssons” (HKD230 + 10% service charge) is also a stand out, a piece of sweet ass cod served in beurre blanc and preserved anchovy juice, topped with vendace roe from Kalix  and crispy caramelised onions.  Kalix roe is some rare ass fish egg, harvested from a small salmonid fish species which chills out in the Bothnian Bay archipelago of the Baltic Sea in northern Sweden and predictably, is a hard to get asshole which only spawns a couple of months a year.  Hipster Swedish salmonid fish facts aside, the beurre blanc sauce here is major and the salty, fishiness of the anchovy juice and when you bite into the Kalix roe it just brings the fuck yeah fyahhhhh and depth to this dish.

However it’s not all modern Nordic dishes which are designed to turn your whole world upside down.  There’s some very well executed dishes which are all fucking great but just not that revolutionary.  But that’s part of the ebb and flow of a meal as well, because it’s not like you necessarily want to have your conceptions about Nordic food challenged at every turn.  The Grilled chicken (HKD215 +10% service charge) is excellent, the tender ass piece of chicken poached slowly and topped with blond miso, lemon thyme, hazelnut and girolles (chanterelles) and served with a quenelle of Jerusalem artichoke puree.  But it’s the Swedish pork belly (HKD195 +10% service charge) which crystallises the realisation that I’m just well and truly done with ordering pork belly at restaurants.  I just can’t get excited about it anymore and that was when I was facing down a perfectly executed, faultless piece of roast pork with accompaniments that all belonged together such as the earthy pumpkin puree, dots of apple based ”hot- sauce”, dried kale crisps and black roasted garlic.  Which raises a more existential question for me, that is, what kind of a privileged douchebag First World Life are you living when you just can’t get a stiff for roast pork belly which is giving all it can?

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However, for every ho hum another pork belly moment, there’s also some fuck yeah moments which sound innocuously straight forward, such as the Velouté (HKD120 + 10% service charge).  Simply billed as “yellow onion, liquorice & roasted almonds”, Frantzén’s Kitchen has obviously forgotten to list the other ingredients like “voodoo magic”, because this is such a fucking knock out.  Onion puree, almond oil, almond milk, almonds and onion soup with a whisper of liquorice cream to give it a subtle herbal, aniseed edge which creates this foamy thimbleful of fuck yeah times that I wanted to have so much more of.

The Lamb tartare (HKD175 +10% service charge) sounds like it’s going to be my granny perfumed fuck no nightmare with the promises of a lavender yoghurt.  However, despite my best efforts to taste my floral, soapy nemesis there’s no real trace of it, with this dish instead betting on Middle Eastern vibes with the cumin, feta cheese and smoked eggplant. But it’s the Swedish dairy cow (HKD295 +10% service charge) which leaves a far stronger fuck yeah impression, and not only because it clocks in at a very grand price for a very measured serving of 100 day, dry aged beef, all gussied up with petals from miniature viola flowers, beurre noisette, truffle salt, thinly sliced raw mushrooms and truffle ponzu sauce on the side. The minerality of the dry aged beef pairs off with the earthy mushrooms and truffles, the ponzu sauce giving it that citrus edge and acidity to the dish which is accentuated by the flecks of salt that catch the beef. It’s a fuck yeah triumph except for the persistent nagging thought about how this HKD295+ dish could really fit onto one heaped tablespoon.

Despite feeling like I’ve had only less than ten bites of food (and maybe half a kilo of browned butter with bread wafer crisps), I’m ready to fall into dessert.  Out of the three options, I’m most excited for the Smoked ice cream (HKD105 +10% service charge), a scoop of smoked ice-cream is covered in a glossy, golden, dark brown tar syrup and topped with bitter cacao nibs and nuts.  Hot fudge is poured over and it and the ice-cream dome gives up its perfect form, buckling under the heat, which is no doubt some beautiful as fuck statement on the transience of life and more importantly, a fuck yeah end to the meal.  The hot fudge is laced with cloves and combined with the smokey ice-cream and the deep, bottom notes from the tar syrup and the bitter cacao nibs, it’s an entirely satisfying and well thought out final, dark and bitter-sweet cadence to a purposeful meal.  It’s at this point that the Frantzén’s Kitchen’s playlist aptly plays the Swedish love pop classic “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn to close out the night as she sings bitter-sweet synth filled missives about watching former lovers kissing current girlfriends from the corner and I jealously scrape out the bottom of my bowl while watching other people receive their brand new desserts, before the lights turn on, the music dies and I take myself home.  Fuck yeahhhhh, desserts which aren’t a sloppy after thought which the chef has been forced to do because customers expect a sweet ending to their meal.

So the enormous price point of Frantzén’s Kitchen has to be talked about properly.  While all the other reviews might make a cursory mention that shit ain’t cheap and wrap it up with the glib platitudes of how it’s “something to save for special occasions!“,  I think it’s a broader, emblematic issue that with each year, we are careening towards some sort of crazy, does this even make sense price point for restaurants in Hong Kong, where we just make glib statements of “I don’t mind paying for good food, because there’s so much expensive average food in Hong Kong” before we willingly open our wallets and release our monopoly HK play money like flippant, worthless angels into the foggy, pollution filled Hong Kong skies.

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HOWEVER, I’m not a Russian oligarch or an African warlord who just dips into my iron clad treasure chest to rummage around my glittering rubies and gold ingots before I pull out massive fuck off bricks of hard currency to casually fund my Friday night dinners in Hong Kong. Regardless of where shit is from or how delicately it’s prepared, I don’t think any of us common folk can deny that when you’re laying down over HKD300 for two to three bites of beef, $hit is getting fucking major now.  But we somehow justify it because we’re used to laying down HKD200+/USD25+ for some piece of shit burger at some pedestrian as fuck restaurant on Wyndham Street or a HKD700+/USD100+ whole chicken in Soho because that’s just what things cost in HK. I just don’t know anymore, IS THIS REAL LIFE? IS THIS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR?  DO WE EVEN FEEL FISCAL RELATED PAIN ANYMORE?

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However, Frantzén’s Kitchen is really one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory in HK and it’s a potent knock out punch when you think of the exemplary fuck yeah service and the very fact that this was food that actually presented new things to you and made you think about what you were actually eating and why. Also, no doubt it probably costs all the money in the world to be flying in bits of moss and fish eggs in from Sweden just so I can get my snacks on in HK.  Which is why it’s so easy to then justify “Oh sure, it wasn’t cheap but why would I want to have three average meals when I could have one stand out meal“.  Or perhaps more accurately, a series of countable, though wildly satisfying fuck yeah bites.  But as I roll down towards Hollywood Road with my senses vibrating on what is right, wrong and fair from a HK price point perspective, I can’t help but shake the feeling that perhaps in this city the reasonable amount of cash to pay for food is always an unreasonable amount.  So you might as well buckle your shit up tight and ride that unreasonable price point head first into some innovative and thought provoking fuck yeah Nordic noms which hits you in your heart and makes you pause for a moment.  Before resuming your normal program with overpriced, bland as fuck burgers on Wyndham Street once more.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhh to some of the most thoughtful and fucking delicious food I’ve had in a long time but fuck me, this has gotta be at least fuck yeah on pay day.  Ok, I’ll be real – fuck yeah after two pay days.

 

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