Author: Sgt Noms

Where:
Bistro November
50 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089154

Phone:
+65 6347 1928

Price:
SGD78 (+17% tax) for the dinner tasting menu.

The deal:
Bistro November is a pop-up dining concept by Chef John-Paul (JP) Fiechtner which is, as the name suggests, only sticking around until November 2017 when the lease runs out.  I’m not sure what Chef JP’s plan is post this date and whether he’s going to keep living that fuck yeah Singapore good life with Bistro November resurfacing in another format / location.  Regardless of the short time frame this place is going to be open, it doesn’t feel too slapped together, with the Bistro November team keeping shit simple – using existing furniture and various pieces from thrift shops to give it that modern hipster feel.  It definitely has a Melbourne feel to it, except there isn’t some Melbourne asshole next to me telling me about how goddamn liveable Melbourne is, babbling about trams and small bars and for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever – Melbourne coffee.  Every other review will probably describe its interior as “quirky” but that word makes me want to punch myself in the face, so I’ll just go with carefully put together.  The website trots out the usual tat about using “local and seasonal ingredients sourced daily from the nearby Chinatown Wet Market” and it’s this ethos which supports a handwritten menu which changes daily.

Starting with the bread which is stated as being from “friends”, there’s a few different types and it’s served with a house-made miso butter.  The bread is largely A1 good times with some fuck yeah sourdoughs, except for the inclusion of my nemesis, fucking brioche which is predictably a bit dry and a bit crap. Maybe the 1,256th time I try brioche I’ll actually think “Wow, I much prefer this dried out piece of shit over bread” but I haven’t reached that point yet.  There’s some fuss by the waiter about their house-made miso butter which sounds like it should be exciting, with the fermented miso getting along with the creamy butter but in its execution it’s a hard lump which doesn’t spread, just disintegrating into weird, hard, fatty pieces (despite it being at room temperature).   Not sure what’s going on in the House of Home Made Miso Butter, but it appears you’re the rightful King of What’s the Fucking Point and Lord of the Crumbles. Bistro November move past their butter related failures and kick a goal though, with its Fromage de Tete (head cheese) cause there’s nothing like some jellied pig head meat terrine to eat with some fuck yeah bread to get a meal really started.

One of my fave fuck yeah dishes of the night is the barley porridge.  Fuck, I know right – who serves a porridge course unless you’re at breakfast at a health retreat, in prison or at the three bears’ house? Bistro November has fermented the barley and then mixed it with the prawn head butter (ie. the flavourful gunk inside the prawn head that all fuck yeah Asians in the know suck out of the prawn head).  It’s rich, deep in flavour and fucking delicious.  Yeah, I get into the spirit of being Goldilocks flaunting her white privilege while criminally supping on baby bear’s breakfast, because Bistro November’s porridge is, as the fairy tales go, SO FUCKING RIGHT.

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FYN side note:  Does this GIF now get FYN banned in China?

Our mega main is up next, with a golden pomfret served with beurre noisette.  There’s three of us and the waitress lets us know that it’s normally one fish between two people but with three people, it’s too awkward to split so they’ve given us two whole fish. GO FISH MY GENEROUS NOVEMBER MOTHERFUCKERS, I’m into it.  The pomfret is served whole and on the bone, so if you haven’t got homies who are a) not into fish b) can’t serve / debone a fish (ie. white homies), you are shit out of luck.  Lucky for us, we had enough fuck yeah talent at our table to get shit done and it is fucking sensational.  Fresh as fuck steamed pomfret, topped with onions, edamame and mussels, served with the browned butter in the sauce taking on an almost nutty flavour.  Our table tore through both fish in its entirety.

Less successful was the side dish of homemade soy curd and sour cucumber that was served with it.  It was one of those dishes which makes sense in theory but its execution let it down.  Like, I get that the acidity of the cucumber pickle should have played out against the fat of the beurre noisette, with the tofu bringing a textural and a slightly cooling contrast to the crisp pickle and complementing the the soft flesh of the pomfret.  However, in real life, I was more like “Why am I eating slightly grainy tofu with a piece of flaccid cucumber which isn’t sour or crunchy enough to cut through shit?”.  Cool idea Bistro homies and I know you fucking tried with that home made shiz but fuckkk, shit didn’t quite get to the end goal.  More importantly, why would you want to serve anything to detract from that magnificent fuck yeah pomfret??

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Dessert is chocolate heavy – a raw cacao based cake topped with ice-cream and dried chocolate.  I don’t necessarily get that hot and heavy for chocolate but this one was a fuck yeah because it wasn’t just a slog through a sweet, chocolatey one note mess. Well balanced with a good use of textures, the addition of shiso gave it a slightly spicy, herbal note and with a touch of salt, just brought a solid fuck yeah balance to it and a solid close to the menu.

Service at Bistro November was also tight as fuck, with our two waitresses bringing big smiles all night and attentive service.  In a Singapore blessing, they were actually walking the floor AND noticing when you needed help.

Overall, Bistro November is bringing something interesting to the table by riffing on locally sourced ingredients and mixing it with different techniques, flavours and ingredients that you might not have had before.  Which is interesting and for the most part, they land it.  Of course, with such an ambitious task to change their menu as frequently as they do, you also get the feeling that this is a space for the chefs to try some ideas they’ve had kicking around in their head and to see what lands before Bistro November reaches the end of its lease and the chefs re-emerge at their next venture.  I’d recommend Bistro November for adventurous homies who want to perhaps try something new which will hit some fuck yeahs, they’ll be a few mediocre points where the experiment hasn’t paid off but at least the service will be on point and you’ll have a fuck yeah time and the experience will show you something new about food as well.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah! But get into it ASAP homies cause in the words of Axl Rose, nothin’ lasts forever, even cold hot SG November rain bistros.

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Where:
Cure
21 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089128

Phone:
+65 6221 2189 (or email reserve@curesingapore.com)

Price:
SGD110 (+7% GST and 10% service) for the seven course tasting menu.  Add another SGD90 (+7% GST and 10% service) if you want the matching wine.

The deal:
Cure isn’t a new restaurant in Singapore, opening in 2015.  Situated on Keong Saik Road, it’s small and straightforward in muted tones of grey, bronze and emerald accents with  soft lighting and warm oak tones and tabletops to keep it from feeling too austere.  The menu changes monthly depending on what produce is available and seasonal.  Cue the promo shot of the white chef chilling in the grimey wet markets holding a fish cause ya know, LOCAL ASIAN SHIZZZZZZ.  But really, how much does this “eating seasonal” count for in a world where almost every single restaurant in the world is claiming to be changing their menu depending on the phase of the moon and whatever stupid sprout they managed to forage out of a crack in a volcanic rock that was lodged within a mound of lichen underneath the Látrabjarg cliffs in Iceland, that’s only available from the 12th April to the 23rd May every fucking year?  Regardless of my cynicism about seasonality, Cure is run by the Irish chef/owner, Andrew Walsh, and promises “top-notch plates, solid drinks and personable service that is delivered in a casual yet refined environment”, taking inspiration from both his European background as well as his time in Asia.  Predictable, his CV lists a billion stints at Michelin starred restaurants, including Sous Chef at the Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton and at Tom Aikens’ namesake restaurant in the UK.  

When it’s a restaurant in this style, I like to do the tasting menu because not only do I get to divest myself of any decision making, I get to see what is the story the chef wants to tell.  To start shit off, it’s Cure’s seeded sourdough bread, served with bacon flecked butter and pickled diced cabbage.  Predictably, the house made butter with rendered bacon fat is as fucking delicious as anyone could hope from a fat-on-fat combo.  With this bread, I feel my heart letting its guard down – that I might actually have a modern dining meal which is well thought out and meaningful.  It might seem small, but the bread course is the measure by which I judge any restaurant.  If a chef gives a fuck about his or her free bread, then it’s an indicator of someone who’s gonna give a fuck about everything else that he’s doing.  The pickled cabbage is acidic and tangy, reminding me of the pickled mustard greens that’s used in Chinese cooking and mixed with the creamy fattiness of the butter and the slight sour edge of the naturally leavened bread, it’s complete and well rounded, as my feelings swell and I wrestle with my inner demons to not ask for more bread because there’s so much more food to come.

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Sauce

There’s an assortment of “Cure Snacks” which are deftly and thoughtfully executed.  Our first course is the “Scallop / Vietnamese Dressing / Coriander / Yuzu”, a half shell perched against a pile of tiny pebbles, all elegant fuck yeah beauty with the scallop topped with coriander granita, minature violet petals and a single micro-sorrel leaf.  Most importantly, nothing has been dumped on this dish for aesthetics with every single element bringing something to this dish.  The flavour of the scallop is accentuated through pairing it with the green flavours of the coriander and the single micro-sorrel leaf and brightening it all up with the yuzu and the pop of the Vietnamese style dressing, the icy coriander tinged granita keeping everything fresh and crisp, like a spray of brisk ocean water.

Shit really gets real at the “Squid noodles / Onion Dashi / Chicken Wing”.  This is Cure’s riff on ramen, substituting the noodles with slices of raw squid which cooks slightly as the onion dashi is poured over it.  There’s an egg yolk in the soup which you stir through while adding toasted rice and crispy seaweed pieces.  This dish is fucking stunning, a complete and utter knock out, and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before but still so familiar at the same time.  It’s the dish that has it all, the different texture from the slightly chewy squid noodles which contrast against the light crispy toasted rice and seaweed, and the heavier bite and chew of the chicken wing.  But it’s the broth that steadfastly anchors this dish all together, the onion dashi broth is sweet and clear on its own, when the egg yolk is mixed with it, it takes on this creamy, richness adding  to the onion’s depth of flavour and pulling every element of this forthright dish into its centre.

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The “Foie gras brulee / Cinnamon / BBQ Sweet Corn” .  Served with a side of small jam stuffed donuts, these were potentially the only flawed component of the entire meal, as they were a little dry inside.  Not a fatal flaw though because any dryness was compensated for by spreading caramelised foie gras onto them.  Tinged with cinnamon and the sweet corn kernels, this dish was so  perfectly balanced that if this dish was an athlete, it’d be ready to take out Olympic gold on the beam.

For the closest thing to a main, it’s the “Beef Short Rib / Green Asparagus / Pomelo / Green Curry”.  I sigh with relief when they don’t fuck it up, because I’m sick of going to fine dining restaurants that get to the main course and seem to just stop giving a fuck.  Probably because the kitchen is dead exhausted from creating flavour filled, over tweezed tiny bite sized starters and just end up frying up bits of protein while seasoning it with  “that’ll fucking do” and “fuck me, cooking beef in larger portions sure gets boring”.

To close it’s a dessert consisting of chocolate textures, a smear of pandan mousse and coconut ice-cream.  Which is simple, cooling and an elegant as fuck close.  I’m into it and there’s always a complimentary miniature ice-cream sandwich is received when you are presented with the not inconsequential bill.

So, I get pretty fucking jaded when it comes to fancy restaurants and tasting menus because often they’re so ham fisted and you don’t get an idea of who the chef really is versus what the chef thinks people want to eat.  Whether it’s the chase for meaningless Michelin stars or restaurant rankings, it’s so easy for these restaurants to buy into the concept of what they want to be, rather than what makes them be.  Then you have a meal at somewhere like Cure where it’s just a chef cooking his heart out and laying his soul out on every purposefully selected ceramic plate, drawing on where he’s loved, lived and eaten.  Where every component and ingredient on this dish is there with steady purpose, unwavering and poised.  Where the sum of the ingredients is greater than each piece, without relying on over the top techniques or bombastic gimmicks.  And it’s in these quiet moments that are stripped down and bare, you can have this realisation that food is a medium that connects you to an experience.  And how fucking special is that?  It all just comes down to one chef treating his ingredients with respect, pulling them together in a way that’s honest and thought out and that’s more exciting than numbered lists, fancy photos or chefs who’ve worked with all the big names.  It just comes down to the plate and all the heart behind it and how this resonates in the depths of your being even when the food’s all gone.

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Which is everything I fucking love about food. Which is why I know I’ve felt true love, honest, shining and pure in Singapore.

Verdict:
So here is where it gets a bit fucking complicated – because when I wrote the bulk of the above review, I was all “FUCK YEAH – I will absolutely put my face on this one – that is, if you go here and have a shit time you have got my full permission to punch me in my goddamn face.  HOLY FUCKING SHIT, some of the best food I’ve had this year“.  I’ve been to Cure twice this year and it was absolutely some of the best meals that I’d eaten this year.

However, just before I finished the above review, I went back to Cure again for the third time and the wheels just came off so hard.  It was devastating, as I’d been looking forward to it all week and then it fell victim to one of the worst sins ever of a tasting menu – drawn out, sluggish timing and food that came out a bit cold.  Like WTF, can I even find it in my body to care if your dessert is delicious if it’s taken me 3.5 hours for it to get to the seventh course and all I want to do is go the fuck home because I’m fucking exhausted and so annoyed that this is taking so goddamn long?

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I raised the glacial speed timing of our food with the wait staff several times and they were nice enough about it (without actually addressing it head on or giving me any comfort that shit was gonna improve), even discounting our tasting menu price from the seven course to the five course menu.  So now I’m all conflicted because how can I give Cure the super OTT FUCK YEAH I was going to give it when the third time let me down and it would have solidly been a fuck no?  How can I tell my faithful FYN homies that if they go to Singapore they need to go to Cure to get their fuck yeah noms on when my last time was such a fuck no?  But I also get it.  Restaurants are run by humans (who are generally busting their balls to get the food out) and on some nights, shit just doesn’t go right, no matter what everyone’s best intentions are.  But when you’re laying down big money, the expectations for it to go right are high.  Is this the culinary equivalent of having two amazing dates and you start to tell your friends that this could be THE ONE and then when he finally rolls around to meet your friends, he’s 45 minutes late and his jokes don’t hit as hard as you thought they would.  So instead of your friends telling you “YASSS, now don’t fuck this one up”, they’re all “Well, I guess he’s nice and he has a good job.  I mean…if he makes YOU happy”.  I’m conflicted as fuck guys and I think the only way I can properly resolve this is to go back for a fourth time.  But considering the heart ache I felt the next morning after a meal that went down into fuck no timing territory, I don’t know if my heart can take the potential of Cure striking out at number four.  Perhaps it’s better to take those two perfect moments and press them between the pages of my fuck yeah memories and move the fuck on.

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Until further judgment, the jury’s out. But I still dream of love and those two perfect dates, when my heart swelled inside my tiny little chest and I pushed it back with fuck yeah bread and stories made of gorgeous, honest and tiny plates of fuck yeah food.

Where:
Kaum Jakarta
Jl. Dr. Kusuma Atmaja
No. 77 – 79, Menteng,
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

FYN Hot Tip:  My taxi driver got so super fucking lost trying to take me here and it doesn’t really appear to be in an obvious location.  Study up your maps before you embark, especially if you don’t have mobile data.

Phone:
+62 813-8171-5256 (fuck yeahhhhh, they take bookings!!!!)

Price:
About Rp600,000 (USD45/HKD350) after all the Indonesian ++++service but REAL TALK, this would have been much less if I hadn’t gone on my own, Nofriendo style, and eaten the equivalent of two to three people’s worth of food.  I’d estimate probably Rp300,000 – 400,000 a person.

The deal:
Kaum is run by the Potato Head Family, which I am all about because while it may have started off as a beachside club beloved by Aussies who were getting their eat, pray, Bogan on in Seminyak, Bali, they’ve turned themselves into a bit of a well thought out monster with bars and restaurants across Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta.  Kaum in Jakarta has only just opened, billed as the flagship location, following branches being established in HK (fuck yeah review here) and Bali.

When I arrived at Kaum, I asked for a table for one and I saw the front desk look at my quizically, not quite comprehending if they’d heard me correctly. “One?”, she asks me with one brow arched incredulously. Yes it’s true my Kaum homies, I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day and I assure you that it’s just me for dinner tonight.

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The inside of Kaum is pretty fucking incredible. Set inside a restored colonial house, it’s decked out in signature Kaum style, referencing the traditional craft of Indonesia’s ethnic tribes.  Clean wooden furniture, long tables for people that have friends to dine with (i.e. Not me), teal accents and an off-white concrete wall, pressed with Dayak patterns.  With the high ceilings soaring far above my head, there’s a theatrical art installation by Jompet Kuswidananto which sees the random thud and rattle of drums punctuate the space.  Amongst the dull hum of the restaurant and the echoing drum beats, I can’t help but think of Kaum HK which may be stylish as fuck but it can be a claustrophobic, cacophonous space when it’s running at full tilt. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how considered your interior design team is, there’s no way to design your way out of the restrictive sky high rents of Sai Ying Pun in Hong Kong.

My waiter homie sidles up to my table and talks me through the menu. Kaum is all about showing you the traditional dishes of different tribes in Indonesia while sourcing ingredients locally.  I know every fucking restaurant is all about local, sustainable sourcing before they litter their menu with pork from Spain, salmon from Scotland and cows from Japan, but Kaum is really walking the serious local sourcing walk.  Kaum even locally source their salt from 32 salt farmers from Amed in Karangasem, Bali. After taking my order, my waiter pauses awkwardly and gestures towards the setting opposite me, pausing to ask if anyone else is coming.  I shake my head and sit in friendless shame as she silently clears the extra table setting. “OH GOD, I AM SO TERRIBLY ALONE”, I think to myself as I plan my solo assault on Kaum’s menu (which largely resembles the HK menu).  Lucky for my wounded soul, the Sate Buntel Acar Rujak (Rp120,000 +20% tax/service charge) is there to be the panacea to my homieless isolation.  Taken from Solo, Central Java this grilled minced goat satay is just so fucking good.  A complete flavour bomb which squares up firmly in your face with the bold, goat meat, the piquant pickled rujak-style vegetables and the accompanying sauce made from torch ginger flower, red chilli and sweet soy sauce.  I’m crying from the pain in my lonely heart but I’m also trying to find room in my heart for all these immense feelings I have for this satay which want to burst forth from my chest.

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Given how many dishes I’d ordered, I’d decided to skip the rice. I know, carb life = best life but sometimes when you wanna smash five dishes on your own you’ve got to prioritise your shit. However, my delightful waiter’s eyes lit up and gently yet firmly asked “Are you sure?“. I asked her why, she went on a passionate speech about how Kaum’s rice is a type called “Mentik Susu” from Magelang in Central Java, which means milky rice, and how it was gorgeous and fragrant and in her opinion, vital to my meal. When someone talks about carbs with that much light in her eyes, I know that I’ve got no other choice but to listen, harden the fuck up and go with MOAR CARBS.  Yessss my carb pushing homie, imma coming with you and I for one agree with you that Kaum’s specifically sourced and selected nasi putih which is cooked via traditional methods (instead of the easy way with a rice cooker) is straight out major and I hope the light of fuck yeah carbs also shone bright in my own eyes. I even ate the rice just with the Sambal Ikan Asin (Rp20,000 +20% tax/service charge) from Java, made with salted grilled whitebait and red chilli relish.  YASSSS, sometimes it’s all about finding unbridled fuck yeah happiness in a pure and simple format.

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The Kerang Jahe Dan Cabai (Rp68,000++) from Bangka Island was also so fucking good. Steamed fresh clams with lemongrass, garlic, scallions and ginger. Slightly briny but accentuated with the freshness of the lemongrass and ginger, I scooped wherever spare sauce I could into my rice while giving silent thanks to my waiter homie’s insistence upon not pussying out on the extra carbs.

The Burung Puyuh Makon Goreng (Rp65,000 +20% tax/service charge) from North Sulawesi was gonna be my quailsong, my fuck you to having friends, as my solo dining status meant I wouldn’t be forced to share a tiny bird with multiple homies.  Unfortunately, the tiny quail’s body has not emerged in its best state, post frying.  It’s a shame because despite the dried out quail, its sauce is fucking gorgeous made from lemongrass, ginger, red chilli and fresh lime relish.

I am well into SE Asian desserts and as soon as I read the menu, I knew that I had to have the Kue Lumpur Bubur Ketan Hitam (Rp45,000 +20% tax/service charge) from Java in my life.  Described as a “Mud cake served with sticky black rice porridge”, it’s important to note that while “Kue Lumpur” might translate directly to “mud cake”, it’s not the mud cake that we’re used to in a Western context, i.e. stodgy and packed full of chocolate.  Kue lumpur is more like a firm custard pudding, made with coconut milk, sugar and eggs. It’s giving me some Portugese egg tart vibes but not as sweet.  It’s topped with some sort of nut, that’s kinda like a cashew but doesn’t match from a textural perspective.  I hit my waiter homie up and after checking with the kitchen, they confirm it’s a kenari nut from Maluku which I think is a far superior substitution for the commonly favoured though often gross, kue lumpur topping, the raisin. Kaum’s kue lumpur has been torched over the charcoal grill, giving it a caramelised finish and when eaten with the sticky black rice which has been sweetened and had coconut milk added to it, it’s a fucking phenomenal way to end a fuck yeah meal.

As I wait in the garden area outside Kaum, a polite waiter keeps me company while we wait for my taxi to arrive.  My waiter homie makes earnest and friendly conversation about where I’m from, my experience at Kaum in Hong Kong and what I thought of Jakarta. I tell him that I thought the food was better here than at Kaum HK, but I’m also not surprised because obviously, Indonesian food should be fucking better when you’re actually in Indonesia. He beams proudly, a piercing white smile while he profusely thanks me and wishes me a great stay in Jakarta. We say goodbyes and then a parting missive, like a gunshot ricocheting across a deserted field he asks me one last time “Are you here alone?“.

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The cock crows as I think about denying this for the third time, but instead I shake my head and get into my taxi.  As I crawl through traffic and away into the night, I press one hand against the smudgy glass of my Bluebird taxi and I gaze at the starless smog choked skies of Jakarta, pondering the crushing weight of the reality of my situation.  Yes, I am alone.  So alone.  But aren’t we all, in some way, my well meaning waiter homie?

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhhhhh!! All the fuck yeahs for a restaurant which is so invested in where it’s ingredients are from, where it’s dishes originate from and showing me more than I previous knew about Indonesian food.  I thought about this meal the whole next day, reflecting on just how fucking flavourful everything was.  So perhaps I’m really not that alone, cause my eyes are open and I’ve found the warm and comforting embrace of fuck yeah Indonoms to hold me through the night.

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:

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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.

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