Fuck Yeah

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.

redhotdonthaveapartner

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.

cryingbaby

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.

lotr-sam-comingwithyou

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?“.

imbymyself

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:

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:
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.

sauceplease

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.

titanicyoutried

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.

 

Where:
12,000 Francs
G/F Elgin Building
43A Elgin Street
Soho, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2529 3100 (but holy fucking shit, they have an online booking system that actually works.  IT’S THE FUTURE AND HK, MY BODY IS READY)

Price:
HKD320 per person (including service charge) before booze.

The deal:
12,000 Francs is a relatively new Elgin Street restaurant, run by Woolly Pig Concepts (the same gang behind The Beach House, Madam S’ate and the former Madam Sixty Ate in Wan Chai) and its kitchen is headed up by Conor Beach, former chef at the French Art wankfest Bibo and the Repulsive Bay, Balinese restaurant, TRi.  I visited TRi before he left and I was into his detailed as fuck take on Balinese food (but not the frosty, nonchalant service I received from their entirely disinterested Russian waitress) so was looking forward to see what direction Chef Beach was going to take at 12,000 Francs.  This was even despite receiving a press release for 12,000 Francs which declared that this was “A story of food, ambition and power“.  Like holy fucking shit, R U for real HK PR firms, someone paid you to write this??

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12,000 Francs is probably best billed as Modern European and their schtick ethos is being all about traditional and contemporary preservation methods such as pickling, salting, smoking and curing.  This is where the name of the restaurant is derived from – the 12,000 francs that Napoleon Bonaparte offered in 1795  to anyone who could devise a method of preserving food to keep his armies in food, which was claimed 15 years later by Nicolas François Appert who kept the fuck yeah noms flowing  for Napoleon’s armies by shoving food into wine bottles (like partridges and green beans) that were heated to boiling point before being sealed.  FYN Fun Fact:  Appert really got into this preservation shiz and showing off, reaching peak bragging rights when he managed to can an entire sheep.  

I’m into 12,000 Francs clean and modern aesthetic by an Aussie designer, Emma Maxwell – teal clad walls, white, grey and black mosaics, warm golden lighting from chandeliers made out of wine glasses and the occasional gold accent.  A long, high table is run down the middle and some smaller tables are placed at the back of the restaurant.  Fuck yeahhhh, restaurants which achieve a modern look without falling into the easy trap of just hollowing out a restaurant and leaving you to eat in a concrete cave in the pursuit of minimalistic, industrial modernism while saving the bucks on actually designing an interior.  12,000 Francs manages to feel intimate without jamming a billion tables in, so you’re not forced the indignity of continually bumping into strangers next to you.

Historical preservation techniques aside, 12,000 Francs is all up in doing everything from scratch and the providence of its ingredients.  The menu is divided into four sections, Picked + PottedSmoke + Salted, Vacuum + Fire and Sugar + Sweet. Bread isn’t doled out for free at 12,000 Francs (HKD40 +10% service charge) but it’s so fucking good – some of the best bread I’ve had in HK this year.  A mixture of white and whole wheat flours from Japan, with barley malt for depth, this glorious carby dark angel is righteous as fuck.  With a large open crumb, thanks to its high hydration levels you’ll want to slather the slightly nutty cultured butter all over it and get it into your face as fast as possible.  

Our next few starters were all small plates.  The Stracciatella (HKD130 +10% service charge) is a creamy fucker, served with sundried tomato, curry leaf, and chilli.  Stracciatella is the creamy, GOOD SHIT found inside mozzarella and the sundried tomato gives it a small touch of acidity and sweetness, with the curry leaf and chilli providing a tiny bit of heat to round off the creaminess of the stracciatella.  The duck rillettes (HKD130 + 10% service charge) are also major – made from confit spiced duck and a side of mostarda which offsets the fat of the duck rillettes.  However, the King of Starter Town was most def the Foie Gras Parfait.  12,000 Francs might be tight on providing bread with their foie gras parfait with only a few pieces of bread but they are not stingy with the foie.  Large and in charge, this foie gras and chicken liver parfait is fucking amazing and it’s served with some pickled jalepenos on the side, which bring the fire and the acidity to contrast against the rich and beautiful as fuck parfait, rounded off with a touch of mezcal in the parfait.  OH and then no biggie, be still my fatty boombah heart cause they top this cardiac unfriendly treat off with crispy fried duck skin.  YASSSS get that good shit onto bread, set my heart on fire with your textures and get into my life ASAP.

The only problem with the above starters is that due to my sloppy ordering choices, all of the above needed to be eaten with bread and then add in the two extra serves of malted sourdough I’d thrown in, even this rapacious carboslut was in serious BREAD TOWN by now.  Maybe I was just overwhelmed by my delicious New World wine or numerous choices on the 12,000 Francs menu but by this stage, I wish I hadn’t ordered everything ever that had to be eaten with all the bread.  I know right, call me the WAHmbulance, I’m dying here in delicious, sourdough breadtown.  FYN NOTE – NOT A FAULT OF THE RESTAURANT, RATHER MY INABILITY TO GET MY ORDERING SHIT TOGETHER:

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Ploughing into the large sharing mains, we bypassed the Fire Roasted Suckling Pig which sounded fucking amazing but also came with a 90 minute preparation warning (so FYN homies, if you’re into dat porcine good life, be organised and call that shit in).  Instead we opt for the Short Rib Pastrami (HKD450 +10% service charge) and it looked so fucking delicious when it arrives, delicately pink inside and charred on the outside, sitting alongside a clean long rib, accompanied by sauerkraut, vibrant green pea shoots and a mixture of barley and rye risotto.  I get where this dish was trying to go, the smokey spiced slightly fatty pastrami should have been playing off against the fresh pea shoots and the earthier barley grains, while the sauerkraut should have been that piquant counterpoint against the fat of the pastrami.  However, fuck noooooooooo the pastrami short rib was squarely on Struggle Street – while the flavour of it was well done, it just couldn’t save the cut of meat from being far too fucking fatty which was exacerbated by it being served at a far too cool temperature.  This results in you having to choke back a congealing, fatty piece of meat which eliminated your carefactor about every other component on the dish because no amount of well pickled sauerkraut or verdant, fresh pea shoots can save a fucking disgusting piece of cooling fat, no matter how well spiced it is.  GROSS.

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12,000 Francs recovers with the Merguez Lamb with Beef Sausage (HKD160 +10% service charge).  This reminded me a lot of the Middle Eastern influenced Modern Australian food I used to eat, with its spicy and earthy Middle Eastern vibes being kept fresh by the onions, sumac spiced yoghurt and fresh pomegranate sacs, bursting with sweetness.

Barrelling into dessert, we order both options that are available.  The first is the boldly named, Better Than Nutella (HKD98 +10% service charge), I mean duuuude for real, you’re gonna pit yourself against Nutella, with all of its childhood nostalgic memories that people harbour for this sweet, hazelnut spread?

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The alleged Better Than Nutella is a combo of warm chocolate hazelnut mousse, bread pudding and milk sorbet.  I’m not the biggest chocolate slut out there though so I’ll level with you, I don’t get that stiff for chocolate heavy desserts, but I imagine if you did, this would probably be your jam.  It’s well thought out, a mixture of temperatures with the warm mousse and the cold milk sorbet and the bread pudding and toasted hazelnut pieces give it enough texture to keep shit interesting against the mousse. But shit gets real when it comes to the KA Pastry (HKD80 +10% service charge), the coyly abbreviated Kouign Amann.  For those that don’t know what a kouign amann is it’s a Breton cake which translates to CAKE BUTTER and is traditionally a mixture of dough (40%), butter (30%) and sugar (30%), which is the sort of maths that I can get behind. The Cupping Room sells them and last year, I was so hard up for these souped up croissants on steroids with their delicious as fuck caramelised sugary crust, flaky butter stuffed pastry and the salt which pierced through the buttery fat. That was until The Cupping Room a) never had any and b) when they did, they were skinny and burnt as fuck.  However, the 12,000 Francs version of the kween is next level, adding a maple syrup gel to the kouign amann pastry, serving it with caramelised maple pecans, pumpkin and cumquat spiced puree and a cannelle of vanilla ice-cream just chillin’ on top of the kouign.  It’s an immense fuck yeah – I’m feeling Autumn, I’m feeling sweetness, I’m feeling salty, I’m feeling butter and most importantly, I’m feeling LOVE FOR THE KWEEEEEN, now, always and forever:

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So what brings the feels at 12,000 Francs is actually that every dish on their menu is considered and hasn’t been thrown on there just the please the masses.  There’s something intensely personal about what they’re trying to do, to show case the produce and ingredients that they use through certain techniques and how they’re paired off and contrasted against each other.  When you’ve been to enough new restaurants which scrawl a bit of graffiti on a wall, throw down some liver into the menu and label shit ‘nose to tail’ and then blare some generic Spotify playlist called “Williamsburg Brunch”, I gotta give props to a restaurant where every element has been thought about and still comes out at a decent price point per person.  Enough props that I can even look past that gross, cold, fatty as fuck pastrami short rib.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhh – check this shit out now if you’re in need of a small dinner or a cool date spot in Soho with a bit of vibe and won’t leave you bankrupt.  But honestly, I reckon that 12,000 Francs is really going to hit its stride in about 3-6 months.  MY 12,000 FRANCS HOMIES, MAY THE FICKLE HK RESTAURANT GODS BE KIND TO YOU, I wanna see what you guys accomplish in the long run.

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