HK Island

Where:
11 Westside
1/F, The Hudson, 11 Davis Street
Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

FYN Hot Tip:  The entrance is not immediately apparent nor marked – so you kinda have to duck around and go up a set of stairs.

Phone:
I dunno, I couldn’t see it on their FB page and they don’t have a website.  Like, if you can’t be bothered to put it on your own fucking FB page, why should I bother looking it up?  Largely no reservations anyway.

Price:
I got out at about HKD300 (including 10% service charge), no alcohol.  I had some snacks BEFORE dinner somewhere else and I definitely could have eaten more.  I’d estimate spending around HKD400-600 on food before drinks.

The deal:
The press got all revved up in April that Chef Esdras Ochoa, a real MEXICAN who is behind being the Sonoran MEXICAN restaurant, Salazar, in Los Angeles had booked himself a one way ticket to Hong Kong to open 11 Westside, his first project in Asia which was aimed at bringing real MEXICALI food to Hong Kong in Kennedy Town. I understand that it’s the HK based, Mexican Luis Porras from the Epicurean Group who is behind this 11 Westside jaunt, who are also “famed” for their other HK Mexican restaurant, AGAVE Tequila Y Comida in Wan Chai on Lockhart Road.  I’ve also done some additional sleuthing to try and figure out whether Chef Ochoa has since bought another one way ticket out of HK, as is the standard modus operandi for these chefs who set up shit in HK before fucking right off again but I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive so it’s entirely possible the Taco King of LA is still kicking about Kennedy Town and doing his MEXICAN thing.  So I guess Chef Ochoa is still FILTH – Failed in Flown in from LA, Trying HK?

read-you-to-filth

Predictably, 11 Westside is a no reservations joint.  Currently, they only take reservations if you book out at least half of the restaurant and seeing as it seats around 120, this is going to be as 0% helpful for most people.  But seeing as these guys have got a hour plus wait to get a table anyway, I get why they’ve given the big fuck you to taking reservations and will instead direct you to a terrace area where you can chill out and get some drinks while you wait.  A lot’s been said about their decor with most people liking it.  Those fringed chandeliers and slick black surfaces sure are distracting and might trick you into thinking it’s a cool place but I just couldn’t get past this weird Mediterranean Grecian thing that they’ve got going on, with these arches and cherub mural situated behind the bar.  How does this happen?  Do you walk into discussions with your interior designer and he’s all “So what’s the story?” and you say “We’re thinking LA, Mexican, taqueria, you know, the usual shit about ~taking references from Asia and paying homage to local ingredients~, green spaces and sexy tequila nights” and your interior designer quizzically looks up from his sketch pad through a cloud of one hell of a hangover and wearily goes “Look, my geography isn’t real red hot but is Mexico in Europe?  Is it kinda like Spain but in the Mediterranean? Do you know how much I love murals with cherubs on them with some fake ass vines and shit to make it feel like you’re one step away from a vineyard? Don’t worry, I’m also gonna put some potato peelers and kitchen utensils on the wall in picture frames cause ~paying homage to local ingredients~ amirite?” before chugging back on alka-seltzer tinged with regret as he puts his shades back on to try and shield his eyes from the indignity of still being conscious when the sun’s still up.

iloveurcontinent

When we rocked up we were told to expect an hour wait, but we were lucky and got a table within 15 minutes.  I’ve heard mixed things about the staff and service at 11 Westside but I’ve got no complaints.  The front desk girls were quite lovely, even if they couldn’t seat us immediately, and our waiter was fucking excellent and completely on his shit, all night long.

It’s a concise menu, split into GSC (Gucamole Salsa Chips), Appetizers, Tacos, Entree and dessert.  There’s been much chat about the price tag on 11 Westside’s HKD150 guacamole that consists of two avocados, red onion, cilantro and chilli which is mashed up table side for you.  Let’s just rewind on that fact for a second – it’s actually HKD150 + 10% service charge for guacamole.  That’s right, USD21 for guacamole and chips.  OR if you think about what went down for us, we ordered the GSC (Guacamole Salsa Chips) with an extra serve of chips and that’s HKD180 + HKD10 (+10% service charge ) = HKD209 / USD 27 for fucking chips, guacamole and salsa!!!!!!  FUCK MEEEE, I know HK rents are expensive and all but still.  I gotta draw the line somewhere and the line is drawn here, ESPECIALLY when the guacamole needed more salt and lime to bring some brightness and acidity, and the salsa was bland as fuck.  Apparently Ochoa makes his salsa that way because HK people can’t handle spicy shit (not that anyone asked).  I know some people in HK are ok with this new price point (!!) which just proves HK makes you go fucking insane.  GUISE, CUT IT THE FUCK OUT, USD27 for chips, mediocre guacamole and super average salsa just because they smash the avocados at your table is NOT OK.

cutit

The Carne Asada Fries (HKD118 + 10% service charge) are fucking great but really, how hard can it be to fuck up mixing grilled USDA prime shortrib, melting some cheese all over it and adding jalapeno, queso fresco sauce, chiptole mayo, onion and cilantro?  This is hardly complicated culinary shit to execute cause deep fried potatoes, meat and cheese is always gonna be a fuck yeah winner.  Less successful is the Stingray Flautus (HKD78 + 10% service charge) which is a rolled up tortilla that allegedly contains stingray but honestly it could have been any sort of mystery meat.  It was fine to eat, in the way that you eat a deep fried spring roll and it doesn’t really matter what’s inside because it’s deep fried and salty.  But after all the banging on about the inspiration behind 11 Westside, who really gives a fuck about what influences you’ve taken on to make a dish if you can’t even tell what meat is inside of it?

The 11 Westside menu lists five tacos, the Al Pastor, Pollo Asado, Carne Asada, Caulifornia Veggie and the Chef Ochoa Special.  11 Westside makes their own flour tortillas which means there’s a chorus of people going “Bitch, where my fucking corn tortillas at?” and I’ve been told because Chef Oschoa is going for a LA feel where flour tortillas are the go to.  I’m neither Mexican nor from Los Angeles so I dunno what is the truth.  I checked in with one of my friends from California and she reckoned this was bullshit, given she found corn and flour tortillas all over LA as well. 

I went for the Al Pastor and the Chef Ochoa special, which was some sort of pork belly taco (HKD50 + 10% service charge per taco).  The Al Pastor uses pineapple roasted pork with auchiote (a red-yellow spice with a mild peppery flavour), topped with that infamou$ guacamole, salsa molcajete and fresh pineapple. It’s got a good fresh balance going on with the slight char of the roasted pork and the fresh, clean flavours of the pineapple.  I judiciously ensure I eat every last bit of guacamole because I’m not one to leave money on the table.  I’m also super into the flour tortillas, flaky and grilled so they’re a bit crisp on the outside but still soft when you bite through.

However, the pork belly taco is a major fucking flop.  The skin and fat is just chilling out in there as greasy, chewy lumps.  There might have been other things happening in it which I’ve completely forgotten about because all I can remember is hitting a bit of flaccid rind and chewing on that, as my back molars were getting all gummed up and for HKD50+ for a few bites, I am not here for that. 

11 Westside tacos are most definitely tacos for ants and at HKD50+, shit is gonna get expensive real quick if you intend to find satiety on these tiny-ass bites.  In a FYN exclusive, I have secured some honest to God real life footage of the 11 Westside kitchen making HKD50+ tacos:

tinytacos

There’s only two main dishes on the menu and we went with the USDA Hanger Prime Steak (HKD268 +10% service charge). It’s served with more salsa, grilled vegetables and a stack of grilled flour tortillas on the side.  It’s all, straight down the line fine.  Sure, the steak is delicious enough but after eating various variations of all of these components in other dishes, I just can’t get too fucking excited about rolling some meat in a flour tortilla and thinking it’s that different to the tacos I’ve already eaten in flour tortillas with the same salsa, or the salsa that was already with the chips and the beef that was already on the carne asada fries.  Ultimately, this dish just felt like a derivative of everything else I’d already eaten that evening.

So the food at 11 Westside isn’t a terrible car crash – as in, it’s all very edible except for a few low points like that gross AF pork belly taco.  But more importantly, there’s nothing about this restaurant that makes it memorable or food which will show you something new or interesting (unless seeing an avocado getting mashed up by your table is really that revolutionary for you).  For all the horn blowing about bringing REAL MEXICAN to Hong Kong with the REAL MEXICAN chef, I just don’t know how anyone would get it stiff for this place.  From the no reservations policy and the waiting period, the weird Grecian style interiors and then fuck, the sky high price points for guacamole and minuscule tacos.  But then you read other HK reviews which are like:

11westside

And all I gotta say is, oh HK food writers, Y U so easily impressed??

mj-laughing_zpsgflv6hws

Verdict:
HK, if something like this is enough to qualify as one of the hottest openings of 2017, you really gotta check yourself before you really wreck yourself. A snoozey, lack lustre fuck no.

Where:
Meats (HOLY SHIT, a functioning website in HK – my, how you’ve grown up since I’ve left)
GF, No. 28 – 30 Staunton Street
Soho, Central
Hong Kong

FYN Hot Tip:  It’s where that piece of pedestrian trash Jaspa’s used to be.

Phone:
+852 2711 1812 or info@piratameats.hk, but lolz doesn’t matter cause fuck noooo, NO RESERVATIONS (but I get it, patrons are so fucking unreliable we’re no longer allowed the privilege of a guaranteed table.  GUISE WE BROUGHT THIS INDIGNITY UPON OURSELVES)

Price:
Chef’s menu is HKD420 for a fuck tonne of food.  Cocktails are HKD95.  No service charge, so don’t be an asshole and make sure you tip your servers (menu declares all tips go to the staff).  I’d estimate getting out at around HKD600-700ish before tip if you’re drinking.

The deal:
Meats is the fifth restaurant in the Pirata Group’s empire with the Scottish chef, Paddy McDermott at the helm.  Outside of Scotland, Paddy’s done his time in Melbourne (OMG small bars guys), Toronto and Dubai, before landing in Hong Kong.  I’m generally a big fan of the Pirata Group because I think the guys behind it, Manuel Palacio and Christian Talpo, actually give a fuck about their food and aren’t just pumping out any old shit which will bring in the HK bucks.  Which is why there’s some sort of poetic justice that they’ve set up their latest joint on the ashes of the Staunton St location which used to house Jaspa’s.  Which is probably the epitome of a HK smash and grab for cash which unfortunately works, because let’s be real, a lot of people are terrible at eating and making sensible decisions.

Meats’ ethos per their website is to present traditional and unconventional cuts of meat and show off their fuck yeah flavours by using a variety of techniques including house-smoking, rotisserie and charcoal grilling. Some are served just with raw sea salt to let shit speak for itself or they might get all fancy on yo ass, splashing about marinades made from jalapeños, Szechuan peppercorns or coffee.  I gotta be real though, even though I fucking love to eat meat, I just cannot get into the name Meats. It’s a name that sounds like it’s one badly positioned PR release away from a HK champagne brunch with topless male waiters with a tagline promising that you can get your meat while you watch your meat.  FYI HK SEXIST PR FUCK KNUCKLES, THAT IS NOT A PROMPT FOR YOU TO ACTUALLY EXECUTE THAT BRUNCH IDEA, OK?

j-law-gross

From a liquor perspective, Meats are running with a bourbon theme which I give a fuck yeah for meshing with its meat heavy concept.  I can also respect a restaurant whose cocktail list consists of three drinks only – the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Whiskey Sour.  Cause fuck yeahhhhh, those are all drinks that I can fully get behind, so much so that I had two Old Fashioneds before dinner. When it comes to the wine list, in a similar style to the other Pirata restaurants, the wine list is short but with a good range of prices so you’re not gonna be bankrupt because you dared to live out a massive dream by having a bottle of wine with your meal.  Oh yeah, don’t tell me you don’t know the exact feeling that comes over you when you’re reading a wine list and you’re all “Nah mate, I’m cool, sure I’ll pick the wine.  What do you guys prefer, red or white?”  as you have to calmly mask your rising internal panic when you realise that bottles start out at a “cheeky” HKD1,000 before service charge before galloping uncontrollably towards Brokemotherfucker Mountain. 

expensive-jeans

There’s an a la carte menu but our table went for the HKD420 Chef’s tasting menu.  The actual selection of this will change and you don’t receive any sort of formal menu which indicates what this will be but they will check whether your table has any allergies or things they don’t eat.  I took my A-team which means we left it completely up to Meats given we are a no allergy, we eat everything, hollow bellied cohort. Imma gonna tell you now – the Chef’s tasting menu consists of small plates of their dishes so you can get a taste of almost everything and while the serves themselves might not be big, there is a lot of content to cover and it ends up being generous as fuck.  DO NOT pre-game because you’re not going to need Maccas on the way home.  I’m gonna talk you through just some of the dishes we had, rather than a full blow by blow account because there were just so many fucking incredible things.

We start with some roast chicken croquettes with roasted garlic mayo, which are perfect appetisers to get things started and they reminded me of the fuck yeah croquettes you get at Pirata’s other restaurant, The Optimist. But then we’re barelling into a beef tartare which gets its seasoning from cured duck egg yolk and has pickled mustard seeds which cut through the rich beef and egg yolk with its acidity and slight heat.  No bullshit toasted brioche or pitiful dried out bread cracker to eat it on, instead Meats is serving this good shit on a crisped up beef tendon.  No gluten, no brioche, just crispy tendon tartare times = NO WORRIES MATE.

To make up for this gluten free scenario, the bone marrow is served with tarragon bread crumbs and anchovy butter.  I’m so into bone marrow, which means I always order it. Unfortunately, 80% of the time it ends in disappointment because it hasn’t been cooked enough so it’s a congealed fuck no mess or there’s barely any bone marrow in the awkwardly cut piece of bone which they’ve served to you.  No such problems here at Meats and for once, I’m not just looking at a piece of bone, desperately trying to smash a piece of bread into it as I try to extract any sort of value out of it.

So I know every western chef which moves to HK has to solemnly swear to HK Immigration as part of their visa conditions that they will “take influences from Asia” in their dishes and do a photo shoot in their chef whites, against the visceral, bloody back drop of a butcher in a wet market.  However, the two dishes that Chef McDermott has done that with aren’t too over the top in banging home the “I’m cooking in Asia bitches, check out how adaptable I am cause I’m using soy sauce”.  The beef tongue skewers are tender cubes of beef tongue cooked in oyster sauce are served with sliced fresh chilli, coriander and crispy fried garlic.  Another massive highlight are the lamb ribs – bite sized  pieces of lamb are served on the bone and are grilled with cumin, sesame and master stock.  This shit comes clean off the bone when you go eat it and if it wasn’t for the copious amounts of food coming our way, I would have hunkered down with a bowl of these and smashed way through them.

There’s some other things like Hanger Steak served with Korean BBQ Jalapaeno reslih and Smoked Bacon with miso and ketchup but they’re all footnotes next to the mighty, Iberian porchetta.  Meats take a pig, debone it, marinate the shit out of it with thyme, sage, tarragon, oregano fennel seed and white pepper which has been emulsified in extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar before rolling it into a pork roast.  The pork roast is them stuffed with a salsa made from the same green herbs used in the marinade before slow roasting it and then crisping up the skin. I know that I’ve sworn off ordering roast pork at restaurants because it’s often so fucking boring and poorly executed but this juicy as fuck, perfectly seasoned and yeah, of course this herbed up shit was fucking amazing.  Quote from Mr This is Bullshit who was three cocktails and half a bottle of wine in “I wanna regurgitate it so I can eat it again, so I can taste it again”

perfecteternalpuppy

The passionate as fuck and extremely affable, Nacho Lopez, the Meats restaurant manager checks in with us to see if we are full and of everything’s ok before serving our final dish. It’s the innocuously named Slightly Spicy Fried Rice, which uses pork and sriracha mayo, topped with a fried egg. This was my absolute everything, the fat from the pork melding with each grain of rice, with the slight spice of the sriracha, tomato and the broken egg yolk pulling it all together. It reminded me of all those Chinese banquets that always finish the meal with fried rice to signify not only the end but to add the final bookend to a meal, to ensure that you want for absolutely nothing and you’re completely replete. Which is exactly how I felt at this point in time. This is the dish that I woke up the next day and thought “It started out with a dish, how did it end up like this, it was only a dish, it was only a dish??” before I aggressively texted every food loving HK homie in my phone about how they needed it in their lives ASAP to become a better person.

the-killers-started-out-with-a-dish

I gotta say that while all of the meat based dishes were so good, the sides at Meats weren’t as good.  For example, the carrots were a bit bland and overcooked and the fries were so salty because they added chicken salt and normal salt.  But I think a lot of this is new opening kinks which should be fixed and none of them were fatal because at the end of the day, you’re not at a place called Meats to eat fucking carrots are you??

Per FYN’s tagline, we had to power through dessert now, trying all three on the menu and fuck yeah, a restaurant which doesn’t just dial in dessert which is pretty standard these days.  The Coconut Lime Pie was very good, with the super fucking delicious coconut ice-cream romping it home and the Caffe Mocha was giving me the tiramisu feels, with its coffee cremeux, espresso sponge and Patron XO.  But the real dessert winner is the Pear Tart Tatin in all of its caramelised, skillet glory, topped with bourbon caramel vanilla ice-cream. I’d tell you to leave room for it, but real talk – you’re gonna be fucking stuffed by this point so you’re just gonna need to power through and suffer later.

Now here’s the deal, I eat out so fucking much and it’s almost as if I’ve burned out my pleasure centre by snorting my way through restaurant after restaurant, city after city, as I try and find something to make me really feel anything at all.  But fuck, when it does happen, it’s that rush which pulses through your body almost instantly and I all I can think about the next day is that one moment or a dish which sticks inside my psyche like a piece of gum to your brand new sneakers.  Post my meal at Meats I got that fuck yeah rush.  The rush when I fire off text messages to all my homies that they have got to fucking try this place with a stern instruction that when they do, we need to workshop what they have to eat.  That rare occurrence where price point, food, ambience and heart felt service just works for a place. And that’s when I remember the reason why I sit through so many mediocre and overpriced meals at new restaurants because every now and again, your heart will remember it still knows how to love with the fire of a thousand Chinese factories.  Even if that love is for a few pieces of meat done fucking perfectly and an absolutely mind-blowing fuck yeah plate of rice at a completely reasonable fuck yeah price point.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhh!  HK FYN Homies, if you gotta get onboard a new restaurant train (which I know is your greatest want #causehk), get on board the Meats Train, get an Old Fashioned while you wait out the no reservations palaver and then ride it all the way into Fuck Yeah Town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

robthomassmooth

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

iceplantbaby

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

tracy-wanttobemyfriend

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

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

naomicrying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

Where:
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:

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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