Soho

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?

iwantallofyounutella 

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.

Where:
Cochin Delicatessen (OH GOD HK, Y U NO WEBSITE GOOD?!)
26 Peel Street
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2561 3336

Price:
I got my fuck yeah nom$ invitation on, but estimate a common person would probably get out at HKD550-700 a head (excluding booze), depending on how you order.  I WANNA LIVE LIKE COMMON PEOPLE, I WANT TO DO WHATEVER COMMON PEOPLE DO.

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The deal:
Cochin Delicatessen is on the lower half of Peel Street, where Chicha used to be – you know, the place that used to fleece you HKD240 for three tiny ass Peruvian “inspired” tacos.  I’m a bit surprised they closed because I really thought that overpriced bullshit tiny-ass tacos and miniscule thimbleful servings of ceviche should have been a concept for the ages (lolz).  Cochin Delicatessen is part restaurant, part delicatessen and part bar and has been opened by Chef and Director Renaud Marin after busting out stints at Upper Modern Bistro and St George.

Cochin is straightforward and unpretentious in its decor – all warm tones and blue accents, with wood panelling and Mediterranean patterned tiles on the tables.  Their waiter homies are most definitely on their game too, which is impressive for a new place.  We kick our night off with a bucket of hot baguette slices.  I judge all restaurants by their bread, because fuck, if you can’t be bothered serving fuck yeah bread it’s highly likely that you can’t be bothered with the finer details of anything else.  One bite in and I’m like fuck yeahhhhh, this is most def carb life = best life times and I discuss with Sir Crunch-a-lot whether this is the work of Gregoire Michaud / Bread Elements again.  We admonish ourselves on not being so fucking presumptuous that every time we have fuck yeah bread in HK that we automatically assume that Gregoire fucker is behind it.  So we wave down the waiter to ask whether Cochin make their own bread and then he launches into this speech about how there’s this French guy in HK who does all their bread who supplies a number of restaurants and I bellow at him “IS IT GREGOIRE?!”.  Turns out it is and to make sure that I’ve truly established that the baguette is a fully righteous fuck yeah, we slammed six more buckets of it and took the leftover pieces home for breakfast the next day.  The meek might inherit the earth, but I’m telling you that the greedy fucks shall inherit all the goddamn baguette.

Living up to the delicatessen part of its name, Cochin offers a number of starters ‘From the tin’, including anchovies, caviar and pate.  We get involved with the “Pate Louis Ospital”, opting for the Espelette (180g) which comes with a serve of pickles and some baby gem lettuce halves (HKD180 + 10% service charge).  Chef Renaud lets us know that the mushroom pickle recipe is his grandmother’s which means that his family has had the honour of slamming fuck yeah pickles for at least two generations.  However, this is all just warm up for the beef tartare.  Cochin’s Beef Tartare is described as “Polemard” 150g smoked sardines, pickled avocado and melba toast (HKD210 + 10% service charge) and it’s breathtakingly beautiful as fuck.  It’s the sort of dish that arrives and there’s an awed silence at the table.  Accompanied by two barely there thin slices of bread, the beef tartare is an absolute fuck yeah triumph with a depth of flavour from the mixture of fresh beef and two-week aged beef from Polmard.  To fit in with Chef Renaud’s obsession with the sea and the land, it’s accompanied by small daubs of creamed pickled avocado, pieces of smoked sardines, baby red shiso leaves and watercress.  Every single component on that dish is adding something, rather than just being a useless decorative accent.  It’s complex and a dish of contrasts – the fresh beef vs the aged beef, the slight fragrance and bite of the shiso vs the creaminess of the avocado vs the egg in the tartare and the salty briney sardines with the whisper of smoke vs the raw beef.   More importantly, it’s me vs the tartare and I know that when I close my eyes at night, I dream of love which is patient, forgiving and always eternal and it looks exactly like Cochin’s beef tartare.

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While you’d largely classify Cochin as French, there’s clearly influences from other cuisines.  I’m always a sucker for the Italian dish, vitello tonnato and Cochin’s is accompanied by confit lemon, capers and anchovie boquerones (marinated white anchovies) (HKD170 + 10% service charge).  It’s a very decent sized serve and similar to the beef tartare, everything in this dish has a purpose and it’s delicious as fuck.  We summoned two more buckets of baguette so we could ensure that we had vitello tonnato on bread and any stray bit of the creamy tuna sauce was also mopped up into my face.  If Chef Renaud’s obsession with surf and turf ends up in fuck yeah times like this, then I hope his obsession never ceases

Under “Bigger plates to share” and also under “For one” is the Rabbit and Foie Gras Pie (HKD195 + 10% service charge).  While my pedantic self can’t fully understand why you would place “For one” dishes under a “Bigger plates to share” title, the Rabbit and Foie Gras Pie is pretty fucking rich so I think that you can easily share this between four people so you can all have a little taste.  The Rabbit and Foie Gras pie arrives innocuously enough, a dome of puff pastry about the size of a fist with two baby gem lettuce halves chilling on the side.  But inside is where the fuck yeah magic happens – stuffed with foie gras, pan fried rabbit (both pieces and mince), confit shallots, garlic, parsley, thyme and spinach. It’s a perfect balance of the rich, fatty foie gras against the stronger flavoured rabbit, with the slight acidity of the confit lemon cutting through all of it and balanced out with the parsley and thyme.  But this is something honest and pure, and as saltwater wells in my eyes, all I can think about is that this is emotional, this is true love and I’m a better, more fulfilled person for knowing this pie.

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Under ‘For two or more’ there’s the Fadi organic chicken 81 days, available in a half or whole serving (HKD475 / HKD990 + 10% service charge), accompanied by two sides of your choice.  Clearly a Fadi organic chicken gets to live a pretty pampered life and has probably flown to HK on a premium economy flight at that sort of price.  We opt for the half and this chicken is fucking incredible, perfectly roasted with flavour packed meat that belies its privileged upbringing and 100% organic feeding consisting of corn crumbles, wheat, soya, barley, oats and sunflower seeds that sounds like a fancy health bar you’d buy for HKD78.  But it’s the sauce it comes with which is a major fuck yeah, made from the chicken juices, ginger, honey, lime and lemon.  No shame that after my first taste of this sauce from the gods, I put my cutlery down to throw up some air punches before plotting how I can most politely guzzle whatever sauce is remaining after my homies are done with it.

The Zaragoza suckling pig shoulder (HKD650 + 10% service charge) also comes with two sides and writing about roast pork always puts me in this quandary because I fucking love eating well executed roast pork but it’s so fucking boring to write roast pork wank.  Crispy skin, blah blah, juicy meat, blah blah.  However, don’t let my porcine related lassitude deter you though because Cochin’s suckling pig is a serious and major FUCK YEAH.  It’s everything you could hope and dream about, and doesn’t suffer from that HK bullshit roast pork serving size where you barely get any pork even though you’re laying down cash.  This could easily be shared between four to six of your best homies.

We were lucky enough that when we went to Cochin that Patrice Marchand of the famous Marchand Brothers was serving up his cheese.  We watched him serve his cheese to other patrons and it was fucking glorious to see someone so totally into his craft that his happiness was palpable.  Given the amount we’d eaten, we went for a selection of five cheeses (HKD295 + 10% service charge) and went up to the counter to discuss and hear more about the cheeses.  Patrice Marchand asks us at this point “Are you sure you only want five cheeses?” as he starts to stack our cheese board up with more glorious fuck yeah cheese choices and at this point our only answer is:

illallowit

The cheese at Cochin is clearly a major drawcard and if any of you are seriously into your cheese, you MUST get yo asses down to Cochin ASAP.  We ended up opting to skip dessert and there’s no scant cheese servings here (Imma looking at you Epure with your delicious but tiny ass cheese serves).  In fact, at one point we’re even a little bit daunted by how much cheese we’ve been blessed with.  There’s so many special fuck yeah moments happening but the absolute cheese champion for me is the ‘Bleu de brebis ciré’, the result of allowing ewes roam the Pyrenees Mountains while eating wildflowers and fresh grass at altitude before turning their milk into a soft, moist blue cheese which punches you in the face before whispering goodnight to you and kissing you on the neck.

It’s at this point, I’m grateful for the downhill slope down Peel Street because I’ve smashed through an insane amount of fucking delicious food, Old Fashioneds and wine.  But more than anything, it is so often that a new restaurant in HK is based on the idea of what is trendy and mashes together any number of ingredients to form something that they think the punters want.  How else can I explain those HK moments when I’ve looked down at a bowl of corn chips with a side of guacamole topped with sea urchin and salmon roe and thought ‘What in the ever loving fuck in this trendy ass mess?!’. But for all of that, Cochin comes blinking out of that dark, tortured HK trendy bullshit to be a testament to one chef’s vision to show you the food he loves which takes references and inspiration from not only his own experience but also from his family, the ingredients and the countries he’s been to produce something that’s heartfelt and laid bare for all to see. This shit doesn’t happen all that often in HK, but I just can’t think of anything that makes me fucking happier than to eat food where a chef has considered every single element on every plate and in its totality means something more.

Verdict:
FUCK YEAHHHHHHH! As you can imagine, I work my way through an inordinate amount of restaurants and I fucking loved Cochin so much that I went back twice in one week.  I’m gonna put it out there my FYN homies even though we’re only halfway through 2016, Cochin is going to be one of the best fuck yeah new restaurants in 2016.  JUST GO ALREADY, OK?!

Where:
Johnny Gurkha (FB page which is actually informative with menus)
GF/45A Graham Street
Soho, Hong Kong

FYN hot tip:  While officially listed as GF/45A Graham Street, it’s actually not adjacent to 45 Graham Street (the godawful Cencalo’s) nor on the ground floor.  Next to The Globe, look for a staircase and the clearer signage for Japanese restaurant Toriyama.  Head up the stairs and turn right into Johnny Gurkha.

Phone:
+852 6293 4941

Price:
HKD150 a person before tip.  I reckon with a bigger group you’d probably look at HKD120 – 150.  But what’s HKD30 for all you big dick swinging HK ballers?  No service charge.

The deal:
I’d been given a big hitting recommendation to check out Johnny Gurkha from a bona fide FYN Nepalese homie, so of course I took that hard hitting shit to heart.  After receiving reports that they were open for business again post a “renovation”, we swung in for dinner on a Saturday night.  At 8:30pm, the restaurant is empty and dead silent, and initially there’s no background music to break up the awkward silence.  While no one else joined us for dinner, at least the kitchen seemed to be doing an ok takeaway trade with the Foodpanda dudes popping in periodically to collect orders. It’s a basic dining room and I’ll be real, the floor could be a little cleaner, but it seems positively salubrious in comparison to the Saw-like grimey apartment ambience of the super ghetto Up 9 Nepalese “restaurant” in LKF.

Johnny Gurkha only opened earlier in 2015 and in a fuck yeah indicator, all of the staff in the restaurant and the kitchen are Nepalese. The friendly owner comes over to walk us through the menu and make some thorough and well explained recommendations which forces us to reconfigure what we were initially going to order.  I am filled with immediate regret that I’ve only got one homie with me, rather than dragging along a couple more so we could more comprehensively bang our way through all the fuck yeah sounding dinner options.

We get started with some complimentary pappadums and tomato salsa and order some mango yoghurt lassis (HKD42).  They’re cute as all hell, served in handled mason jars with tin lids and a solid reuseable stripy plastic straw pierced through the top.  I fucking hate cute but functionally useless stripy paper straws that become instantly soggy upon contact with a liquid (surely this is crucial properties for a fucking straw to have) so I can get behind this sustainable choice.  Unfortunately it wasn’t quite my thing as the mango lassi needed more fresh mango and I think there was some sort of syrup in there which gave it an artificial fuck no taste.

The kutta ko achaar (pork trotters slow cooked in a tomato based gravy, HKD68) had been recommended to us with a promise that it’s quite spicy.  Given that it’s chunks of pork trotters, if you’re one of those slack jawed pussies who can’t deal with fatty meat or bones in their food, don’t order this dish and go and order a chicken breast from somewhere.  But if you’re into pork trotters that have been slow cooked until they’re a tender, gelatinous delicious as fuck combination of pork skin and meat in a fucking glorious spicy sauce, slightly reminiscent of those spicy Sichuan chilli dishes, you need to most definitely get involved.  The sauce is an epic masterpiece, deep with the flavours of pork bones and fat, tomatoes, chillies and ginger with a vinegary acidic kick at the end.  If only I’d had the foresight to order some roti so I could have captured every last bit of that magical fuck yeah sauce.  Rules to live by, always and forever – carb life = best life.

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We also ordered the Yak Cheese (HKD88) which comes from the milk of spoilt Nepalese Yaks who appear to be living a life better than my current HK life, as the menu claims that they are breathing clean air, drinking pure water and eating wildflowers. Very biblically, it’s served with dried apricots, walnuts and honey (although in reality, strawberry jam appears to have been substituted for the honey). It’s similar to a mild to medium cheddar and a good palate cleanser after the amazing kutta ko achaar but I’ll be real, I’d rather have ordered another curry dish in its place and as much as I love Nepal, it’s not exactly known for its cheese prowess.

The next dish is what we’ve all been waiting for, Nepalese dumplings which are well loved by all and available in pork, chicken or vegetable.  YASSSSSS MOMOS.  The steamed pork momos (HKD60 for 10) are fucking delicious – thin skinned and stuffed with a fragrant coriander and pork filling.  As always, I want to suck back all of the spicy acar sauce that’s served with the momos, a blended cooked sauce of ginger, onion, garlic, tomatoes, ginger and red chillis with a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten it all up.  It’s only too sad when I’ve finished all my momos cause as the saying goes, NO MOMOS, MO PROBLEMS.

We split an order of the Himalayan soup (HKD32) made from fermented greens (gundruk) and other vegetables.  I’m not sure what the green vegetable they used (normally mustard greens or spinach are used), but whatever it was its stems were  fibrous fucks which detracted from the very tasty sour and spicy soup.  Maybe this would have been better if it’d come out at the start of the meal but either way, if there’s an option on fried chicken wings marinated in herbs and coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs vs a fermented woody stemmed soup, you can probably guess which way I’m gonna swing next time I’m at Johnny Gurkha.

Our final dish was the Trucker’s Thali, a solid value proposition of only HKD78 for a mixed plate of lamb curry (option on pork, chicken or vegetable curry), rice or roti, lentil soup, two types of seasonal greens, tomato acar sauce and a papadum.  Unfortunately, we weren’t asked whether we wanted rice or roti which meant we ended up with the inferior breadless choice of rice and I was forced to console my roti-less situation with fork tender, generous chunks of fucking delicious lamb curry.  All of the components were jam packed with fuck yeah flavour – the slightly spiced potatoes which had most definitely been cooked in some sort of delicious fat (ghee? The answer to superior fuck yeah deliciousness is often clarified butter), curried green peas and a yellow lentil soup. Who knew that such value was available for only HKD78 in Soho??

Johnny Gurkha isn’t anything fancy in terms of its decor and it’s not pulling any punches in terms of the food it’s selling.  But I can most definitely get behind a straight up, family owned business making affordable and super delicious Nepalese food in a Central HK location.  I hope they’re turning over a good volume of home deliveries because it’d be too sad if Johnny Gurkha fell victim to HK rents simply because no-one fucking knew about them and the idea of the Nepalese family sitting forlornly in their empty restaurant night after night is just too fucking much for me to bear.  Don’t worry Johnny, I will do my bit to give you my patronage but largely it’s for self-serving selfish reasons because let’s face the hard hitting facts, I desperately need your tasty Nepalese eats in my life again soon.

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Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhh!  I need to get back to Johnny Gurkha to more systematically take down their menu.  As always, MO MOMOS NO PROBLEMS!

Where:
SAAM (fuck yeahhhh, fully functional website)
G/F, 51D Graham Street (just up from The Globe)
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2645 9828

Price:
The seven course tasting menu cost HKD788 (+10% service charge) with seven half glasses of wine at HKD 348 (+10% service charge), so HKD1,250 in total.

The deal:
Chef Patrick Dang summarises his background and cooking in three sentences on his website, “I was born in Hong Kong. I was raised in Australia. The globe is my inspiration.” and if you had to categorise his restaurant, I’d say it’s ‘Modern European’.  There’s been a fair bit of press around SAAM and the new ‘Back to School’ set tasting menu which is being offered in September / October and as a few FYN homies had told me that they’d really enjoyed the menu, my linen loving self decided to forgive SAAM for proclaiming shit like “We want to take away tablecloths; while maintaining styled elegance” and rounded up some homies to go and check it out.

However, SAAM do not make it easy for you to book a table at their restaurant, outlining a long list of requirements to achieve a booking on their website.  You need a minimum of four people.  You need to pay a HKD200 deposit per person via bank transfer and then whatsapp in the proof.  You can book online but despite the bank deposit requirement, you still need to hand over credit card details.  For reservations of less than four people you go through the same hoops but it’s on a ‘first come, first served’ basis (which really seems contrary to the whole fucking point of a reservation??).  On top of all of that, SAAM will only hold your table for 15 minutes, so don’t be late homies. Either way, SAAM’s reservation shit is NOT easy.  I imagine some of this comes from the fact that SAAM is relatively small, probably seating 20 – 30 people and flakey no-show fuckers (yes HK, I mean almost all of you) would really mess their economics up.

Chef Dang’s vision for his ‘Back to School’ menu is his homage to all the HK kiddies headed back to school in September and is a play on all those mass produced school lunches but of course all fancy and cheffed up.  Each course is named simply and there’s a twist with each course, with the promise of bringing some lightheartedness to the table and no doubt, meant to evoke that innocent childhood feeling inside every diner. Cue every fucking food blogger overusing the adjective  “whimsical” and potentially throwing in some carefully researched Alice in Wonderland quotes about Chef Dang’s mad creations taking you down a fantastical and wondrous culinary rabbit hole.

SAAM kick off proceedings with an Irish oyster amuse bouche (which is in no way connected to the School Day theme).  There is only one waiter for the entire restaurant which means it takes him a few rounds to serve everyone’s food but he’s also knowledgeable, friendly and succinctly explains all of the food we’re about to eat.  The first course is  ‘Nutella & Toast’, where a small pastry (the “toast”) is stuffed with “nutella” (which is in fact a truffle panna cotta), served alongside a scallop crudo and some hazelnuts. It’s interesting and tasty enough, but definitely benefits from being presented within the context of it riffing on the appearance of Nutella toast.

This gimmicky (though tiny) opening course is followed by the simply titled ‘Cereal & Yoghurt’ which was one of my favourite fuck yeah highlights from the night. A small dish of fuck yeahhhh foie gras parfait is topped with a thin layer of pineapple jelly.  SAAM have scattered savoury crunchy granola and small peppered pieces of pineapple on top, with a few small piped blobs of almond yoghurt.  I fucking loved this dish because it was full of fuck yeah contrasts – the crunch of the granola against the soft foie gras, the acidity of the pineapple cutting through the fatty foie gras.  I could have spooned this foie gras concoction onto little toasted crackers all day and into my face, even without being loaded up with a cutesy school food story.

It is at this point that I start to panic regarding whether I’m going to be swinging by McDonald’s to get some McWings afterwards as each tiny though elaborate course disappears swiftly.  The wine pairing provides a half-glass with each course and SAAM are definitely showing some precision in their pours.  It isn’t one of those scenarios when you order a matched ‘half-glass’ wine tasting menu and end up getting generous almost full glass pours and you drunkenly roll your lush ass out of the restaurant.  I enjoyed the wine tasting but I guess I’m just a fucking lush cause I wanted more wine.

The third course of ‘Sausage & Egg‘ was the most successful in terms of the surprise factor that SAAM were gunning for.  The dish arrives with a super convincing ‘sunny side up fried egg’ which has actually been constructed from coconut and the spherification of some butternut pumpkin puree (which mimics the membrane of an egg yolk).  WHOA, SURPRISE NO-EGG EGG YO!

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Our helpful waiter instructs us to mix the ‘yolk’ with the ‘egg white’, to form a dipping sauce for your ‘sausage’ made from lobster. Sure it’s a bit gimmicky but even this grumpy, cynical gloomy fucker can let a little slice of corny no-egg egg sunshine into my goth as fuck heart and enjoy the fuck yeah pumpkin, lemongrass infused coconut sauce with the lobster ‘sausage’ sprinkled with madras curry flavoured bread crumbs

Next up was the ‘Fish & Chips’ course which didn’t play too hard to trick the fuck out of you with fancy shit.  Despite it not having a M Shyamalan twist, it was one of my favourite fuck yeah courses.  A decent sized slice of poached turbot is served on a bright green bed of mushy peas.  A ‘potato crisp’ is made out of thin reconstituted potato wafer, flavoured with vinegar powder, cleverly hinting at chips splashed with vinegar.  A ball of deep fried tartar sauce is as tricky as this dish gets and it was just a well balanced, fucking delicious course.  All I wanted was MOAR TURBOT. Much tender. So wow. Many fuck yeah fish related feels.

The ‘Gluten free noodle soup’ is described as a gluten free chicken instant noodle.  That’s because the noodles are actually made from pureed chicken breasts.  Our waiter explains that it takes five hours to make these noodles, explaining that it’s super fucking tedious to remove all the tendons.  Sure, it’s clever and chock full of technique but fuck, I’m not convinced the pay off was fucking worth it.  HOWEVER, the superior abalone broth which took two days which is poured over the noodles is fucking spectacular. I’d happily skip the extruded chicken mousse noodles for a gluten filled bog-standard wheat udon noodle as a pay off to get triple the amount of dat fuck yeah broth.

Rounding the corner into the final savoury course, it’s the ‘School Roast Dinner’ which doesn’t stray too far from what anyone would perceive as a roast dinner, except it’s been poshed up to the max with a singular ‘potato fry’ and ‘umami gravy’.  The Australian Wagyu short rib is cooked sous vide and then grilled so it can get some semblance of brown onto it.  Fuck, I don’t really get behind sous vide that much and I dunno why fancy ass chefs are so obsessed with letting meat sit in a warm bath all day rather than just fucking cooking it properly in the first place?? Blah blah tender blah blah gentle cooking blah blah even temperature, fuck off I know I know, I’m just not fucking into it.

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Either way, the beef was still fucking delicious and ‘umami’ sauce was just a fancy way of describing ‘concentrated mushroom’ sauce.  I gotta be real that I would have preferred a bit more char on my beef, but due to the lameness of warm bathtime sous vide beef, I get that you have to avoid overcooking it.  I also don’t know if the reconstituted potato smashed into a singular mega-fry shape added much to the overall dish, but the sides were all a side note to the fuck yeah beef.

The dessert course is the simply named ‘PB&J’ and it’s a peanut butter parfait with a grape sorbet, served with some tiny champagne grapes and lego shaped banana pudding.  It’s nice to look at and quite the hit with our table.  I categorise this one under a solid dish which is cute enough. My less curmudgeonly homies seemed to enjoy this more.  The flavours were a fuck yeah but didn’t seem to necessarily come together cohesively enough for me.  I just wanted more from this dish to move it from an interesting concept to a solid fuck yeah dessert moment.

What I liked about SAAM was that it was trying to do something interesting and have its food tell a story.  Was every dish as successful as it had set out to be?  Fuck no.  Was my palpable fear of going through one of those modern, food for ants tasting menus fulfilled?  Not quite, but on a scale of 1 to ‘I gotta get McWings on the way home’ hunger scale, I was probably a 6.5.  Which means that if SAAM hadn’t been so tightassed with their bread (fun fact, you gotta hand over HKD9 per person if you want bread. Like, R U SRS SAAM, HKD9 is really changing the economic metrics of your restaurant, when I’m already handing over HKD1200+ per person?) I would have been fine. Were some dishes fucking about with fussy techniques, just to do something different and provide a surprise moment?  Fuck yeah.  But there was still the occasional major fuck yeah moment like the ‘Cereal & Yoghurt’ foie gras parfait or the ‘Fish & Chips’ turbot with the mashed peas.  Chef Dang is putting something different out there which is unique in Hong Kong and while some of that may result in 5 hour chicken mousse noodles which don’t really outperform your run-of-the-mill standard udon noodle, I gotta admire that it takes balls to do something like SAAM.  And I’d take that any day over all the Mexican-Korean fusion horrors which have taken over this city.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah on pay day, cause this modern creative shiz don’t come cheap.  But I’ll caveat it that SAAM isn’t going to be for everyone.  I’d only recommend getting involved if you want to try something different and you can jive with the wank-off fact that you’re sometimes eating the story as well as the food. HOWEVER, DEM CEREAL AND YOGHURT, FOIE GRAS PARFAIT FEELZ DOE.

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