|Photo courtesy of http://www.luxecityguides.com|
There are many a ‘private kitchen’ in Hong Kong, a city that is quite special for it’s abundance of unique, hideaway restaurants which are affordable yet (not always, but many a time) a real culinary experience. It’s like biting into a Cadbury cream egg – looks pretty nondescript from the outside, but when bitten into it oozes sweet,sweet goodness!
TBLS sets itself apart from the “Private Kitchen” moniker, describing itself instead as a “Kitchen Studio” – which really, is pretty spot on. I mean look at it, the kitchen dominates this space, and we 18 people at the tables are spectators (and eaters) of the art that is created.
Many private kitchens were borne from the desires of Hong Kong chefs who wanted to share their culinary vision in their own kitchen but were limited by high rents, lower budgets and stringent licensing. The newer private kitchens are becoming more innovative, more original, more intimate and more international. There is a long list of them that I have been wanting to try for some time now, Ta Pantry, Liberty Private Works, Commune Lab, Zone-D and Yin Yang to name a few.
Last week I was able to cross one off my list. Our friends, The JCs, asked if we wanted to join them for dinner the following evening at TBLS – it was last minute plan as they had in turn been given the reservation by a friend who ended up not being able to make it. Despite the fact that I had indulged in a degustation menu two days before, and would have another the day after (more on that in posts to come!), TBLS is always booked up for months in advance and it was an invitation that simply couldn’t be refused.
|The Amuse Bouche : Carrot Puree, Harissa Lamb and Toasted Almonds|
Served bistro-style in a terrine jar, this certainly amused our bouches! It was warm, the sweetness of the carrot together with the spiced lamb and the crunchy almonds awakened all the taste buds to prepare us for the (huge) meal to come.
|Round 1: A Soup and a Sandwich|
Although the theme of February’s menu was Slow Food, it might as well have been Comfort Food – the next time I’m in a crappy mood, I’ll think back on these dishes and feel better. And then I’ll feel like crap again when I realise that I only had the chance to eat them once!
This restaurant has the perfect business plan – it entices you to visit every month, because that that’s how often Chef Que Vinh Dan changes his menu.
Slow-braised short-rib slider with roquefort cheese on a homemade brioche bun
Service at TBLS is friendly and informative. MJ asked our waiter how long was the “slow” in “slow-braised” – 6 hours he said. SIX HOURS. I felt the love for this mini burger, the roquefort was surprisingly mild, which is a plus because most times I find it overpowering, and a really stinky roquefort would have destroyed the palate for the rest of the meal. The homemade brioche was sweet/salty and fluffy – two thumbs up!
Baked Potato Soup with House-Cured Bacon, Sour Cream and Chives
Having just come in from the cold, it’s silken consistency and lovingly (in-house) cured bacon was like two warm arms wrapping around me. Basically, it’s liquified American potato skins – and I love potato skins.
|Round 2: Oxtail and Chorizo Lasagne|
May I make a bold statement and say that this is probably the best lasagna that has ever passed my lips? This is the best lasagna that has ever passed my lips. The oxtail was so flavorful and abundant, and the chorizo added another layer of taste complexity.
|This one deserved a close up – just oozing with oxtail-y goodness!|
My only negative comment would be that it was a tad on the dry side and it definitely would have benefited from being just a bit more moist.
Round 3: Duo of Cod – Slow-poached black cod with bacalhau rice, mustard beurre blanc and fresh sea urchin
Up until this point, we had been drinking a 2008 Chardonnay from Frank Family Vineyards (Napa Valley), a fresh and fruity wine with “aromas of pear, apple, caramel…and hazelnut”. A very nice bottle indeed.
We switched to a red wine for the next course, although I must admit that at this point I was starting to be very full indeed, and the onset of food coma had started to dull my senses.
|Round 4: Pan-Seared Pork Loin with Roasted Apple Quinoa, Hazelnuts and Sauteed Celery Root|
The pork loin was perfectly cooked, and the incorporation of healthy quinoa was a nice touch – the sweetness of the apple and raisins balanced the pork nicely. I neglected to ask about the slow-cooking aspect of this dish, but I’ll take a stab at it and say that the pork was marinated overnight.
|Round 5: Banana Cake, Salted caramel Ice Cream, Popcorn, Candied Almonds, Smoked Cotton Candy and Coffee|
Now this was an interesting dessert! I had noticed the cotton candy machine as I walked into the restaurant – nostalgic foods always awaken a child-like excitement and craving.
I was told that the sugar is spread on a tray, then placed in a smoker, which is tucked away in the corner of TBLS’s outdoor terrace. The sugar then has a smoked taste when it is placed into the machine and woven into cotton candy.
A treasure trove of delight is hidden under this cloud of white! (I’m a poet and I don’t know it!!)
Random fact: the French call cotton candy ‘barbe à papa’, literally – father’s beard. How cute is that?
But seriously, I was of the opinion that this dessert could have done without some of it’s many elements. It was served with a shot of coffee, which I had initially hoped was a shot of Patron Café, but I was sadly mistaken. I also made the mistake of pouring the whole shot over my dessert, which completely drowned out any other flavours. Banana cake, salted caramel and almonds, you say? All I got was coffee. And the popcorn stuck between my teeth.
In retrospect, perhaps we were just meant to drink the coffee, and not pour it on our dessert…!
|Round 6: Macaroon Sandwich – Peanut butter ice cream, caramel, chocolate ganache, crushed peanuts|
The macaroon was just perfect! One side was dipped in chocolate, sprinkled with almonds then doused in caramel – wowza! I just ate that side and left the other!
It ended the meal with a comfort food association that I have only just recently grown to appreciate – happiness is: a jar of peanut butter, grabbing the largest spoon you can find, dunking it in there, then licking it off the spoon slowly.
Each of the individual elements of this meal (apart from Round 5, for me) was a symphony of flavour, texture, mouth-sensation, and mental association. What I am about to say may shock some TBLS lovers, but here goes. Even on a good day, this menu was just too much. Potato soup, sliders, lasagna, risotto, pork loin, banana bread, macaroons AND ice cream?! There was very little lightness to this meal, which is why I have titled each course ‘Round 1’ to ‘Round 6’ – my stomach stepped into a boxing ring with the food equivalent of Muhammad Ali. It lasted 6 rounds, but eventually I was out for the count.
In the final half an hour of our meal, somewhere in the restaurant, someone was whistling the chorus of “Rolling in the Deep” over and over again. I twisted and turned in my seat, looking for the tell-tale pursed lips. I found them! They belonged to the sous chef, who was busying away clearing the kitchen after service. I mentally sang along, but changed the words to “Rolling out the Door” – yes the meal was heavy, but it was yet a great food experience. Would I suffer that food coma again? Hells yeah.
The next menu theme is ‘Thai Street Food’, and I have already put my name on the waitlist – wish me luck!
31 Hollywood Road
Tel: +852 2544 3433
Six course dinner menu: $680+10%