When I was fighting off other tourists and rushing to snag a sun lounger to gaze at palm trees and a beautiful beach at Potato Head Bali last year, I didn’t think that a city version of the very same place would appear in Hong Kong soon after. Potato Head, a name which amused me immensely when it was brought up continuously prior to my holiday, (because I have a friend nicknamed Potato- I’m sorry mate), came highly recommended and seemed to be the place to go and sip cocktails in a sophisticated manner. But, what’s this about a city setting? No palm trees, and definitely no sand to be seen, however, the sprawling 8,000 sq ft establishment has definitely made its mark in Sai Yin Pun.
Located next to David Lai’s Fish School on one of SYP’s many charming, steep roads (a nice workout for the calf muscles if you’re in high-heels), Potato Head stretches unassumingly down the slope, but once inside, it’s a different matter.
Increasingly, restaurants are ensuring their interiors have the wow-factor and Potato Head has gone all out with their design. Award-winning Tokyo-based architect Sou Fujimoto has created an eclectic mix of traditional Indonesian features, hard modern metallic structures and hanging fronds in the bar area, which may or may not help to recreate some of the vibes you’d get if you were by the beach. It’s certainly a lovely space and the site is expansive, with three areas: Kaum- the dining concept, the Music Room- a listening space and the All-day café and bar.
In its opening weeks, my friends and I were given a wonderful talk by Indonesian gastronomy activist Ms Lisa Virgiano, who walked us through the rich food history of West Sumatra with special focus on the famous Rendang, which is central to the Padang eateries throughout Indonesia. Key learning points included finding out that rendang is in fact a process of cooking rather than a food category, the cultural significance of this dish to its people, and how it can take up to nine hours, with three key stages to create the perfect rendang. As a Malaysian-Chinese, and cross-overs seen in our cuisine (think rendang as well as satay, sambal, gulai), I was of course, quite excited to see what traditional Indonesian cuisine the spectacular kitchen would whip up.
If you’re a fan of spice, the sambals are a must try and my favourites were the Sambal Ikan Asin Bakar: Salted fish & red chili relish and the Sambal Kluwek: roasted black nut chili relish. The Sambal Ikan is a lovely combination of spicy and salty with the chewiness of the salted fish and is a great accompaniment to any rice dish. The Sambal Kluwek has a more pungent, saltier flavour profile with a hint of sweetness, which also goes well with most dishes.
After several visits to Potato Head, there were a few standout and regularly re-ordered dishes. The Rendang Daging Sapi, their signature dish of braised beef with red beans in mixed Sumatran rendang spices & coconut milk sauce served with sweet potato crisps, is rich in flavour, the meat beautifully tender after hours of cooking.
I’m a huge noodle fan and the Mie Gomak, wok-fried noodles with shredded chicken, Andaliman spices, curry leaves & coconut milk, has a complex combination of spices and a wonderful, slightly sour chilli kick, reminiscent of Assam Laksa. I particularly enjoyed the pretty Burung Dara Goreng Rica Rica: Slow cooked & fried pigeon tossed in a northern Sulawesi sambal of red chili, herbs, spring onions & fresh lime juice, which was deliciously piquant.
I loved the spicy turmeric sauce that’s served with the Sate Lidah Sapi Padang- charcoal-grilled braised ox tongue and if you’re a huge fan of Babi Guling aka roasted baby pig, be sure to savour the gorgeous crispy skin.
Dessert-wise, I’m less enthusiastic. The Burbur Kampiun- sweet potato dumpling with mung beans, coconut custard, coconut milk, sago is probably the one I enjoyed the most with its similarity to the Malaysian Bubur cha-cha. But, on another occasion we ordered Bubur Sumsum Pandan – a medley of pandan rice custard, coconut milk and palm sugar, which none of our party enjoyed. I wasn’t sure if the brownie-type chunks on top were palm sugar chunks, but it was far too sweet against a rather sour rice custard (I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be like that), which served only to confuse our taste-buds.
The main dining area of Kaum, with the wooden panels poor at absorbing sound, might be a tad too noisy for some, and my friends and I did find it quite difficult to hear each other. However, one can proceed to their music room for some laid back drinks and music.
Potato Head HK has done very well in styling itself as the hip place to hang out in Sai Yin Pun’s. With an all-day cafe, music room, bar, retail corner and restaurant, pretty much every need is catered for. The noise levels may put a few off, or maybe my friends and I are just getting old; however, it is an impressive space and Kaum’s efforts to bring traditional Indonesian to our attention are definitely to be applauded. The dishes for the most part are well executed, the bill averages around $400- 600 per person depending on greed and drinks, and while the service can be a bit haphazard, I don’t see this being a detriment at all to Potato Head’s longevity in Hong Kong.
Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5
Kaum by Potato Head, G/F, 100 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong / Tel: +852 2858 3036 / Opening times 10:00- 00:00 / http://www.ptthead.com/