There have been a few places that have popped up in recent months (think Restoration, Catalunya, Mayta), but I haven’t really been following the new restaurant scene avidly, as frankly, my wallet needs a rest and the turnover is making my head hurt a little! I mention my wallet as it seems to be somewhat of a trend for these newest establishments to be a tad pricey (something that friends and I have been discussing of late) and the food isn’t necessarily completely worth the moolah though I can commend their efforts and in most cases innovation.
One such place is Stone Nullah Tavern, a liquor bar and eatery which specialises in ‘New American’ cuisine which essentially means taking classic American dishes and adding a modern pizzazz to them. Positives first- the desserts are the winners on the menu (more on that later) and the location is great. So named after Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai, it was opened by IHM, the same group that brought as Linguini Fini and Posto Pubblico. It is in an area of Wanch that is fast-becoming an alternative hip hangout: opposite the Zenith and near the Hopewell Centre and round the corner from a little eatery that sells excellent dumplings. Eclectic collection of places, but somehow it works. The open glass-fronted entrance greets patrons and the liquor bar entices the weary. The casual dining area lies behind the bar and with the timber panelling, framed old maps and low lighting, I felt as if I was at sea on a ship, minus the watery surroundings, (and the swaying).
When friends and I visited Stone Nullah it happened to be an amber rainstorm which did add to the ‘ship at sea’ ambience and it was loud inside. Wooden panelling is not conducive to good conversation, so we found ourselves taking twice as long to complete dialogue. The menu has a layout of 7 sections of íncreasingly biological terminology: ‘vegetation, fungi and tubers’, ‘legumes, grains & pulses’, ‘crustaceans, cephalopods and bivalves’, ‘swine’, ‘bovine & fowl’, ‘pickled’ and ‘confectionary’. Whilst this is quite quaint to those who understand the terms cephalopods, bivalves (octopus, squid and shellfish respectively) and tubers (potatoes), this may be quite puzzling for others or just a tad pretentious?
Complicated names aside, the dishes we sampled that night were all quite rich and salty, which was a shame, as the menu does offer some interesting combinations.
First up, the Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing with sage, sausage and foie gras gravy, sounded irresistible and the initial few bites were enjoyable and savoury, with a hint of the foie gras coming through. One too many bites though and you will fill yourself up!
The Mac & Cheese with egg yolk and sharp cheddar, as yummy as it seems was underwhelming. The egg yolk did nothing to combat the runniness of the dish and the sharp taste of the cheese gave it an almost sour taste with none of the melted, creamy deliciousness.
The meat dishes fared better, with the scrumptious, finger-licking Chicken Wings with chili, honey, garlic and ranch disappearing as quickly as they arrived. Stone Nullah’s version of the Filipino Pork Sisig- the Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig, was crunchy , the calamansi lending it flavour with its delicate, sour edge.
The Crispy Pig’s Head with lobster salad and chili citronette was rather lovely with a textural contrast between the battered, succulent pig’s head and the salad. Too much citronette was added but our group approved of the dish overall. The ‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin which is in fact tender rare beef within the batter, was comforting and evoked noises of approval.
To end we had the desserts which were the highlights of the night. Their famed Fat Kid Cake confused us at first as it is served with a lit candle, and we thought they had mistakenly brought a birthday slice. Unfortunately, the candle kept blowing out (amber rainstorm + candle do not mix!) despite the valiant efforts of the waitress to relight it. Four cakes in one is rather dangerous and I certainly felt my stomach heave in protest against the sinful combination of red velvet, cheesecake, creme brulee and chocolate mousse.
However, the Ovaltine Ice Cream with bruleed banana, chocolate cremoso, peanut butter fudge and cereal crunch was a piece of artwork and textures played an important part in keeping our palates amused. The ice-cream was divine, the bruleed banana perfectly done and the fudge added a sweeter note to the dessert.
Service and puddings are the two aspects that Stone Nullah should be proud of, but overall, at nearly $400 per person for 6 dishes (of not overly huge proportions), between four people, it seems a little steep. The menu, dominated by fried, rich dishes, will induce thirst, so make sure you have a glass of water handy.
Chopstixfix rating: 3/5
Stone Nullah Tavern, G/F, 69 Stone Nullah Ln, Wan Chai; 3182 0128