Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Stone Nullah Tavern- a stone’s throw from reinvention

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).2013-05-08 20.18.52

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!

Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing

Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing

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.

Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

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.

Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings

Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig

Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig

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.

Crispy Pig’s Head

Crispy Pig’s Head

‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin

‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin

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.

Fat Kid Cake

Fat Kid Cake

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.

Ovaltine Ice cream

Ovaltine Ice cream

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

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Enomod- Social Dining in HK

“Social dining” is a seemingly new term that has sprung up. This concept of eating to socialise and to connect with others should not be a novel philosophy in our society, given that social dining dates back to Ancient Greek times, but now, it has had a modern face-lift of sorts. Like anything in HK, once a concept has taken hold, it becomes the island’s obsession for a while and I can see that social dining will be two words bandied about for the next year by those who want to wax lyrical about dining values, connecting with food and the like. Frankly speaking, it is not much different from having dim sum with your family or sharing plates of tapas, but I suppose actually uttering the words “social dining” is meant to have some sort of profound effect on the way we approach eating with our nearest and dearest or even strangers. Anyway, before I get carried away with the philosophy of eating, (I am having one of those deep thinking days), I will cut to the chase and give my thoughts on new Mediterranean restaurant Enomod.Enomod

Dining area

Dining area

Enomod is the amalgamation of the words Enoteca Moderna, thus reflecting this idea of ‘connection’. Enoteca Moderna represents a form of social dining that emerged in 1930s America and this establishment seeks to blend all areas of wining and dining with several different zones. Taking over the sprawling space that Entourage once inhabited, a lounge area, communal dining tables, a bar, wine corner, charcuterie and cocktail lounge now take its place.

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

The areas are well put together, with plush, comfy chairs and hints of art deco in the lounge section, plain white chairs and dining tables in the social dining zone and darker, night-scene colours and lighting for the bar. The wine barrels in the ‘wine area’ give Enomod a sweet, Italian provincial feel, yet the overall artistry of the place has very much a Great Depression vibe, especially with the copper fixtures adding that little bit of extra character.

Wine area

Wine area

Bar area

Bar area

As it was a friend’s birthday, we decided that there was no better way of celebrating with pals than embracing the social dining concept of Enomod. So it was on a Saturday night that ten of us found ourselves occupying one of the communal tables and perusing the menu of Social Dining and Canteen Selection dishes. As a glutton who hangs with gluttons, it seemed sensible to order almost 80% of the menu and get two of each dish, just to make sure we had most of the bases covered. The Social Dining menu is split into Wood, Stone, Copper and Ceramics, denoting the material of the serving dishes onto which the food is served. We started with the Mezze Platter of crackers, eggplant and hummus dip from the Ceramic selection, which was served on a wooden paddle, (minor detail but get your materials correct!). The eggplant dip was slightly piquant but subtle and the hummus light. Nothing unique, but was a pleasant appetiser.

Mezze platter

Mezze platter

We ordered a daily special- the Balsamic beef stew which was tender and well marinated, though more sauce would have been great. The balsamic reduction was a nice balance of acid and sweet and our party were quite happy with our first shared plate.

Balsamic beef stew

Balsamic beef stew

Next up, the Roasted Seabass from the Stone section made an appearance and this was excellent. The fish was succulent and I loved the light seasoning and coating of the herbs which allowed the seabass flavours to shine through.

Roasted seabass

Roasted seabass

Our Citrus scented Crispy Prawns (Ceramics) were lacking the citrus edge I was looking for and the batter was slightly too thick. They were still appetising but somehow the accompanying mayonnaise was the bit I was more interested in as I ended up with more mayo per bite of prawn.

Citrus scented crispy prawns

Citrus scented crispy prawns

The zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata (a traditional aubergine stew) was absolutely delish, not least because I have not had haloumi in yonks, apart from one night out many moons ago when a couple of us visited Beyrouth Cafe and had haloumi kebabs. The saltiness of the cheese was a delectable complement to the sour-sweetness of the caponata.

Zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata

Zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata

The highlight of the menu was the 6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust. The lamb was moist and that perfect pink in colour and I loved the textural dimension that the pistachio crust gave. The cheesy wafers were a hit too, shame there were not more!

6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust

6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust

It was following this dish that a few of the next offerings became less impressive. The Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips were tasty enough but nowhere near as tender as the balsamic beef stew. The Couscous Bouillabaisse was flavourful, the squid, fish and clams were fresh but I would have enjoyed a tad more bouillabaisse broth over the couscous. The worst dish of the night were the Blue Mussels with white wine sauce which, much to our chagrin, were not fresh. I have not had much luck with mussels of late, and it was really disappointing to find that our bowl of molluscs had gone bad. I managed two, a few friends had a couple each, and we unanimously agreed that we needed to give up on the mussels. The white wine sauce was however, quite flavoursome.

Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips

Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips

Couscous Bouillabaisse

Couscous Bouillabaisse

Blue Mussels

Blue Mussels

We tried two of their pastas- the Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest, which was nicely al dente and fairly spicy (some may find it a little too fiery to appreciate the lovely citrus tang) and the Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce which was delicious but, as with all carbonaras, became too rich to fully appreciate, especially after all the above dishes.

Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest

Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest

Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce

Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce

Spanish Tortilla is my litmus test for any restaurant that offers it, as it is simple but seems strangely difficult to master as I have not had any tortillas that have really satisfied me in HK except for the ones at Fofo by el Willy and Tapeo. I am a little hard to please in this area as my various travels in Spain have given me a high benchmark to compare to but still, a girl can hope! Sadly, while Enomod’s fancy-looking Spanish tortilla was presented lovingly (I would prefer it if they just served Spanish tortilla in one dish rather than cutting it up!), the taste just was not there.

Spanish Tortilla

Unsurprisingly, their sauteed broccoli and pancetta side-dish was a complete hit with our table. Anything with bacon gets the thumbs-up from us!

Sauteed broccoli and pancetta

Sauteed broccoli and pancetta

Desserts were where Enomod became more interesting. We tried all of them- the Absinth Spicy Tiramisu, Ricotta Cheesecake with crushed pistachio and candied orange peel and the Pumpkin Crumble Godmother-Style with Amaretto Bisquiti.

Absinth Spicy Tiramisu

Absinth Spicy Tiramisu

Ricotta cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake

The Absinth infused tiramisu definitely piqued my curiosity and we were all expecting it to pack a wallop but I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the absinthe. The Ricotta cheesecake was my favourite. The cheesecake was light and nutty and the biscuit base and orange zest made it moreish. The pumpkin crumble can only be described as a scrumptious, adult version of baby food.

Pumpkin crumble

Pumpkin crumble

Dining at Enomod was an enjoyable experience and the birthday girl had fun. While the food was decent, I could not say that anything in particular wowed me for the price (it came to $480 per person including wine) and the mussels tainted the meal somewhat. We would have said something but we too far along the meal to make a fuss. However, as far as socialising is concerned, Enomod does its job but I think it could benefit from a warmer ambience in the dining area. The stark chairs and tables did nothing to generate a cosy atmosphere, but the absinthe tiramisu certainly left a warm feeling in my stomach.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Enomod HK, 1/F, 1-5 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2555 6065, www.facebook.com/Enomod


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Ronin- Carving out its own identity

Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang’s Izakaya sequel to Yardbird, Ronin, is too cool for school. So cool in fact, that I couldn’t find it. My friend and I stood there like muppets in the pouring rain looking at the general vicinity of 8 Wo On Lane and wondering, “Where the hell is this place?!”. It was only after we spotted someone mysteriously glide through a grey door at the bottom of the stairs on the street that we edged up to it and with ears pricked, heard music wafting through. Trepidatiously, (we didn’t want to perpetuate our cluelessness), I slid open the padded door and like Alice in Wonderland, stepped into the edgy confines of Ronin. Looking like two lost girls, we stood there awkwardly for a moment as we drank in the narrow space, the pickles lining the top shelves and the welcoming sight of booze at the bar.

Ronin Ronin barRonin

I like Ronin’s front door, even though its grey hue and padded exterior made me think of a high security mental asylum. But perhaps that is the idea. To ensure we never leave, or never want to! Ronin’s urban cool, minimalistic design and the small number of seats at the bar, around 14, (the back wall is for standing room only) makes it more of a watering-hole than restaurant, a place to unwind with an Old-fashioned and snack on some spectacularly good nibbles. Speaking of drinks, their Maple Old-fashioned packs a punch. I had heard good things about this tipple and the honey-golden liquid with its boulder of ice, was a sight for sore eyes. The strong and smooth maple syrup blends lovingly with the baked apple bitters but does not mask the explosive character of the Nikka from the Barrel whiskey which, after my first gulp after a long day, hit me square between the eyes and kept me merry for the rest of the evening.

Maple Old-Fashioned

Maple Old-Fashioned

The atmosphere at Ronin is casual but lively. Service was fairly slow, and our waiter forgot our order a couple of times and mixed up our order. This was almost, but not completely overlooked by his banter and a game of ‘guess where I am from’.

Market freshness dictates the daily changes to the menu, although of course, there are regular fixtures. As stated on their menu, “sharing is caring”, so if you are an only child like me, this could be difficult especially as one of their dishes in particular is enough to induce a compulsive eating disorder. Split into three sections- Raw, Smaller and Bigger, it is recommended, though it is fairly obvious, that you start with the Raw, then progress to the Smaller nibbles and triumphantly finish your meal with a Bigger dish. We were brought tender goose neck barnacle as a taster of things to come and soon our Saba Mackerel Sashimi with Persimmon arrived. This was good. The pickle and persimmon vinegar infused mackerel was a subtle and dainty and contrasted with the crunch of the pickle.

Goose-neck barnacle

Goose-neck barnacle

Saba mackerel sashimi

Saba mackerel sashimi

From the Smaller bites, our Okinawa market chips (sweet potato, yam and bamboo) with black sugar kept our hunger in check, like munching on popcorn during trailers, as we had a bit of a wait before that compulsive eating disorder dish came along. The Smoked Silver Beltfish Tempura with black sugar mayo blew my mind. These were like a fancy and exquisite version of that Brit tea-time favourite, fish fingers, and honestly, the mayo was ridonkulously kick-ass. My friend and I were very civilised and split our serving in half, though it was tempting to wrestle the last tempura from her fingertips.

Silver beltfish tempura

Silver beltfish tempura

Market chips

Market chips

Onto the Bigger dishes and we ordered the Fried Quail with an orange rind and sansho pepper marinade which was finger-licking good though the skin was more greasy than crispy. The meat was tender and juicy and I enjoyed the citrusy tang followed by a burst of fat.

Fried Quail

Fried Quail

The second stand-out dish of the night was the Udon with smoked onion, onsen egg and dried shrimp. I could have licked the bowl clean. After gleefully smashing up the onsen egg, the smoked caramelised onion, peas and salty shrimp combination made the thick udon deliciously gunky and oh-so addictive. Halfway through and I wanted another bowl.Udon with smoked onion, onsen egg and salted shrimp

Disappointingly, there are no desserts. I suppose an alcoholic beverage could be counted as dessert, but I really craved a sweet ending to the fried and salty dishes. But it did not matter, we relaxed and nursed our drinks, patiently waiting for the ice to melt and dilute the fire in our glasses.

I love the apparent isolation of Ronin with its Aladdin’s cave feel, and the air of mystery. It makes me think that one needs a secret door knock to get in. Whilst there are some stellar, mouth-watering dishes and an impressive selection of drinks, the service was not as smooth or efficient as it could be, considering Ronin’s size. In addition, prices are not entirely wallet-friendly, with the bill coming to $815 for two, for five dishes and one Old-fashioned each. That being said, the tempura and the udon are definite draws for me, and I will be visiting again, though I may wimp out of ordering a whiskey.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, 2547 5263; roninhk.com. Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight. Closed Sun.

You can make reservations up to 7 days in advance by emailing: seats@roninhk.com


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The Allure of Azure

When I first moved to Hong Kong, Azure was my go to place for drinks. I enjoyed the views and the outdoor balcony, especially as the floor-to-ceiling windows gave party-goers a fabulous panorama of our city’s skyline. One memorable night in 2009, Rihanna’s Umbrella was blaring at full volume whilst torrential rain poured and rivulets of water cascaded down the windows. It was quite the hypnotizing sight. Therefore, it was a slight surprise to learn that Azure actually serves food and a rather sophisticated menu at that. So it was into a rather different atmosphere that I strolled up Azure’s staircase from the contemporary laid-back lounge and bar to the restaurant.

Azure Restaurant Slash Bar

Azure Restaurant Slash Bar- photo from http://www.womguide.com

Settling into our seats with the soft glow of the lights and the blue hues surrounding us, we were handed the set menu, which at $468 per person, (and sweetly named ‘Cosy Autumn’) is quite reasonable for three courses including a coffee or tea, plus petit fours.

We had a choice of starters: either the Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp, or the Beef Consummé made with slow cooked oxtail. As there were two of us, we ordered one of each so we could try. But before the meal had officially begun, we had made ourselves half full with the complimentary bread and their frankly addictive basil and tomato flavoured butter. Presentation is not the be all and end all of a dish as the taste is the proof of the pudding, but the Beetroot cured Salmon had a rather flat presentation and did not really do much to whet the appetite. The salmon had slight hints of beetroot but the sago crisp failed to hit the spot. The Beef Consummé was more successful, with pieces of flavoursome oxtail to be found in the clear broth.

Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp,

Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp,

Beef Consummé

Beef Consummé

For mains we were treated to Roasted Chicken Breast with onion puree, crispy wonton skins and Chanterelle mushrooms. This was beautifully prepared and the puree was delicious. I liked the addition of the wonton skins as they added a lovely textural contrast.

Roasted Chicken Breast

Roasted Chicken Breast

We still had a little room left for a savoury dish, and opted for the pan-fried Foie Gras with homemade brioche with a truffle and sherry soaked raisin veloute from the a la carte. Given its price ($298), I was expecting a rather more generous portion. However, despite its diminutive size, it was well executed and the foie gras was seared to perfection.

Pan fried foie gras

Pan fried foie gras

The dessert from the set menu was a Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream, baked white chocolate and mandarin sorbet. The dark chocolate was quite powerful and I could not eat it on its own, but this was balanced out against the citrus tang of the sorbet.

Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream

Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream

The trio of petit fours was a sweet end to the meal, and we enjoyed the macaroons and the mini profiteroles.

Petit fours

Petit fours

As the dinner drew to a close, the dining room was slowly being transformed into the after-hours club venue that I once frequented, and unfortunately this transformation did impact the service towards the end. That being said, Azure is a good spot to have an elegant, quiet dinner and then late night drinks if you choose to stay on.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Azure, 29 & 30/F, Hotel LKF by Rhombus, 33 Wyndham Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central. Tel: +852 3518 9330

You can also read this review on Sassy.