Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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If You Go Down To The Woods Today

And I’m back! After my Nood experience (let’s NOT relive that again), I had a few pig-out sessions and a night out on the town drinking cocktails to make up for losing several days’ worth of calories. Then I upped and left for London for a couple weeks, hence, you have been subjected to my juice cleanse post for a while- sorry!

I don’t think I have ever done a full-scale post on drinking, mostly because I have the dreaded Asian flush which strikes after 1 drink and therefore have a pathetic tolerance towards alcohol, but I make an exception for this post on The Woods. This relatively new bar in Central can be found off Hollywood Road, down a dainty, invitingly lit flight of steps. One sleek sliding door later, and into The Woods you step- all decked out in wood and marble. The whole interior is quite striking and one certainly gets the impression of nature and foliage. I have been back a few times now, and whenever I visit, I always feel like I’m holed up in a sophisticated, yet comforting wooden barn.

A peep through the woods

A peep through the woods

The bar display

The bar display

The Woods opened back in July and is the brainchild of the three Chow sisters, but the youngest, Victoria, is the lovely lady responsible for the food and drink. The cocktail bar is split into two distinct areas- the lounge and the Prix-Fixe Bar, which seats eight and needs prior booking. The interesting concept behind The Woods, is that the cocktails are themselves the culinary art, so if you’re in search of a pint of beer, don’t go here!

The photos that I have for this post were from back in August(!), so some of the seasonal cocktails may no longer be there, and the Prix-Fixe menu I would think is changing very very soon, but I’m sure that you will find a drink that tickles your fancy. The words market-fresh, seasonal and artisanal sum up the core principles of The Woods.

From the a la carte, I tried The Caprese ($120), which was basically a salad in a glass. As someone who can’t take the taste of strong booze, this was rather perfect- light on the Tito’s Vodka, and heavier on the fresh tomato water. I love sour and salty things, and the combination of aged balsamic vinegar with the vodka, tomato water, Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt rim was highly enjoyable to the point where I was half drunk by the end of it. In addition, the cocktail itself was pretty to look at, bursting with colour from the cherry tomatoes.

The Caprese

The Caprese

The Caprese The Caprese

I took a sip of someone’s Watermelon Cilantro, (that’s coriander for the Brits among us), and was pleasantly surprised my palate wasn’t assailed by the cilantro flavour, which I’m not normally a fan of.

Watermelon Cilantro

Watermelon Cilantro

The biggest surprise for me was their Oak Whiskey Sour, which was finely balanced and had a lovely hint of a smokey flavour. This was a surprising drink because I usually really dislike whiskey, (I can trace this dislike back to uni days of cheap whiskey shots and feeling very unwell afterwards), and not only did I think it was tasty, but I think I might have been converted! But only at The Woods will I drink this, I will proceed with caution at all other, as yet untested establishments.

Oak Whiskey Sour

Oak Whiskey Sour

So what about the Prix-Fixe menu? For hardcore drinkers who like arty drinks and enjoy 4 courses of alcohol with very small nibbles. People with Asian flush, will start to feel very drunk 1 course in- yep, yours truly was pretty merry at the end and needed to go to Tsui Wah for noodles; no judgement please.

The Prix-Fixe menu is creative, interesting and definitely unique in Hong Kong. For $688 per person for 4 courses, (essentially 4 drinks), this may be a little pricey, and I for one, prefer the a la carte, but that’s because I normally can’t take 4 drinks in a row anyway!

The menu we had started with the Basil Smash (Sipsmith Gin and Thai and Sweet Basils), which was fun as we got to smash a hollowed ice sphere with a little hammer to release the cocktail. This was served with watermelon and feta cheese on the side. Next, we had the Bacon Bourbon Luge for mains. This was STRONG. I’m not a bourbon drinker, and I admit, I was way more interested in the accompanying roasted bone marrow (delicious by the way). However, this bacon infused bourbon was smooth and I like the savoury taste. I completely failed to use the bone marrow as a luge to pour the cocktail in my mouth as I was starting to feel tipsy at this point!

Basil Smash

Basil Smash

Bacon Bourbon Luge

Bacon Bourbon Luge

For dessert there was the Absinthe Floss. This was messy. Instead of the traditional absinthe served poured over a sugar cube, The Woods replaced the cube with candy floss. This was far too strong for me. To end, our Digestif was a Tanqueray Gin and Jasmine tea infusion with lemongrass, galangal and lemon peel. Like a hot toddy, this was warming but not aromatic enough for me and the gin was overpowering. Not sure if this combination really works in its favour.

Absinthe Floss

Absinthe Floss

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Before I forget, we also tried their fries from the a la carte nibbles section. One word- addictive.

The Woods' Fries

The Woods’ Fries

I’m happy to see a concept cocktail bar like The Woods spring up in Hong Kong, and it’s refreshing to have a place to go for consistently well-made drinks. I didn’t mention mocktails, but one of my favourites is the Virgin Galangal Mojito which is delicious. And now that I’m a whiskey sour convert and a few friends have also given it their nod of approval, I think The Woods will be a regular haunt (alongside The Envoy, which is another go-to), for my friends and I, who aren’t hardcore liquor-lovers but who definitely appreciate the delicate touch with cocktails.

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 for decor, ambience, good mocktails, their fries and that whiskey sour

The Woods, L/G, 17 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel: +852 2522 0281 http://www.thewoods.hk

The Prixe-Fixe tasting was by invitiation. Many thanks to The Woods for a fun evening!


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Checking Out Check-In Taipei

Hollywood Road is getting a bit of a face-lift with all these new establishments and latest on the radar is contemporary Taiwanese joint Check-In Taipei, which opened a little over two months ago. When I think of Taiwanese cuisine I immediately think of you tiao (Chinese dough stick) , soya bean milk, fan tuan (sticky rice roll), sesame noodles and NIGHT MARKET FOOD- basically all the food I usually scoff my face with when I go to Taipei. But Check-In Taipei’s menu is a tad more sophisticated than that, with some of Taiwan’s classic dishes undergoing an inventive spin.

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Inside Check-In Taipei’s narrow space, the decoration is relatively minimalist with clean lines, dark furniture and a long bar where you can sip on their signature cocktails and share plates with friends. There is also a takeaway window for those on the go, a great idea to retain some of the Taiwanese street food charm and makes this establishment appear more accessible to the masses.  Leung Nga Fong, whose CV boasts working at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Amber and Taiwanese ‘drink architect’ Shin Chiu, have successfully created an attractive menu and there are a few dishes which definitely capture the eye.

But, there are some buts to this tale.

When four of us paid a visit one evening, it was to celebrate a birthday, a fact that was subtly relayed when the booking was made. Not that we expected anything but possibly a little candle wedged on top on of our desserts (which actually happened, hooray!), but what I did expect, as one should from any restaurant really, is decent service, and there isn’t anything much worse than a birthday celebration marred by wearily making the same simple request over and over and over again, seeing your dessert get dropped, (more on that later) or the credit card transaction getting mixed up. Luckily the birthday girl, whose sweet nature is rarely riled up, didn’t mind too much.

Before I get caught up in my grumblings, I must say that the food itself was quite enjoyable. The menu is split into a few sections- some interesting bite-sized appetisers, vegetables, classic dishes with a twist and desserts.

Chicken and Waffles, one of their signature dishes, immediately caught our attention. The night market favourite of salty, crispy chicken that the Taiwanese do so very well, has been transformed into a fancy little thing at CIT. Mounted atop mini waffles with accompanying pineapple chutney and balsamic maple syrup, it looked delightful. The chicken was succulent, the skin crisp, but the waffle was unfortunately slightly sodden from the syrup and I didn’t detect the pineapple chutney.

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

Next, we had the Oyster Duet- homemade oyster soup served with a crispy oyster croquette (the oysters were fried with oyster sauce, Chinese chives and onion then mixed with mashed potatoes). This again, was a unique take on the oyster pancake and I have to say I liked this dish the most. The soup was a wonderfully warm and comforting oyster version of a clam chowder, and the croquettes were fluffy and light. I also loved the presentation- the soup being served from a teapot with tea cup. How very Asian chic!Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

We followed this up with their Gua Bao with two different fillings- braised pork belly with spicy sweet bean sauce and crunchy spiced eggplant with spicy bean paste and sweet chili mayo. The pork belly was good but to my surprise, I preferred the eggplant. It was spot on with its aromatic condiments and still firm texture.

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

It was around this point of the meal that we had begun to notice a couple of service failings, namely, a complete failure to collect any finished plates and dishes without us calling their attention, failure to then pick up the empty dishes even when pointed at, (the waitress in fact smiled sweetly several times with a little giggle and then promptly walked off!) and a bizarre aversion to filling up our glasses with water. At one point I was tempted to walk over to the bar where I could see the water jugs, and just help myself. The aversion to topping up water continued for the rest of the night; I counted that between my friend and I we had asked the manager at least 5 times and waited a good 20 minutes before any water finally arrived. The place is tiny, “I CAN SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND IT ISN’T TOWARDS THE WATER!!”, I yelled in my head at the staff. Exasperation.

Anyway, our savouries continued with the Seven Layered Rice, a prettier, compact version of the Taiwanese braised pork pork rice (滷肉飯, Lu Rou Fan) which is one of my all time favourites. Whilst the flavours were all there and the egg was nice and soft, I would have liked more sauce. It was also served in a bloody difficult receptacle- a glass cup. It was a mess. Rice bits falling everywhere on the table trying to dig down through all the layers and in order to spoon a serving on our own plates. As I had then come to expect, the rice mess was not cleaned up either when the plates were eventually cleared. (I sound like a right moaner here!)Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

We were most intrigued by their Ping Pong dish- four balls of purple yam with a mochi and parmesan cheese filling which are deep fried at low heat to attain a crispy outside and a chewy inside. This recreation of the traditional sweet potato balls is a great concept, and we especially liked their presentation on a ping pong bat but something was missing. The mochi was nicely chewy and the filling itself was tasty, but somehow this combination fell flat and certainly raised a few quizzical brows in the group.

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

The Fish’N’Squid Sticks with flying fish roe served with chili mayo and sweet plum sauce was strange. The consistency can only be described as squidgy and whatever the batter was sprinkled with, was too sweet to make this dish work. I also couldn’t detect the fish roe anywhere. Great chili mayo though.

Fish'N'Squid Sticks

Fish’N’Squid Sticks

Our last savoury was the Mushroom Forest and this was excellent. Four types of mushrooms, shiitake, white, portobello and reishi are sautéed in truffle cream and then for an added touch, fried mushrooms, lightly battered in potato starch are in the mix to create a nice textural contract. Best bit is the gorgeous onsen egg which bound all the flavours together wonderfully once smashed in.

Mushroom Forest

Mushroom Forest

To end, we ordered both the desserts on offer- the Taro cheesecake and the Yin Yang- marshmallow honey toast with black sesame paste. So this is a funny story…actually not that funny when it happened; the waiter, as he was just about to serve the Yin Yang toast to us, tilted the plate at such an angle to put it down that it was quite easy for all to see that this was going to be a disaster. CIT seems to choose the oddest plates to serve their food on, and toast on a flat plate, is BOUND TO SLIP OFF, especially if waiters are dashing in and out balancing stuff. And so, we see our toast promptly slide off and land face down with a loud PLOP on the dirty, rice strewn table. Mouths agape and sharp intakes of breath later, the waiter, for a nanosecond, looked like he was prepared to flip it over and serve it anyway. We sharply looked at him with a Don’t you dare! glare and thankfully he turned around and got us a fresh piece of toast. By the way, the toast was very satisfying, just be prepared to catch it in mid-air if you order it. The table, incidentally, got a perfunctory wipe later.

Yin Yang Toast

Yin Yang Toast

The taro cheesecake was dense, dense, dense. But we didn’t care as it came with a candle and our birthday girl was happy!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Taro cheesecake

Taro cheesecake

There was also a bill fiasco, but I have no strength to go into that. Suffice to say, the food just about saves this review from being a total whiny account  and whilst there are a couple of misses, I do think that the food is enjoyable and the prices reasonable. I do recommend that if you go you keep your service expectations on the low side. Let’s just hope they improve ASAP.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

Check-In Taipei, 27 Hollywood Rd, Central, Tel: 2351 2622 facebook.com/ctaipei


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Putting on a Funky Shou

Fu Lu Shou- Good Fortune, Prosperity and Longevity- has been open a little over a month and I have already been three times, something of a record for me when it comes to new establishments. And all because the place is just so darn funky. Two things to mention that make this my new go-to spot for laid-back cool- a fab rooftop terrace and rather yummy cocktails. Ping Lam, the brainchild behind the Nail Library, has successfully turned her attention from beautifying hands and feet to feeding people, and its all about bringing in old skool Western Chinese from her childhood in Australia.  Their motto is “Eat. Drink. And Be Prosperous”; I can do the first two, just hoping that one day Fu Lu Shou magically makes it rain when I next visit. I wish.

Eat, Drink And Be Prosperous

Eat, Drink And Be Prosperous

Fu Lu Shou is ensconced in a rather dodgy looking old building on Hollywood Road by the escalators and takes over the space formerly occupied by TBLS. The only way to get inside is to know the door code which changes every Tuesday. The code, the well-hidden location, plus the jittery old lift, add to the Fu Lu Shou atmosphere and make you feel like you’re in on a little secret. I loved it. Once you emerge on the top floor, you are greeted by a lovely rooftop bar and small, casual indoor dining area and an open kitchen. The bar is made up entirely of mahjong tiles which I was quite fascinated by, and inside, the look is completed by their motto emblazoned on the wall.  The real beauty is the outdoor terrace which is bedecked with inviting, comfy sofas, cushioned swing seats and a huge mural of a couple of happy, old Chinese scholars and one holding a cocktail!

Merry scholars

Merry scholars

Mahjong tiled bar

Mahjong tiled bar

The first time I went it was at the kind invitation of the awesome Rach from Through the Looking Glass and a merry group of us got stuck into the inventive cocktails and mocktails which are all worth trying and utterly delish. Firm cocktail favourites from my three visits are the Joh Sun, “Good Morning Hong Kong”- a feisty concoction of lemon-flavoured vodka, lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, ginger juice, lime and chilli- it certainly woke me up after one tiring day and their Haam Ling Chut “Salty Lemon”  which is a mix of Angostura Reserva 3 Yr Old White Rum, Salted Lemon, Salted Lemon Juice, Preserved Mandarin, Mint, Fever-Tree Lemonade & Fever-Tree Tonic. As someone who really loves the classic haam ling chut from cha chaan tengs, theirs was a lively, alcoholic version that went down a little too nicely! I enjoyed their mocktails too; all refreshing and fruity, especially their Yum Cha made with Chinese tea, homemade red date tea, lemon juice, passionfruit and elderflower syrup which is served in those gorgeous classic Chinese mugs with lids.

Yum Cha

Yum Cha

Joh Sun!

Joh Sun!

But what about the food? It’s NOT authentic first of all, but that’s the point and half the charm. It’s a cheeky and fun medley of Australian, UK and North American westernised Chinese food that owner Ping, wanted to capture and remember from her native Oz.  Ping was very quick to state that Fu Lu Shou is ‘not food-centric’ nor meant to be Michelin-star, the dishes are simply there to be enjoyed with the drinks and not to be taken seriously. In other words, chill out, pig out and smile. Ping clearly has a fab eye for detail as all the dishes came on those amazing melamine retro Chinese plates which I fondly remember eating off from as a child. The plates were shipped all the way from Paris no less- dedication!

Any food item termed ‘Big Arse’ has got to be good. By Big Arse, they are referring to the Ozzie extreme version of the siu mai and this momma was massive when it came as part of the mixed sampler plate. This tasted great, but we especially liked their prawn toast which was deliciously thick and crisp.

Mixed appetizer sample and Big Arse siu mai

Mixed appetizer sample and Big Arse siu mai

The Chicken and Sweet Corn ‘Egg Drop’ soup was soothing for the soul and was just the right consistency.

Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

We sampled a variety of mains starting with the Beef in Black Bean Sauce. The sauce was slightly too heavy and intense on the salty black bean for me and should be accompanied by some rice. The Boss’ Honey Prawns’ light, sweet batter was nicely done and the prawns plump to bite into and the Sweet and Sour Pork was also a solid dish. The real crowd pleasers were the Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt which were so addictive- I couldn’t stop piling the chili salt and pepper onto my rice, and the Kung Pao Chicken which was full of flavour and kick as well. For carbs you can go for anyone of the chow meins, though we were served the vegetable version to end the savouries.

Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt

Deep Fried Tofu in Spicy Salt

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Vegetable Chow Mein

Vegetable Chow Mein

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Boss' Honey Prawns

Boss’ Honey Prawns

Sweet and Sour Pork

Sweet and Sour Pork

For dessert we tucked into a properly old-skool banana split with ice-cream AND an umbrella- yummy! We also enjoyed the banana fritters and the sticky toffee apples which we dunked into ice water with glee to solidify the toffee.

Banana fritters

Banana fritters

Sticky Toffee Apple

Sticky Toffee Apple

Dunking Time

Dunking Time

Banana Split

Banana Split

If you want a fun night out with delicious drinks and a great rooftop to enjoy the HK ambience, make Fu Lu Shou a regular hang-out. It doesn’t serve authentic Chinese food, but it sure does do a brilliant take on ‘non-authentic’ Chinese grub to make bananas like me nostalgic. I do recommend booking in advance and remember to check the door code or you’ll be stuck outside on Hollywood Road.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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

Fu Lu Shou, 7/F, 31 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2336 8812

 https://www.facebook.com/FuLuShouHK


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Five Guys, Two Girls and a Sex Shop

It could be one or the other or a combination of all three- either I’ve gone senile, my lasered eyes are finally failing or London is changing faster than a quick change artist, but I swear that half the restaurants in the city are new since I was last home in February. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but it does make me feel that I am missing out on the smorgasbord of restaurants that has descended upon London. So it’s fortunate that on this three week break that I’ve taken, that my friends have been determined to fat feed me as much as possible.

One fine day last week, my friend S and I had the hilariously un-pc The Book of Mormon to look forward to at the theatre, but before we immersed ourselves in the world of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints, S took me to the artery-clogging Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Long Acre.

While you wait you can munch on monkey nuts at the door, or, like some people I spied, tut tut, take a whole bagful on the way out. You can have a normal hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger and then you can stuff as many free toppings as you like in between the buns. Clearly I went for the bacon cheeseburger and bit off more than I could chew haha as I asked for at least 6 toppings. You can go for the little burgers, but that just seemed like the wimpy option. They also serve hotdogs and sandwiches, but for us, it was burgers all the way. The American diner approach is also to have unlimited refills of your drink, which I can never take full advantage of  but we entertained ourselves by trying squirts of different Fanta flavours.

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web again!

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web!

Word of advice: order small fries. Do not think you can finish the regular fries between two people because you will be eating till the cows come home- ahh the puns. There were chips coming out of my ears by the end of the meal. But how was the burger? Monstrous. I loved the coarse grind of the juicy beef patty and although it was a messy affair, I enjoyed my Five Guys experience. Even if it took us nearly 45 minutes to get through it. The only trouble is the bun does get rather soggy from all the juices, especially if you have one too many toppings. But I would go back again. Perhaps I will share with someone next time- for my arteries’ sake.

Bacon cheeseburger

Bacon cheeseburger

20131016_131257IMG_7455After waddling to see The Book of Mormon, which was side-splittingly entertaining- thoroughly recommend it to everyone, we stopped for a sophisticated tea break and mini Austrian strudels at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Love having tea out of their gorgeous silver teapots.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Mini Austrian Strudel

Mini Austrian Strudel

Tea at The Parlour

Tea at The Parlour

And then we came to the slightly eyebrow raising part of the day- dinner at La Bodega Negra, near Leicester Square. S remarked to me, “This place is quite hard to find….because it doesn’t have a sign and it looks like a sex shop from the outside. So this could be potentially embarrassing.” I didn’t really know what to think. Were we going to end up wandering into some sort of bondage shop and end up eating off tied up patrons? We couldn’t look more clueless or lost when we got to Moor Street and shuffled nervously around the general vicinity of a sex shop- bright neon lights saying “Peep show”. When we realised that we were in fact at the right door- it says, “Private Dance Downstairs” and “COME” in red neon lights, (I confess I sniggered), we walked through and down some stairs, only to be greeted by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit. Cue nervous hand twitching, until the helpful lady at the desk confirmed our booking for 7 people. Phew.

La Bodega Negro Entrance

La Bodega Negro Entrance

Fancy a peep?

Fancy a peep?

It’s dark inside. Very dark. Stone walls and arches evoke images of dungeons and handcuffs, though I suppose that is the point. The atmosphere is vibrant and palpable and there is a dark allure to the whole set-up that I enjoyed. Ushered into our seats, we squinted and nearly lost an eyeball trying to make out the menu until I blinded everyone with my phone torchlight. The food served is Mexican comfort, with tacos, ceviche, tostadita and salads, as well as main dishes such as slow roasted lamb and chicken mole. We decided to share a mixture of everything but skip the mains in favour of cocktails.

The starters were surprisingly good. Their guacamole with sesame tostadas was quite beautiful- rich, creamy and chunky and had the right amount of lime juice to give it a clean taste. The Quesadilla Rustica- a toasted flour tortilla with four cheeses and roasted tomato was delicious and had a lovely crispy edge.

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Quesadilla Rustica

Quesadilla Rustica

We loved their quinoa salad with grilled courgette and the textured roasted corn salad, which had a light piquancy from the Serrano chili. We tried two Ceviche dishes- the mixed seafood (squid, prawn and octopus)- excellent dressing, and the Spicy yellow fin tuna which was gloriously chunky and had a wonderful citrus-fruity tang from the Guajillo chili.

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad

One can’t go to a Mexican without having tacos, so we went full pelt and ordered the pork belly, lamb, soft shell crab and the char roasted mushroom (we had a vegetarian in our group who was immensely happy with the veggie options). The soft shell crab and the pork belly were the winners, though I am still questioning whether two tiny tacos for £8.50- crab and £6.50 for the rest, is strictly worth it.

Soft shell crab taco

Soft shell crab taco

Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.

Churros

Churros

Portions are a bit on the stingy side, the prices too high to make you feel you can be completely satisfied and the salads in no way feed 6 people, despite the waitress’ insistence when we were ordering, but, I don’t think people come here for the food. The cool, underground vibe is the attraction, the cocktails are excellent and the amusement of being next to a shop that sells adult videos and seeing grown men accidentally go to La Bodega Negra on the way out are definite pluses however, but I’m not sure I would go back other than to feel hip whilst sipping a Tijuana Whore. Another negative is that when S phoned to book, she was told that they do not normally allow same sex groups to dine and there usually needs to be a mix of males and females to secure a booking, which is the biggest load of BS that I have ever heard. Thankfully our friend’s husband turned up. Hmmm.

And so we left, walking past the mannequin dressed in PVC and lingered with wild abandon in front of the sex shop before trotting off home.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1-3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH.

$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com

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

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

Apologies for quality of La Bodega Negro photos- massive headache trying to take anything in pitch darkness at a tiny table crammed with dishes.


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Socialito Shimmies onto the Scene

The Mexican wave (of food), continues with hot newcomer Socialito. Taking over Prive’s former location on Wyndham Street, Buzz Concept’s latest and boldest venture is a three-in-one package of ‘taqueira, restaurant and discoteca’. Hoping to embody the essence of the name and replicate a Latin-American social vibe on the streets of Hong Kong, Socialito aims to provide a space for people to mingle, play, eat and drink.

The 50s-style shiny, metallic taqueria (taco-stall) out front is brightly lit and playful and serves up an array of tacos, gorditas, tostadas and tamales. You can stroll in, pull up a stool for a quick bite, quench your thirst with one of their margaritas or just grab a take-away. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back, funky exterior however, as a discreet silver door on the left gives way to a sleek and dark, formal dining area. The softly-lit bar at the back draws you into a sophisticated space of high ceilings, wrought-iron gate features, plush leather seats and dark-wood panelling, evoking images of old Mexico. After dinner, this space transforms into a club from 11.30pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays, complete with DJ booth set up and the tables converting into bar tops.

As I perched at the bar waiting for the rest of my dinner companions to arrive, I got a head start in drinking and tried one of the fun and original Specialty Cocktails created by Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily & Bloom. After three sips of my delicious, refreshing Zumbido (Havana Club 7 and Denizen Rum with passionfruit, honey and lime), and later a Sociarito (Jalapeno infused Alacran Tequila with lavender-honey and peach bitters), I found these cocktails pack a punch too. Beware of drinking one of these on an empty stomach! I loved the Zumbido with its Mojito-like tones and the Sociarito was a perfect blend of sweet balancing out the fiery tequila.

Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily and Bloom sipping on one of his signature cocktails!

Soon after, dinner was in full swing and we started with the Lobster and Swordfish ceviche topped with coconut chili sauce, pickled shallot and herbs served with cucumber noodles. Pieces of the seafood combo were fresh and delightfully fleshy, the sauce and shallots adding a lovely zing, while the cucumber noodles gave it a cleansing after-taste. Next up was the Cauliflower Almond Soup. A visual crowd-pleaser, the soup was poured into bowls of pickled cauliflower, caramelized apples, almonds and morita chili at our table, leaving us to clamber for action shots. As soothingly thick and creamy as it was, the soup was a tad oversalted, but had a lovely blend of pickle with a subtle hint of heat. 

Our next two dishes were a triumph though, the Wagyu Tacos presented with a flourish, eyes feasted on the line up of fresh homemade tortillas encasing tender beef slices topped with salsa, guacamole and crispy onions. The Seared Pork Belly surrounded by a sea of green peanut mole was flavoursome and succulent, the outside seared perfectly. The mole itself wasn’t as distinctive in taste as its colour, but I loved the chicharrones (fried pork rind) and the accompanying sautéed onion and jalapeno.

Our mains of Grilled Scottish Salmon and Seared Duck Breast were both competently prepared. The salmon was evenly grilled but still pink and moist inside and we enjoyed the shimeji, queso fresco and potato puree with the green pumpkinseed mole. The Seared Duck Breast had an attractive presentation, with slices on black beans arranged on a long plate separated by little islands of corn tortitas atop corn puree. The duck was moist and wonderfully seasoned but I felt the dish was slightly let down by the black beans which were a little dry and glutinous and the corn tortitas which didn’t really add enough dimension to the dish.

Washing down our mains with a couple of gulps of our cocktails, we eagerly awaited the desserts. No matter how full you are, you must try the King Banana. This ridiculously cool-looking dessert with arrangements of fried milk bananas, sour cream sorbet and King banana chips on cumin crumble was a delight to the taste-buds. The cumin crumble was a great savoury contrast to the sweetness of the bananas and the sour cream added a faint tang to the ensemble.

The Molten Chocolate cake was equally sublime. The sponge gave way to the sexy ooze of warm chocolate and I adored the contrast of the cold coconut semifreddo that it came with. I was also intrigued by the Candied Ancho Chili fried chocolate that added decorative detail. The fried chocolate was achieved through mixing tapioca with molten dark chocolate, then solidifying, dehydrating and deep frying it. Clever stuff.

And so ended the evening; my dining companions and I a touch merry from the cocktails, and stuffed to the rafters with Mexican food. Although I find the three-in-one concept commendable I do feel people may be confused as to what Socialito has to offer, especially as the taqueria is so prominent. Would diners be more interested in the casual or the finer dining side of this establishment, I wonder? Another issue is finding the restaurant! I myself couldn’t find the door to the dining room at first and although the door is marked “Abierto! Pase Usted” (which means “Open! Come on in”), it doesn’t really help the non-Spanish readers!

That aside, the menu and the cocktails are exciting and I think Socialito will be enjoying a steady stream of fans flocking to the taco stall and dancing to La Bamba, drink in hand.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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Socialito, Shop 2, G/F, The Centrium, 50 Wyndham St, Central, 3167 7380; www.socialito.com.hk. Taquería : Mon-Tue midday-midnight & Wed-Sat midday-2am. Restaurante: Mon-Sat 6pm-11.30pm. Closed Sun. Limited number of tables available for reservation for groups of 6 or more. 

You can also read this review on Sassy.