Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Keeping Kool and Kaum at Potato Head

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.

Potato Head HK

Potato Head HK

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.

Kaum interiors

Kaum interiors

potato-head-hong-kong_kaum_4

All-day Cafe

All-day Cafe

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.

Spices regularly used in Indonesian cuisine

Spices regularly used in Indonesian cuisine

Sambal selection

Sambal selection

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.

 Rendang Daging Sapi

Rendang Daging Sapi

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.

Burung Dara Goreng Rica Ric

Burung Dara Goreng Rica Ric

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.

Babi Guling

Babi Guling

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.

Burbur Kampiun

Burbur Kampiun

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.

Music room

Music room

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/

 

 


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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