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 

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Stone Nullah Tavern, G/F, 69 Stone Nullah Ln, Wan Chai; 3182 0128

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A Room full of News and Booze

If it wasn’t for what seems to me, a mile-long hike from the depths of Quarry Bay MTR station to the outside world, I’d be milling around there more often as there are a few restaurant gems to be found in that area. The latest addition is The News Room, the newest member of the Press Room Group and an apt reflection of the commercial surroundings.

As a frequenter of The Press Room on Hollywood Road and a fan of their mac n’ cheese, I was excited to find out if there was anything different about The News Room, and as it turns out, there is. Clearly designed for the cool media and smart-looking business-types, the interior is all wood and leather seating, walls and floors, with an air of 1940s laid-back sophistication. It is quite easy to picture a budding journalist scribbling away in the corner over a glass of whiskey or two.A bar flanked by a myriad of wines and liquors, greets you in the doorway and one of the first things you might notice are these brilliant Enomatic wine dispenser machines. Similar to what they have at Tastings wine bar, these machines are available for trigger happy corporate, advertising and IT people at happy hour after work. The glasses come in small, medium or large, and if you’re having a particularly bad day, you can help yourself as many times as you like, using their special News Room card.I settled into one of the booths at the back and managed to have a lovely chat with Kavita Faiella, the Press Room Group’s wine director and sommelier. I’m not big on wines so it was a great opportunity to learn a thing or two from Kavita.Boasting a selection of just under 200 wines, the News Room’s wine list comes in a moleskin journal notebook form on lined paper. There is a Global alphabetical list, (not by country), which has both Old world and New world wines of every kind. If, like me, you prefer cocktails, take a look at their signature cocktails which are created as a reflection of past journalists, writers and journalistic events, such as the Nixon sour and the Hemingway Daquiri.

I had the Love and War cocktail to taste, which is in homage to Martha Gellhorn, one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. The mixture of Pineau des Charentes, elderflower liqueur, apple juice and basil, was very refreshing and a good start to my wine studies!The food menu has a variety of New York style deli snacks and international comfort food, created by ‘Polish by-way of London-experienced’ Head Chef Kris Bandel, from The Press Room, who I discovered used to work at a couple of my favourite eateries in London!

My gorgeously fresh and meaty Louisiana chilli crab cakes (a signature dish served warm with pepper, Cajun spices and lemon dressing) went extremely well with the Hiedler Grüner Veltliner white wine from Austria, which I was told, is a nice alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. The other two white wines I sampled were the Old world Christian Moreau Chablis, made from Chardonnay and a New World wine from Australia’s Morning Peninsula- Yabby Lake, which, after several large sips, I could detect was earthier and more full-bodied.For mains, I was greedy. I had their black truffle mac & cheese and the braised oxtail and kidney pudding which I was so happy to see on the menu, that I was practically hyperventilating (I’m a massive steak and kidney pud fan).

Anything with black truffle makes me feel a) posh, and b) spoilt. Mac & cheese with parmesan, mozzarella, pecorino, white truffle oil on top and black truffle shavings? Whoah. I was in truffle heaven. Plain mac & cheese makes me smile with glee anyway, but this was quite decadent, and the smell was just sublime. Bits of burnt cheese on top, gooey cheesy macaroni mouthfuls and sips of wine were making me giddy.The next treat was the much anticipated oxtail and kidney pudding. I often look longingly at Fray Bentos’ tinned steak and kidney puddings in Taste, but having no oven, all I can do is pine away when I have cravings. This dish was enormous, a large suet dome sitting in a pool of gravy, hiding its meat, and what I loved was how generous Chef Bandel was with the kidneys! With this, I tried 3 red wines- a Portuguese wine called Howard’s Folly, a premium red- Unity from Napa Valley, and Epsilon, (a Shiraz), from Barossa valley. Chef told me how surprised he was at its popularity; obviously some secret pud-lovers out there in Quarry Bay, but I’m not surprised at all as the oxtail was beautifully cooked, though I could have done with less suet, but you don’t need to eat it all.To end a very boozy, heavy lunch, I had their crème brulee, which rather quaintly, came without its ceramic pot encasing. It was creamy and delicious and polished off with a glass of dessert wine, the New Zealand Wairau River, Botrytis Riesling 2009.The ambience I felt, is suited to those with a more serious or mature predisposition, and isn’t meant to be an establishment for the achingly hip or young. They have a private dining room for larger parties and an outdoor terrace, which is a great place to wind-down after work. The interior is a place for intimate conversation and enjoyment of simple but high-quality food at decent prices.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

The News Room, 33 Tong Chong Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong. Tel: 2562 3444

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(The more professional photos, courtesy of CatchOn & Company)

You can also read the review on Sassy HK!