Saturday, 7 March 2015

Aberdeen Street Social - Invasion of the British Chefs

I first came across the name Jason Atherton while watching one of my all time favourite cooking shows out of the UK.  Great British Menu is a program that pits the UK's top chefs, often with two or three Michelin Stars, against each other in daily cook offs.  It's like a cage battle where many go in and only a few come out.  Jason Atherton was one of the contestants in 2008 and in his first appearance, won through to the main banquet, no less preparing the main course (the most coveted spot).

It was Atherton's only appearance on the show as a contestant, but he later returned to the show as one of the Mentor's and weeknight judges.  Great British Menu has a history of taking amazing chefs and putting them in the spotlight, which certainly doesn't hurt their careers and many of the chefs who have appeared have seen their restaurants flourish.  Not that Jason Atherton needed the attention! He worked for Gordan Ramsey directly and was the executive chef of Maze in London before leaving in 2010 to establish his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social, which won a Michelin Star in its first year.

Aberdeen Street Social is Jason Atherton's flagship restaurant in Hong Kong and is part of his growing stable of International restaurants, including Singapore, Dubi and Shanghi.  Located at the super cool PMQ complex, Aberdeen Street Social combines a fine dining restaurant with a more casual and relaxed bar section that also serves food.  We'd decided that a Sunday night visit was in order, so rocked up without a reservation, after misreading the website stating that no reservations were required.  We were greeted with a puzzled look, one that said 'no reservation? how dare you?' but after a few minutes were shown upstairs and granted a seat.

Given Atherton is a UK chef, there was a certain styling to the restaurant that was half old English pub and half contemporary modern bistro with open kitchen.  Designed by award winning Shanghai based firm Neri & Hu the restaurant is designed around the garden terraces surrounding the building.  The upstairs is cozy but also has an outdoor patio that looks over the terrace gardens.  It's really quite comforting.

While Jason Atherton is the owner and creative mind behind Aberdeen Street Social, the Executive Chef is long time employee and friend Chris Whitmore, who was Atherton's sous chef at Maze in London.  Together they have created a menu that will be instantly recognisable as British, but with twists of the orient.  There were A Lot of great looking items available and we really struggled with our choices, definitely a place that would require multiple visits!

Orders underway, our meal kicked off with a huge loaf of warm and crusty bread, with the accompanying soft hand churned butter, along with a couple of amuse bouche.  Or first few bites were a blue cheese biscuit with a pea puree and a squid ink toast with ponzu, which both being punchy and full flavoured.  Interestingly for me, the blue cheese didn't overpower the pea puree and enhances its sweetness.

SC kicked off her meal with a very busy looking starter of yellow fin tuna tataki with cucumber salad, radish, avocado and ponzu dressing.  It looked quite different from most tataki's I've seen but it had all the right ingredients and tasted the goods.  Usually tataki has thinly sliced beef or tuna, which is bathed in a delicious ponzu sauce, but the Aberdeen Street Social version was chunkier and came with lots of pickled vegetables.  The tuna was lightly seared and very fresh, with an ever so slight sweetness that worked beautifully with the ponzu.

I'd also gone for a seafood starter, this time the completely raw Hokkaido scallops with dashi jelly, apple, shiso, avocado and wasabi puree.  Both starters had a very Japanese feel to them and the large Hokkaido scallops reminded me of the very best sashimi I'd eaten.  I loved the presentation and the placement of each of the ingredients, which screamed practiced care but didn't look overly manufactured.  The sweetness of the avocado was given a slight bite from the wasabi and both combined to enhance the natural sweetness of the scallops - beautiful.

Main course for SC was the decadent sounding butter poached lobster, hen of the woods mushroom and thyme linguini.  We weren't disappointed with the very generous serving of lobster, the claw sitting atop a perfectly rolled pile of expertly cooked linguini.  Butter poached anything is superb, but the flavour of the lobster was from another world, simply stunning.  While it tasted superb, the tail piece was a little over cooked and slightly rubbery - the claw was exquisitely cooked.  The combination of mushrooms and lobster worked well, brought together by the lobster bisque for an overall very satisfying main.

Breaking away from the seafood orientated meal to date, I went for the duck breast with duck heart, honey spiced beetroot, pickled pear, date and Earl Grey tea puree.  This was again a very generous plate of food, with two very large pieces of perfectly cooked duck breast and an assortment of excellently matched ingredients.  I particularly liked the skewers that contained the duck heart, a little chewy as it should be but full flavoured and wonderful.  The combination of the honey spiced beetroot, pickled pear and duck was inspired with the contrasting sweetness working well together.  A jus finished off the plate but I would loved just a little bit more of the sticky sauce to bring the dish together.

Dessert time and with so many great looking options, we had to refer to our waitress for her recommendation, one of which we took, the other I regretted not choosing.  SC wisely chose the recommendation of the 'hibiscus' which turned out to be a beautifully presented dessert and instantly gave me food envy.  With ingredients like elderflower, rose apple and guava, it sounded the perfect blend of Asia and England.  The guava ice cream was the highlight, but the different textures and colours really appealed to the eye, as well the palate.

I've had a lot of luck ordering strawberry desserts over the years but I guess every now and then you lose and unfortunately, this time I lost.   I definitely should have gone for the recommended Apple tart, but didn't want anything too sweet after my huge main.  Presented on perhaps on of the loveliest plates I've ever seen, the strawberry dessert just didn't match up to the rest of the meal.  It did meet one of my requirements, it wasn't overly sweet, but it just felt a little disconnected, something that could have been resolved with a sticky berry sauce.

After calling for the bill, we were presented with  a cool looking and multi dimensional plate covered with some petit four, including a chocolate that had an insanely high cocoa content, a sweet jube and a short cake, all  fantastic ways to finish the meal.

We had a pretty awesome meal at Aberdeen Street Social, and apart from the initial response when we asked for a table without reservation, we found the service to be right on the money.  Oh, if you think we got what we deserved by not booking, I'll just highlight that the restaurant was only half full for a dinner sitting, so I'm not sure why it was such a big deal.

Only scratching the surface of a menu that literally had dozens of options that we wanted to try, there is no doubt that we'll be back to enjoy more of Mr Atherton's take on fine dining.  We'd even love to get along for the brunch menu (for breakfast) but unfortunately, the place doesn't open until 11:30am daily.  Oh well, we'll just have to settle for dinners in what is definitely one of our favourite restaurants (so far) in Hong Kong.

With food like this, it's no wonder Jason Atherton's idea of food is spreading across the globe.  Perhaps his old mentor Gordon Ramsey needs to watch his back?!

The plate that the petit four came on was brilliant!
There was a pre dessert treat of a delicious pear soup with thyme ice cream and lemon jelly
Dark and all so British cool inside the restaurant
We love watching the kitchen at work

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