Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The coolest restaurant name in Hong Kong - Madam Sixty Ate

With so many restaurants in Honkers, one of the fun games is trying to figure out which are the best to dine at.  Sure, there are restaurant guides, like the Michelin Guide and Open Rice, but it's often word of mouth where the absolute surprises come along.  We were heading out as a team for a farewell lunch for one member of the team who was leaving for greener pastures and wound up at one of the best surprises I've had in Hong Kong so far.

Usually when we go out for a team lunch, it's one of the many local restaurants in Central but this time we went just a little further afield to Wan Chai.  With a couple of options to get from Central to Wan Chai, which includes walking, we took the tram that runs along Des Voeux Road and moves into Johnston Road.  It was my first time on one of the skinny little trams that I've seen hundreds of times.  Yep, they get crowded and while it was marginally faster than walking or the MTR, it was a bit of an experience....  Not sure I'd do it in the middle of summer though.

Once we jumped off the tram we made our way to the restaurant, which had the funky name of Madam Sixty Ate.  Like a lot of restaurants in Hong Kong, Madam Sixty Ate is not on street level, but up on level one.  As we made our way through a little bit of an entry area, past the bar, we came to the main dining room, which was surprisingly large and very airy.  The high ceilings and open spaces provided a really pleasant vibe, which was helped by the open kitchen area with chefs busy at work.

Once we were seated, I heard the distinct tones of a fellow Aussie in the Kitchen area.  Aussie chef Chris Woodyard and wife Bronwyn Cheung are the creative force behind Madam Sixty Ate and have brought together a vision of modern European cuisine, with a heavy French influence.  With a history that includes owning and running a hatted Sydney restaurant, Three Clicks West, and time as culinary director of W Hotel in Hong Kong, Chris is no stranger to fine dining and exquisite food.

One glance at the menu and I was immediately impressed with the range of options available, but more-so the lunchtime special, a three course meal for only $198!  There were three options available for each course, and to be honest, sitting there looking over the menu, it was hard to make a final decision.  If there is one thing you have to do in a restaurant before you can eat, it's actually make some decisions, so decisions I made....  But I definitely was conflicted.  To ease the pain of my decision, we were given some warm crusty sour dough and enough butter to keep everyone happy.

My decision seemed quite a good one when my bowl of vichyssoise veloute was presented. Vichyssoise is a French soup, normally served cold, made up of pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock.  Given a modern twist, the veloute was poured over a bowl that contained bread chunks, toasted leek and house cured duck breast.  The silky leek and potato veloute was nice on it's own, perhaps lacking a little seasoning but when combined with the salty duck breast, transformed into a perfectly balanced starter.  In fact, I loved the veloute and duck combination so much, I lamented that there was not more duck breast.

The other starters of saltbush lamb filet with mergeuz sausage, lentils and harissa, and the confit salmon with green peas, green peas, old grain crust, quails egg and bacon jam were both incredible looking starters that were well enjoyed by my dining companions.

I'd been completely torn when it came to mains, they all sounded so great, but against my better judgement, I went for the poached turbot with brown butter powder, capers, lemon and smoked spinach.  It wasn't a bad dish, not at all.  The turbot was well cooked, the plating looked amazing and the little lemon curd gave the fish a lovely fresh flavour.  I guess my main issue was that it was just a tad under seasoned, it just needed more lemon curd to balance it out or a little extra salt.

The situation was made worse when one of my dining companions handed over a large chunk of the braised beef brisket with bacon sprouts, mustard and pickled radish (which had also caught my eye).  Talk about full of flavour!  The brisket was just about perfect, flaky in all the right ways and rich in flavour.  I'd just had a small bite before stopping, realising that to eat any more before finishing my fish dish would completely ruin my chosen main.  Needless to say, I quickly consumed my turbot so I could get to the brisket.

It was time for dessert and there was only one clear choice for me, the white chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet, passion fruit jelly and broken berries.  The minute my plate was presented and saw the vibrant colours of red and yellow, I knew that I was about to eat a classic.  It was beautiful in all the ways a great dessert should be, but extremely practical too.  The cake was deconstructed and made into tiny little pebbles that soaked up the raspberry sorbet and passion fruit jelly.  Each mouthful was a delight and I powered through, savouring every bite, until I looked down and saw an empty plate.  

The other popular dessert at our lunch was the hazelnut stick with pavlova and hibiscus poached pears.  Another pretty looking dish, it didn't go down as well at the table with one from our group not liking the pears and another not liking the hazelnut stick (it looked like a parfait).

Yup, I have to say that I was pretty surprised and blown away by our lunch at Madam Sixty Ate, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the price... seriously, the three courses for under two hundred bucks was an amazing price.  But it was the quality of the food that was a real revelation.  I'd have happily paid a lot more for that lunch and still raved about it.

We were caught up in our own little world and chatting away before I turned around to have a look at the restaurant, only to see that it was completely filled.  I didn't even notice.  The service was not bad, I'd heard that for dinner, the waiters were all French, but I didn't pick out any Parisian voices during our lunch break.  I did however, pick out the Aussie voice of the chef in the kitchen and even managed a 'g'day' as we were leaving.

I love writing about little places like Madam Sixty Ate, they are quirky and unusual and in this case superb.  Great food and an excellent atmosphere.  The whole experience almost didn't make it to 'paper'.....  My iPhone completely crashed before I got the opportunity to upload the photos, so I thought the post would have to wait until a future visit....  Well, that wouldn't have been a chore, but luckily iCloud came to the rescue.....  I hope you get along to Madam Sixty Ate....

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