Sunday, 24 May 2015

Fish & Meat Co - farm to table dining

I don't like to think of myself as your typical Expat living in a foreign city, hitting the Expat spots, drinking away in large groups and generally trying to carve out a little slice of 'home'.  Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, it's just not my scene.  It's why I try not to spend much time in the typical Aussie and British watering holes and restaurants near Wyndham Street and parts of SoHo.

Drinking aside, I am drawn into all parts of Hong Kong to check out dining spots and I was recently lured back in to what you'd normally think of Expat territory to visit a restaurant that seemed to tick all of my 'must try' boxes.  We'd arranged to meet some fellow Aussie Expats for dinner and after comparing our list of 'not tried' dining spots, found ourselves at Fish and Meat by the Maximal Concept Group.  

If you've been living in Hong Kong for any period of time, it's likely that you've been to at least one of the Maximal Concept Group restaurants.  Running a diverse portfolio of restaurants, including the amazing Mott32 (see post here) and the down and dirty Double D Burgers (see post here), food director Malcolm Wood has a knack of putting together a winning restaurant experience.  Malcolm has teamed up with Head Chef Russell Doctrove, formerly of 3 Michelin Starred restaurants 'The Waterside Inn' and 'Restaurant Gordon Ramsay'.  

We'd arranged to meet at Fish & Meet for a Friday night dinner and as is often the case in Hong Kong, it had been a ridiculously hot and sticky day, so by the time we walked up the hill from Central, we were bathed in sweat.  Thankfully, the air conditioning was blasting inside Fish and Meat, so we made our way to our table and ordered a bottle of cool water while we waited for our dining companions.

During our short wait, I was able to ascertain two things.  Firstly, the wait staff at Fish and Meat were incredibly friendly and helpful, almost to the point of being intrusive (well, maybe a little intrusive).  Secondly, the interior of the restaurant had that perfect mix of utilitarian functionality and urban cool that made me feel quite comfortable straight up.  We also had a chance to look over the menu, which clearly showed off the farm to table ingredients that Fish and Meat was striving for. With small plate designed for sharing and more substantial large plates, there was a pile of stuff on the menu that really appealed to me.

Our friends arrived not long after and looked just as sweaty as we'd felt when we'd first arrived, but thankfully for us, the ice cool air condoning had helped us regain our composure.  It had been a little while since our last catch up, so there was a whole heap of chatting that occurred before we finally settles on our orders.  I have to admire the tenacity in which our wait staff continued to come across and 'help' us, but it did take a few attempts before we were ready to order.

Even though we'd been told a few times that the small plates were for sharing, we'd ordered individually, which seemed like the right approach once we'd seen our starters.  WH had ordered the sea urchin fresh squid ink linguine with salmon roe, roasted garlic and chilli, which looked quite nice, but would have been very hard to share.  The jet black linguine was very well cooked and the whole dish was well balanced, if not a little salty from the roe and the sea urchin. Thankfully, there was a slightly creamy texture from the sea urchin sauce that managed to hold the ingredients together.

Keeping it in the family, BH had also ventured down the pasta path for her starter, with perhaps the pick of the night.  The fresh tagliatelle with chicken and truffle emulsion topped with crispy chicken skin was superb.  Made fresh daily and with a limited run, the tagliatelle was perfectly al dente and packed with an immensely satisfying chicken and truffle flavour from the creamy sauce.  The sauce had a very sweet undertone, but a deft hand from the chef had ensured that it was not overly cloying.  A little extra texture and punchy flavour from the crispy chicken skin was the perfect addition to the dish, which was the best pasta we'd tried in HK.

Always a sucker for a great tartare, SC had no option but to order the O’Connor Farm grass-fed 100% natural beef tartare accompanied by pickled jalapeño, duck yolk and parmesan.  The presentation of the tartare was a little contemporary, quite pretty but certainly not what we were expecting.  With the star of the dish hidden under a pile of garnish, we had a fear that the raw beef would be hidden or lost.  Not the case, the tartare was well balanced, with very high quality beef that had a beautifully natural flavour.  A little heat from the pickled jalapeño was really appreciated and worked nicely with the creamy duck yolk.

My choice was the marinated raw Yellowfin tuna presented with compressed watermelon in a soy sauce and basil vinaigrette toped with a quail egg.  I was instantly suspicious of the dish, which admittedly was a massive bowl consisting of a sea of red and looked to the naked eye as a bowl of watermelon only!  In a clever use of ingredients, the tuna and watermelon were indistinguishable.  Even looking closely, I couldn't tell the difference between the red of the watermelon and the red of the marinated tuna.  It wasn't until I took a big spoonful that I could differentiate the textures and flavours of the key ingredients, it was masterful really.  The soy and basil vinaigrette provided a contrasting acidity that ensured the dish was quite memorable.

We'd all been pretty happy with our starters, but as one agreed that while generous in size, they were not at all designed for sharing, and felt that it was a little confusing to offer as such. Perhaps it was just the dishes we selected..

It was time for mains and SC kicked off with a serve of the fresh tagliatelle with chicken and truffle emulsion topped with crispy chicken skin, which gave me another opportunity to same the dish. As with my first small test from BH, my opinion of the pasta only grew, yep, it was superb.

I will say one thing about the large plates (mains), they were large!  BH had ordered the Peter’s Farm Dutch veal piccata served with capers, parsley, butter, lemon and whipped potato, which was simply huge on the plate, and as it turned out, too much food.  The huge veal chop was nicely cooked, sliced then placed atop a buttery and creamy mash.  Capers were casually tossed on top, which added a natural saltiness to the dish.  As is was so large, BH offered me a piece of the veal to munch on, which didn't particularly enjoy.  There was a crumb around the veal chop that had become a little doughy from the sauce and the mash, which didn't sit well on my palate. Flavour wise, it was OK, but didn't rock my world.

WH and I ordered the exact same main, the US 350g Black Angus 400 day aged rib eye served with  roasted wild mushrooms  and basil topped with a knob of herb butter.  We'd even ordered them both medium rare.  Our steaks were delivered and looked the goods, each was sliced showing that the expertly cooked beef was indeed a perfect medium rare.  I really quite liked the beef, which had a nice flavour, but I found my cut to be especially fatty and the medium rare cook had not quite rendered the fat to a point where it was soft enough to eat.  It felt like I was wasting so much of the meat by cutting round the fat.  I also didn't particularly like the roasted wild mushrooms, which possibly needed a little more seasoning while cooking.

It's quite possible I was being overly picky though, while there was a fair bit of food left over on my plate, WH had practically licked his plate clean, there was not a lot left over!

Even though we were pretty full, we weren't quite ready to finish up yet (and, it was still stupidly hot and sticky outside), so we went all in for dessert.  We had all four desserts on the menu, with three of them being quite lovely and one missing the mark.

First was the whipped mascarpone “cheesecake” with raspberry sorbet and shortbread crumble. It was a simple looking dessert, essentially a deconstructed cheesecake, but boy it was superb! The lightness of the cheesecake was outdone only by the buttery crumble sprinkled over the top, and when combined, married together perfectly.  The sharpness of the raspberry sorbet was a stark contrast to the sweet creamy mascarpone and unsurprisingly, also a perfect match.

Next was the dark chocolate fondant with salted caramel and homemade Tahitian vanilla ice cream, which looked amazing on the plate, but was unfortunately ever so slightly over cooked.  A fondant should ooze when split open and this one didn't.  Thankfully the flavours and textures were good enough to save the dessert, although  we could only imagine how good it would have been if it had that oozy texture as well.

The absolute star of desserts however, was the Pavlova with vanilla cream, basil and yoghurt sorbet and seasonal fruits and berries.  Described as limited daily and to be served for two, it was a stunner.  As an Aussie (yep BD, I know that Pavlovas are from New Zealand), I know a thing or two about pavlovas, and this one would have been at home in any great restaurant in my old home.  The crunchy outer meringue hid a centre of sticky soft meringue that was wonderful.  The fresh cream and seasonal fruits were refreshing and completely satisfying.  Yeah, it was pretty yummy!

Probably the only disappointing dessert, was the dish that held up as the most promising! The Sicilian lemon tart with Tahitian vanilla cream had sounded amazing and looked really great on the plate, but fell down with execution.  The lemon curd was grainy, the pastry not quite right and the curd not as sweetly sharp as a great tart should be.  We ended up leaving most of it on the plate, it just didn't stack up compared to the rest of our desserts.

We were eventually asked to leave by our wait staff, apparently, we'd committed to being out of the restaurant by 9pm, and boy they were strict about the time!  I'm sure we would have quite happily remained in the restaurant for a few more drinks if we'd not been booted.  I guess, that's a pretty common occurrence in HK.

As we stood outside in the sweltering and sticky Hong Kong evening, we'd reflected on the meal, with BH commenting that it would good, but probably not a restaurant that she'd hurry back to. Upon reflection, and writing up the post, I'm not so sure.  Yep, I don't think the mains were stellar, but they were pretty serviceable, but the starters were actually really good, and the tagliatelle with chicken and truffle was pretty special.  In fact, it would probably be worth heading back to Fish & Meat just for that wonderful dish.

For a restaurant to pitch itself as farm to table, it's not a bad restaurant, in fact, I'd say much better than average, although it's strange that the best dishes were pasta!  I guess, even the ingredients for the pasta came from a farm, but I just never think of pasts in that way.  

The restaurant was packed on a Friday night, with scores of people at the bar waiting for the second round of tables to become available, so it's definitely doing something right (even if it was filled with Expats!)

A complimentary serve of warm crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic
The beef tartare 
Love this bottle of homemade limoncello ensconced in a block of ice to keep it cool
Yep, we were in Expat territory!

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