Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bread Street Kitchen - Gordon Ramsay in Hong Kong

Gordon Ramsay is arguably the biggest name in the food industry. With a catalogue of restaurants that span the globe, as well as a number of well known TV programs such as Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef USA, Ramsey seems to be everywhere.  But Chef Gordon Ramsay is a polarising figure, his huge popularity is matched by his detractors, including another famous UK chef, Jamie Oliver.

With an incredibly interesting background that included time as a (semi) professional football player that culminated,  then ended when injuries took a toll while trialling for Scottish powerhouse Rangers.  Ramsay started his cooking career by accident after initially enrolling in Hotel Management.  It wasn't until Ramsay found himself cooking for culinary legend Marco Pierre White that a passion was ignited that would one day take him to the top of the culinary heap.

After almost three years of equal parts learning and terror, Ramsay tired of the 'rages and bullying' from Pierre White, which ironically would become the most recognisable traits in Ramsay himself, and moved on.  It was time spent with legendary French chefs Albert Roux, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon and a number of years in France that really honed Ramsay's skills in the kitchen.  Further enhancing his skills as a restauranteur, Ramsay went into several partnerships for a few years that helped directly gain Michelin Stars, but it wasn't until 1998 when Gordon opened his own restaurant, called Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, that things really started to heat up and by 2001 Restaurant Gordon Ramsay had gained it's third Michelin Star.

You know how the saying goes - the rest of course, is history!  So now I've caught you up with stuff you probably already knew.  

In 2014 and as part of his ever expanding restaurant empire, which now includes a total of 14 Michelin Stars globally, Gordon Ramsay opened up an outlet of his well known London restaurant, Bread Street Kitchen in Hong Kong.  The Hong Kong version is modelled on the London original and is a funky warehouse style dining experience that combines a strange mix of vintage and contemporary stylings for its fit out.  Located in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, Bread Street Kitchen rapidly became the most popular dining option in the city and for months, was just about the hardest place to get into.

By the time of our visit, the hype had died down sufficiently that we could secure a reservation for an early Sunday evening dinner the week before.  And I do mean very early by Hong Kong standards, our reservation was for 6:15pm, which we were actually pretty cool with.  One of the traits of a Ramsay restaurant is the service and we were warmly greeted at the front of the restaurant buy a trio of maitre d and quickly 'checked off the list' before being moved to our table right in the heart of the restaurant.

Our waitress, who throughout the meal would prove to be a charming and witty host, brought over the BSK menu, and filled us in on what was good.  It was refreshing to see a pretty normal menu offering, with none of the small and large share plate options that seem to proliferate in restaurant menus nowadays, there was a simple list of starters, salads, mains, from the grill and dessert. We spent a little bit of time contemplating the many delicious looking options before confirming our selections with our waitress, who indicated we'd made some great choices.

With our orders taken, a selection of warm and crusty breads was delivered is a cloth basket accompanied by a slab of soft butter with sprinkles of sea salt on top.  It's the little details like added salt and butter that was easy to spread which really contribute to a decent restaurant, so I was very hopeful that the Ramsay reputation would deliver on the night.  Also presented was SC's lychee cocktail, which from my little sip was quite delicious and refreshing on a typically hot and humid Kong Kong evening.

After a very shorty period of time, our starters arrived and I immediately thought I was onto a winner with the presentation of my yellow fin tuna ceviche with avocado and a sweet onion & sesame vinaigrette.  I loved the contrasting colours of the pink tuna and the pale yellow vinaigrette against the matt black of the square bowl.  As far as presentation went, it looked very appetising and after digging in for my first bite, the taste was equally fabulous.  The large chunks of fresh tuna were delightful but the absolute standout was that sweet onion & sesame vinaigrette, it was stunning.  The combination of the sweet sauce and the tuna was incredible, but the addition the soft texture of the avocado really set the dish apart.  I was very impressed.

We were in for a shock when SC's starter of roasted veal carpaccio with crème fraiche, truffle, and artichoke was presented, mainly because in her head she'd wanted to ask for the beef tartare with quail egg, onion and aromatic herbs.  As we checked with our awesome waitress, it occurred to SC that she had in fact asked fro the carpaccio and turned down the very kind offer to replace the starter, even though it was our fault.

Head adjusted to the starter now on the table, we were able to focus on the interesting presentation, which included circular swirls of the crème fraiche on a flat wooden board that had been made from a pretty solid looking tree.  The carpaccio was artfully presented around the edges of the log and seemed to have been completely cooked through, as opposed to the almost raw effect you'd normally expect from a carpaccio.  The combination of the sweet veal and the truffle was delicious and worked well with the slightly sour crème fraiche and the crunchy texture from the toasted artichoke.  While it wasn't the dish SC had initially wanted, it was still a marvellous starter and well enjoyed.

After what felt like only a few minutes after our starters had been cleared, our mains were on their way over from the kitchen.  We both agreed that we'd have preferred a little more time for our starters to settle, but didn't want to send the meals back to the kitchen.

In a nod to Gordon Ramsey's Scottish heritage, I decided to order the roasted Scottish salmon with confit summer vegetables, garlic puree and a chorizo dressing.  I have to say, the plate looked incredibly colourful but I was a bit dubious about the 'summer vegetables' that accompanied the salmon - roasted onion and roasted aubergine, for me, are much more aligned with winter vegetables.  The expertly cooked salmon fillet was sweet and full flavoured and the crispy skin lovely and salty, helping to balance out the dish.  While I didn't eat the aubergine (I hate it), I did find the addition of tapioca to be quite an interesting choice and to this moment still don't know whether I loved it or loathed it!  Finishing off the dish was a lovely sauce that had the essence of chorizo, which was always going to sit well with me, but more importantly, really worked with the salmon.

Our second main was the Traditional shepherd’s pie that was comprised of braised lamb, onions, carrots, celery, potato puree, parmesan and topped with brioche garlic crumbs.  It was a massive pile of food that was served straight out of its cast iron cooking receptacle.  I'm not a fan of shepherd's pie, but according to SC it was a good representation of the hearty dish.  While the waitress delivered a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce for added flavour, SC found that the pie had enough of a kick without the need for the sauce.  The potato on top was nice and fluffy, and the dish would certainly be welcome on a cold winter's night.  However, Hong Kong's spring heat may not be the best time to be eating it though...

Even eating most of the huge main course didn't put us off ordering dessert and it was an easy choice that didn't even require looking at the menu again, a feat which impressed our waitress. SC chose the sticky toffee pudding served with muscovado caramel and clotted cream, which ended up being an inspired choice.  The toffee pudding was super light, almost air-like in its texture and density, which helped soak up that wonderful warm caramel sauce.  The cream clotted cream was the heaviest texture on the plate and probably didn't get devoured with the same gusto as the pudding.

My choice was also an easy one, but to be honest, one that I do regret a little.  The Eton mess, with strawberries, Chantilly and meringue was just a little bit too sweet for my liking and was served in a dish that made it pretty hard to eat, without spilling all over the table.  My main gripe with the dessert was that there was too much sweetness, which needed to be balanced a little better, perhaps with a berry coulis or fresh strawberries (instead of macerated)  to add some tartness.  I couldn't even finish it off, it was just too sweet.

We'd heard and read mixed reviews about the Hong Kong version of Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen, but our experience had been superb.  Sure, in some twisted way I'd wanted there to be some huge failures, but to be honest, there was nothing really that I could be overly critical about.  Sure, the Eton mess was overly sweet, but not so much that I didn't finish most of it and yeah, we made an error about one of our starters, one I might add the restaurant would have rectified for us on the spot. 

It was interesting to see how quickly the restaurant filled up, even so early on a Sunday evening, so there was no doubt in my mind that the pulling power of the Gordon Ramsay name was just as strong as ever.  And why not, with a decent menu, an incredibly friendly and witty waitress who engaged with her customers (it wasn't just us) and a funky little fit out that had views of the kitchen on one side and busy Lan Kwai Fong from the window at our back, it was an overall great experience.

I guess the only real issue we had was how quickly the meal came out, we'd pretty much had all three courses within an hour and fifteen minutes.  We weren't sure if this was a tactic to get customers out of the restaurant quickly, so the table could be filled again, or if it's just such a well run kitchen that things flow smoothly.  Either way, given it was so hot and sticky outside, we'd have like to have spent more time inside....  

The tuna dish was something special with the vinaigrette simply stealing the show
Wonderfully cooked salmon but I do question the choice of 'summer vegetables'
The kitchen area dominates the restaurant

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