Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Casual Dining - The Chop House

After living in Hong Kong for around six months, I'm starting to get a bit of a feel for the food scene in this monolith of a foodie city.  Now, I'm not going to pretend that I've got it nailed, it's likely that will never happen, no matter how many restaurants I visit, but I am getting attuned to the vibe.  Most of the time, I find it pretty easy to track down a restaurant that feels right, a restaurant that I'd happily go back to again and again.  However, every now and then, I find a spot that doesn't really resonate, a spot that's pretty forgettable and sometimes a restaurant that is just plain terrible.

It's not as if you can pick the quality of a restaurant by an area in Hong Kong, there are gems in just about every part of the city.  Causeway Bay has some very fond memories for me, largely due to our regular haunt, Din Tai Fung (see post here), but also such gems as Penthouse By Harlan Goldstein (see post here) and Paradise Dynasty (see post here).  Wanting to expand our Causeway Bay dining experience, we made our way to Soundwill Plaza (the home of the aforementioned Penthouse) for an evening at the Wooloomooloo Group's The Chop House.

The Wooloomooloo Group is responsible for a swag of premium steakhouses in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as being named after one of Sydney's most famous inner city suburbs (Russell Crow's old stomping grounds - yes, I know it's spelt slightly different too!).  With Wooloomooloo Prime and Steakhouse the premium brands, the group have established a slightly more relaxed, casual dining experience called the Chop House.  

We made our way through busy Causeway Bay and into the relative tranquility of the Soundwill Plaza foyer, before being ushered to a lift that was sent specifically for our dinner (not really, we just didn't have anyone else in the lift with us).  Once the lift doors opened, the tranquility was smashed, with some banging techno pumping out of the Chop House.  We were warmly greeted at the front door and were led through the very large dining room to some seats near the back of the restaurant.  Our table was notable by it's large printed words that left us in no doubt we were in a steak restaurant - steak, veal chops and burgers most prominent...  No white linen at the Chop House, it was definitely casual dining.

Looking through the menus that were dropped in front of us, the Chop House was definitely a place for carnivores, with plenty of different meat options, from a wide variety of cuisines, including Southern American, Spanish, Mexican, Italian and Australian.  While there was a wide variety of options, there was a definite slant towards meat!   

I've been to some restaurants where the service is quick before, but in all my years of dining, I've never eaten a meal as quickly as our Chop House dinner.  It was literally only minutes after placing our orders that our starters arrived!  

I'd ordered the mussel soup with creamy green lip New Zealand mussels, cooked in a rock fish stock cream and served with croutons and a pretty lame looking sour cream quenelle.  Now I am sure that soups in restaurants are cooked in big pots and are pretty easy to serve, but I at least like the illusion that there is some actual cooking of the soup that's done at the last minute! Anyway, the soup was not too bad, but the mussels were well over cooked and instead of being creamy as advertised, were quite chewy, perhaps as a consequence of not being added at the last minute before serving.  The creamy soup was actually nice, with a depth of flavour that highlighted that it had probably been cooking for a while.

SC's starter was the Nicoise Salad, minus the tuna, but including vine ripened tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes and green beans, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.  It was fresh and light, with crispy salad, but personally, I'm not sure what the point of a Nicoise Salad is without Tuna..  Anyway, SC seemed to enjoy it and she did want something quite light to start off, so mission accomplished.

SC's main was distinctly British, and highlighted the audience that the Chop House was aiming for, Expats!  The Bangers & Mash featured five small honey and pork sausages sitting atop a bed of creamy mashed potato and topped off with a red wine sauce.  It was served in a cast iron skillet and looked quite a large dish, but also a little rustic (bordering on messy).  Even though the looked a little messy, they were spot on with the fatty sausages full of pork flavour, with a hint of honey that lingered on the palate.  The mash was creamy as advertised and once the red wine sauce was mixed through, was pretty darn tasty too.  While very tasty, the little sausages should have come with a health warning!  Every time SC cut one of the little suckers, splatters of fat flew everywhere!

As with our entrees, our main courses had come out within minutes of our entree plates being taken away, and as my New Zealand grass fed sirloin was placed in front of me, I wondered how it could possibly be cooked correctly.  As it turned out, it wasn't!  Because it was a slightly fattier sirloin, I'd asked for it to come medium, to make sure the fat was rendered correctly, however, the steak came delivered rare (bordering on blue).  It actually looked cooked well from the outside, but when I cut into it, it was red and bloody!  Luckily, I don't mind my steak on the bloody side, so I still ate it, but it was definitely lacking in flavour due to the undercooking (and under seasoning). Served with the steak was some mushrooms, chips and tomato, with only the chips being tasty. It was not a dish that impressed me at all.

We'd only been in the restaurant for about thirty minutes by the time our entrees and mains were cleared off, possibly less, so we decided that we wanted to hang around for just a little while longer and ordered a dessert to share.  Keeping it simple, we went for the hot chocolate brownies, served with vanilla ice cream.  The trend of quickly delivered food continued but this time we had a plate that was well presented and filled with three chocolate brownies and ice cream.  It was without doubt the best dish of the night, with light and fluffy brownies that tasted great, especially when mixing the cold vanilla ice cream with the warm goodness of the brownies.

Well, if there was an award for getting customers in and out of a restaurant in record time, then the Chop House would win it hands down.  For me though, it was quite a disappointing experience.  The service was friendly, no doubt, but we just felt rushed and didn't have any time for our meals to settle between courses.  SC and I actually quite enjoy quick meals, but for three courses, the right time is generally about an hour and a half...  Our Chop House experience was well under half of that time.

Having said that, I'm not sure I was a fan of the ambiance of the Chop House either, which was definitely slanted towards Expats and had very commercial techno pumping out, which grated on the nerves after a while.  We were quite close to the back area of the restaurant, so we could see the outdoor section, which was filled with (what looked to be) Expats, chugging  beer and flirting with the locals.  Not really my scene, so I was actually glad to be out in record time.

As far as hits and misses go, the Chop House is a definite miss for me, but then I really don't think I am the target audience that the Wooloomooloo team are looking for with the Chop House. I guess if I want something a little more up market, I will have to try their Premium steak house, which I will do.  I just hope they don't rush us through that meal...

Nice chips, but the mushrooms and tomatoes seemed like afterthoughts!
The warm chocolate brownies were the best part of the meal
One of the reasons why the Chop House might be so popular - self service beer! Get all the refills you want as you eat.  Maybe thats why the get the food out so quickly!
It was mostly empty for our visit, despite having beer on tap!
Yep, this would be a good reason why the Chop House was filled with westerners! 
I was surprised to see this award on the way out.  I had to ask myself - was it locked away so it couldn't be taken back?

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