Saturday, 15 August 2015

Assembly - gastropub in TST

As big as Hong Kong is, it's still amazing how small it can feel at times!  I talk of coincidences mainly, as in how likely is it that you will find yourself in a situation that has a sense of deja vu or serendipity.  I'm slowly getting to know my new city by the only way you can, getting out and exploring and just wandering the streets.  A little while ago, wandering around with the girl, we randomly walked around the streets of Kowloon and came across a little street, actually, more of a laneway called Knutsford Terrace.  Now, Knutsford Terrace is like a little party strip with restaurants and bars for as far as the eye can see and looked a little like a mini Lan Kwai Fong.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I found myself at the very same Knutsford Terrace for a little blogger get together.  We were there to check out the latest menu and offering from Assembly, part of the Prive Group's stable of restaurants, that included Michelin Starred NUR (a restaurant on my must visit list).

I was the first of our little group to arrive (surprise, surprise), but it wasn't too long before I was joined by our host for the evening JC and fellow Hong Kong food bloggers SupertasterMel and Silverthoughts.  It was the first time I'd met either blogger, so I was a little nervous to begin with, but it wasn't long before we were chatting like old friends!  Ahh, the beauty of food is that it's so inclusive and a great way to share passions.

Assembly is very much has a European air to its set up and styling.  With a Parisian train station feel, there are curved black arches and train station lighting that gives just enough light to provide a perpetual twilight feel. There's a more casual feel out the front, where most people were sitting when I arrived, soaking up the Knutsford Terrace ambiance. Down back there were more comfortable share dining tables, which started off pretty quiet and secluded, but as the night wore on, became the focus of the pumping beats that kicked off.

The menu at Assembly was a bit of a changeup from the usual gastropub fare.  With selections from Land, Earth, Sea and Heaven, there were many of the options you'd find in a gastropub, but there were also some surprising little twists and turns.  We were in the hands of our host JC for the evening when it came to food selection, but there were a heap of options for the fussiest of eaters.

We kicked off our share dining experience with a fig and pancetta salad, which had large chunks of fresh fig as the star but ably supported by the salty pancetta and interestingly, some strawberry chunks.  There was a balsamic vinegar to bring a depth of flavour to the salad and flat strips of pecorino cheese.  Whenever I have a salad, I always remember the famous Simpson's quote 'you don't make friends with salad', but this was pretty good.

Up next was a cold cut platter that was jam packed with parma ham, spicy salami, mortadella, ham off the bone, red peppers with a soft cheese, prunes and apricots.  The cold cut platter didn't really excite me that much, I quite liked the ham but made a fatal mistake of thinking the red pepper was a small tomato, so I trashed my tastebuds for a few minutes (I'm not a huge fan of capsicum!)

We were back on track with our next selection of tempura tiger prawns with a tangy tartare sauce! I love prawns and the light tempura batter provided a crisp golden cover to perfectly cooked prawns that almost melted in my mouth.  There was a wonderful underlying sweetness to the prawn and the texture of the tempura batter did a great job of containing all of those beautiful prawn flavours.

Easily my favourite dish of the night was the lobster rolls, which were way better than any that I've had in Hong Kong and were pushing my New York lobster roll experience for prominence in my mind.  Large chunks of Boston lobster were jam packed into lightly toasted brioche rolls.  There was a little mayonnaise pulling the lobster chunks together too.  What was great about the lobster rolls were their size, they were easily twice as big as those I'd been devouring all over Manhattan! There's no doubt that the next time I'm in the area, I'm stopping off for one of those lobster rolls again!

I had mixed feelings about the tagliatelle with mussels in a creamy dill sauce.  The mussels were plump, perfectly cooked and wonderfully delicious, but I found that the pasta was just a little bit heavy for me.  I'm not sure if the pasta had been sitting at the pass for a little while after serving, but I found it to be just a little gluggy.  There was good flavour in the creamy dill sauce, but overall, I didn't eat too much of the pasta.

Last of our savoury dishes on the night was a traditional margherita pizza.  It was just a little 8 inch pizza, which was a great size, considering how full I was starting to feel.  The base was lovely and crispy and there was enough chewy mozzarella cheese to keep me happy.  The only thing I noticed was that the usual basil leaves that you'd find on a margherita were replaced with what seemed to be parsley.  I'm not so sure about that and wonder if there was a shortage of basil leaves in the kitchen..

The question came up about dessert, and as I've often seen with new groups of people gathering for the first time, there were sheepish looks that intoned that 'I couldn't possibly fit anything else in', but really meant 'I'm game if you are'.  Of course we were going to have dessert, so we picked out two of the three offerings on the menu to try out.

First out was the most interesting sounding, Cryo-Fried vanilla icecream, a variation on the traditional Chinese deep fried ice cream.  What was presented was a huge ball of golden brown goodness, which was then set alight by a pot of flaming brandy.  There was some heat from the flames, which lasted a few minutes and when they died out, a raspberry coulis was poured over the top to form an interesting looking dessert.  It was lovely, the dough outside was soft and yielding and the creamy vanilla ice-cream centre was cold and very sweet.  It was too big for our table though, it was the type of dessert that could easily satisfy eight!

Last out was the highlight of the evening for me.  With many names including a chocolate fondant or chocolate lava cake, the chocolate pudding was as good as they come.  There was the hard pudding outer that, once cracked open, oozed our the molten liquid chocolate, ready to be scooped up and devoured.  The best thing about fondants is mixing the hot chocolate with cold vanilla ice-cream, with the contrasting textures, temperatures and flavours blending perfectly. There is simply no better combo in desserts than chocolate and vanilla!

At some point in the evening, the ambiance had moved from Parisian twilight to London underground club, with the lights dimming and funky house pumping from the very decent sound system.  While not technically a club, I was informed that from time to time the team at Assembly gets a DJ in to amp up the tunes and get things rocking.  

It was our cue to head home from what had been smashing good time, meeting a couple of cool chicks and having a lovely share meal.  I'd quite enjoyed the meal with some real highlights being the lobster roll and the chocolate pudding.  Being a share meal, there were a couple of items that came out that I'd not have ordered on my own, at the expense of a dozen or so options that really looked amazing.  

I guess I'll need to head back to check out the slow braised pork belly, or the wagyu foie gras sliders, or the lamb meatballs, or the baby back pork ribs or the lobster risotto or the....  I guess you get the point!

** I was a guest of Assembly for this meal

And you can get alcoholic Nice Pops as well as cocktails at Assembly
The gooey centre of the chocolate fondant
The lights went down and Assembly morphed into a thumping bar

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