Saturday, 7 November 2015

Tartine - very fancy toasted sandwiches

There are so many new restaurants opening in Hong Kong that it's hard to keep up.  Sure, I have my regular sources of information to keep abreast of the changes, but it's nearly impossible to track them all.  I didn't have any such problems with recently opened Tartine, I'd been keeping a close eye on it's development each night on my walk home.  I love watching restaurants go from empty spaces to fully fledged establishments, mainly because I know that soon enough I'll be trying them out for myself!

That I was going to check out Tartine was a foregone conclusion, not just because it looked quite different from everything else around SoHo, but because of the involvement of Michelin-starrred Philippe Orrico, the man behind On Dining (see post here) and Upper Modern Bistro (see post here). Orrico is noted as consulting chef, which I assume is just helping with the menu and attributing his name to help the restaurant along, never the less, it got my attention.

Just in case you didn't know, a tartine is a fancy French toasted sandwich and Tartine has combined the humble toasty and spruced them up with high quality ingredients and a farm-to-table philosophy.

We'd planned to hit up Tartine on the way home from work one night and figured that as a brand new restaurant, we'd not need to make a booking.  It was a solid plan, especially since we'd walked by a few times since opening and not seen a soul inside so far.  It was also flawed, unbeknownst to our morning plans, Tartine had gone on an advertising blitz with an article in just about every food publication available in Hong Kong!

Thankfully, when we arrived there was only one table taken and we easily found a seat.  I'd thought to myself, so much for the advertising blitzkrieg!  Our very French waitress brought over a couple of menus and asked if we'd been in before, normally a great question, but kind of redundant when the place had only been open a few days!  I kept my sarcasm to myself and we noted that it was our first time, so she ran through the menu and approach.  Yep, we got the concept, toasted sandwiches - check!

We opted for a pretty broad selection from the 'sharing bites' and 'tartine' pages of the menu and while we waited for our food to arrive, had a good look at the restaurant from the inside.  Tartine was quite a compact space, with a huge kitchen area and room for about 30 seats in the dining area.  The dining room itself was pretty casual and had a slightly sparse feel to it.  I really liked the exposed brass pipes and semi industrial feel from the kitchen.

After a bit of stickybeaking, our first salvo of dishes arrived all at once and completely crowded our relatively small table.

Our eyes were instantly drawn to the huge bread board that contained our cold cuts order. Comprising of parma ham, truffle ham, saucisson, two types of chorizo and some toasted baguette, it was an impressive looking plate of processed meats!  It's important to note at this juncture that I'm not too concerned about the recent media reports that processed meats cause cancer.  We carefully divided up the cold cuts before diving in.  While I really liked the parma and truffle ham, even through didn't really get a strong flavour of truffle.  For me, the star of the plate was the two types of chorizo, one slightly sweeter than the other and one with a little more heat.  Yum!

We were also presented with a bowl of bigeye tuna carpaccio that sat atop a ponzu cream and was finished with truffle oil and micro herbs.  To go with the carpaccio were some little rounds of flat bread, which would have been perfect if they had not been a little on the stale side!  Never the less, the tuna was delicious, especially with the sweetness of the ponzu cream but like the previous dish, I didn't really pick up any notes of truffle!

The pick of the first round was the black truffle sandwich, with looked like little logs of toasted sandwich goodness on a plate.  If I was to be critical, a couple of the toasted sandwiches looked a little burnt on the outside.  However, it's hard to be critical of melted cheese with strong hints of truffle, especially when they tasted as superb as these bad boys did.  We'd saved them for last and savoured every last bite.

Our first round of 'share bites' were finished and we both agreed that all had been pretty tasty, Tartine was off to a great start.  After a short while, we had another barrage of food delivered, this time our 'mains' which had been from the 'tartine' pages of the menu.  Like our starters, everything was delivered at once and again our table was filled with food.

It was hard to know where to begin, there was almost too much food to choose from.  I went straight for the lobster and homemade b├ęchamel, which came with a little cup of lobster bisque. The simply presented dish was as you'd expect from a tartine, thick rye bread with heaps of lobster and creamy cheese sauce.  The tartine was already cut up for easy consumption, so it was just a matter of using your fingers and digging in.  It was pretty simple and it was very tasty.

With such simple food, you don't have too many places to hide, it's either good, or its bad, no in-between.  Thankfully the next tartine of Paris ham and b├ęchamel was even better than the lobster.  There is something homely and comforting about a ham and cheese toasty, and this dish brought back all of those fond memories of eating toasted sandwiches on cold winter days back home.

Good as the first two tartines were, our third one was on the other end of the spectrum.  We had high hopes for the Maison Samaran duck confit, topped with caramelised onion, orange and mint, but it really didn't work for me.  Duck normally pairs wonderfully with orange, but in this instance, the flavours didn't compliment each other at all and the addition of the sweet caramelised onion was really over powering.  I tried to eat a piece, but really struggled.  SC fared a little better and didn't dislike it as much as I did, but she couldn't finish it off either.

Our last dish was a departure from the tartines and in theory should have been my favourite.  I absolutely adore beef tartare and thought the grass fed Angus beef tartare would be a winner... But it wasn't, it wasn't at all.  I can't quite put my finger on what it was that I didn't like, there was a liquid that didn't sit well with me that impacted the tartare, it was hard to describe.  I'd also noticed that there wasn't the normal ingredients of a great tartare, the egg yolk, no noticeable onions, the capers etc.  We both struggled to eat the dish, although the girl ate a little more of it than me.

We'd ordered way too much food as well, which was totally our fault as we'd ignored our waitress when she'd informed us that we had plenty on order.  I fell victim to a case of 'eyes-bigger-than'belly', so in reality, we'd have been better off not ordering the tartare.  Having said that, I still had room to finish off the tartare if it had been 'kick-ass'.

Overall, I'd have to say that I enjoyed our first meal at Tartine, apart from the duck and tartare, the rest of the meal had been really tasty.  It's a pretty simple concept really, fancy toasted sandwiches, but also pretty unique in HK (as far as I know!).  However, I'd have to say the food would be more suited to lunch than dinner and to get your fill, you'd have to order a heap of tartines and the prices adds up after a while.

I was happy to see that shortly after we were seated, quite a few people had also arrived and by the time we'd paid up to leave, it was really quite busy (if not completely packed), so maybe the advertising blitz had worked after all!

I think I'd go back to Tartine, probably not for dinner, but if I was wandering around SoHo at lunch time, one or two tartines would be a top way to have a quick and tasty lunch.

The only thing better than one type of Chorizo is two!  Nomnom
The parma ham on the toasted baguette was awesome
To be honest, you'd not want to see burnt toasties coming out of the kitchen - they still tasted awesome but visually were not great
You can see the Mid Levels escalators from Tartine
A pretty laid back and casual dining experience
It was starting to pick up by the time we left

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