Saturday, 14 November 2015

The First Floor - the best of surprises

We were walking home from work one evening, taking a new route for some strange reason, and happened along a pretty fancy restaurant launch.  It looked pretty inviting, with red carpet and lots of floral arrangements, but we were on a mission to get somewhere (can't even remember where now!) and made a mental note to get along and check it out.  There was one problem though, we didn't bother to find out the name of the restaurant!

It wasn't a huge problem though, we knew it was in Duddell Street and easy enough to find.  It was a Tuesday night and we felt adventurous, so wandered along Duddell Street, up the steep stairs to find our mystery restaurant.  Called 'the First Floor', we banked on the place not being too busy on a Tuesday night and rocked up without a reservation.  As luck would have it, we were welcomed with open arms and shown to a table and, not for the first time in Hong Kong, were the only people in the restaurant!

Only the First Floor is not really a restaurant, but a private club thats been set up by media group 'Lifestyle Federation'.  Part dining room, part open demonstration kitchen and 'part lounge for hire', the First Floor also has a humador for those that like a cigar after dinner.  It's plush too, really plush!  Our very comfortable seats were red velvet like seats and were placed around tables that were set for silver service.

Silver service, it's a bit of an antiquated approach for restaurants now, with many kitchens taking a more relaxed approach to dining, but it's easy to forget how nice it can be.  We had a very large number of wait staff on hand to help us through the evening, starting with the presentation of the tasting and a la carte menus.  There was a $1600 per person tasting menu that looked very tempting, but we tend to leave our huge tasting menu meals for the weekends, so oped for a couple of courses from the a la carte menu.

Crafting the menu and running the kitchen was Chef Kit Cheung, formerly of two Michelin starred Caprice (my dining destination next weekend!), so it was no surprise that the seasonally inspired menu held so many delectable looking choices.  Hard as it was, we made our choices at which point a couple of things happened at once.

A bread plate was presented with a huge range of warm and lightly toasted breads, which was accompanied by a selection of flavoured butter.  We had the choice of salted and unsalted butter, as well as a pesto butter and really interestingly a cinnamon butter.  Also making its way to the table was an amuse bouche of tofu with pickled beetroot.  Now I'm not a fan of tofu, so I'm not going to pretend that I liked it, but the pickled beetroot at least made it tolerable.  SC on the other hand, is partial to a little tofu and quite liked the little bite.

We could tell from the presentation of our first dish, that there was a talented chef in the kitchen, but it was once we tasted the dish, that we knew the guy was a star.  Using trumpet mushrooms and a seafood bisque foam, the plate was decorated with the exoskeleton of a langoustine, which partially hid the delicate sweet meat that it had provided.  The langoustine was exquisitely cooked, with it's natural sweetness on display and nicely complimented by the slight bitterness of the bisque.  The interesting thing was that as the dish was consumed, new flavours became prominent, the earthiness the mushrooms in particular.

I'd chosen a luxurious dish of lobster bisque, which was initially presented in a bowl with tiny squares of lobster meat and a quenelle of clotted cream sitting atop.  With a little pomp and ceremony, the bisque arrived separately in a white tea pot and was poured over to form a viscous looking broth in my bowl.  My initial mouthful was quite disappointing, the bisque was way too sharp and a little unpleasant, but I hadn't let the magic happen.  Before my eyes, the clotted cream was dissolving and mixing into the bisque, to form a perfectly balanced dish.  Instead of a harsh twang on my palate, the velvety bisque became a triumph, which was helped by little bits of chewy sweet lobster flesh.  It showed that sometimes you need a little patience with a dish!

We'd had some strong flavours for our starters and were thankful when the plethora of wait staff cleared our plates and replaced them with a palate cleanser.  The simple little shot glass contained a mandarin granita, which was exactly what we needed to prepare ourselves for our mains.

The first of which was a departure from traditional French cooking of our starters and had wandered into Italian cuisine.  The spaghetti carbonara with 63 degree Onsen egg, cherry tomato halves and little quenelles of caviare was quite special.  The dish was presented with the slow cooked egg sitting atop the pasta, which had a lovely creamy sauce filled with strips of salty bacon.  Once the egg was blended in with the sauce, the true cleverness of the dish was revealed, with the silky smooth yolk transforming the simple dish to near perfection.  The little salty balls of caviar were balanced against the acidity of the cherry tomato, demonstrating that everything on the plate had a purpose.  Oh, the pasta was supremely cooked and perfectly al dente.

With the near perfection of our meal to date, I had high expectations for my main of monkfish cooked with chorizo and accompanied by baby new carrots of differing colours and fresh sweet peas.  It certainly looked amazing on the plate, with each of the baby carrots turned as well as you'd expect in any Michelin starred restaurant.  All the ingredients were there, save a little salt and pepper!  The dish felt like it hadn't been seasoned at all, and as a consequence. the monkfish felt a little flat and bland!  I'd been expecting a little salty hit from the chorizo, but it had been sliced so thin, it really had no impact, in fact, I couldn't really taste it at all!  The carrots and peas were superb though, fresh and lightly cooked so they still retained their fresh flavour and crunch, but the accompaniments are not the dish and it would have been well served with the missing seasoning.

We opted out of desserts, but were still presented with a pre-dessert treat of clotted cream mixed in with fresh berries and finished off with a curl of tempered chocolate.  It was a super little treat that almost felt like a dessert anyway.

We weren't finished there though, in what turned out to be one of the most innovative ideas we've seen in Hong Kong, we were presented with a petite four cart, with a selection of macaroons, marshmallow and other little treats.  The instruction was to select a few of the items to finish off the meal, so we both selected a number of the macaroons (chocolate, passionfruit and strawberry were my choices), and SC also chose some marshmallows.  The macaroons were wonderful and combined with the pre-dessert treat, it really felt as if we'd had a de facto dessert!

Throughout the night, only one other table was occupied, so we had a handful of wait staff looking after our every need.  I have to say that we felt very spoilt by all the attention, but we did joke at one point that it felt like we were being 'watched' and every move scrutinised!  I wonder if there would be so much attention in a full dining room?

At the time of visiting the First Floor, we didn't realise or know that it was a private club, so midway through our meal, we were 'invited' to join the club.  There were two memberships, a free one (yep, we picked that) and a very pricy one (we made sure to tick the right box).  I guess we were happy to join, truth be told, we were not expecting much for our visit and walked away very pleasantly surprised.

I can see a time in the very near future when we will head back to the First Floor to check out the tasting menu.  It now holds a special little place in our foodie hearts.  In fact, we were reminded of our second ever visit to a Michelin starred restaurant in Germany with the same name.  The First Floor has rapidly become synonymous for high quality silver service in our world!

The dining room was plush and secluded, but the red 'velvet' really added to the private club feel
The demonstration kitchen on display for all
My favourite was the salted butter!
A good selection of breads for the table
The very elegant looking langoustine dish
Perfectly balanced flavours from lovely ingredients
Of course a private club needs a great selection of rare and fine whisky

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