Monday, August 8, 2011

Hong Kong - Fa Zu Jie 法租界

Another day in Hong Kong, another private kitchen, if you can find it that is.  Tucked in a non-descript building, inside an alleyway off D'Aguilar Street, expect to get it wrong the first time, and you'll be fine. All part of the adventure.  Once you find and open the sign-less white door, enter into a swanky open kitchen area along one wall and tables on the other, set against a backdrop of a long side cupboard topped with opened wine bottles.

Menus are tucked into a little story book, so you look quite learned while poring through the menu.  I saw the menu before I arrived so I pretty much knew what I was going to be eating, produce wise.  But I was still pleasantly surprised by what was served.  Just remember the tagline on the menu is "滬味兒裡賞洋風景" literally translated to mean that one should enjoy a western scenery from the Shanghai tastes within.

Black Sea. Exploration.
First course - a chilled jelly made from the black vinegar that Shanghainese love to cook, drizzle or douse most of their food with.  But this was the first time I've had it in gelatinous form.  Given the acidity, it wakes the palate immediately and you want to be fed instantaneously.  Sprinkled with what looks like crispy Japanese seaweed, it is actually freeze-dried Snow Vegetables, a Shanghainese household staple of preserved vegetables they use in stir fried or soup noodles typically.

Toast. Shanghai Style.
Course 2 was another interesting take on Shanghainese staples.  The use of 烤夫, which is made from fermented gluten and is typically braised in a dark and sweet soy with beans, bamboo shoots, etc. till the spongy texture absorbs all the taste from the gravy, then served chilled as an appetiser.  Here, it is toasted, then in the foreground, slathered with a Snow Vegetable laced cream cheese, and the other in the background is a yummy eggplant puree.  The cream cheese was a little odd, but oddly pleasant enough.

After appetisers, we were suitably excited about what was coming next and were recommended a well-chilled Gentil de Katz 2009 from Alsace.  Crisp but easy to down, it did go pretty well with the food, and when we saw the bill much later, it was a very reasonable price to pay.

鵪鶉小姐。 讚岐先生 。蓮霧。杞子。都半醉了
Miss Quail. Mr. Sanuki. Wax Apple. Wolfberry.
All are Half Drunk.
This was easily the star of the evening.  And from what I've seen they acknowledge it too and is almost a standard on all their menus, even if the other items change regularly.  So simple, so classic yet so perfectly executed.  Miss Quail was lightly braised to retain a touch of pink, leaving her succulent, juicy and had the right degree of gaminess to confirm you were eating quail but not as to make it overpowering.  Mr. Sanuki (a Japanese udon) was perfectly al dente and soaked up the aged Huadiao wine broth very well.  Wax apples were a nice touch of fresh and crisp while the wolfberries were plump and sweet.

Yellow Croaker. Tempura Outfit.
There were 2 courses to this one.  Shanghainese in the use of the yellow croaker, the first was a croaker liver wrapped in Perilla leaf, then tempura-ed.  Excellent.  Second was the croaker fillet also tempura-ed.  Nothing western here but the Japanese influence was clear to see.

Sticky Prawn.
This was probably the most Shanghainese in cooking style although we were told that the chef got his inspiration from a shrimp based risotto he is used to making.  Wherever the inspiration came from, it was good.  Ironically, and as admitted by the host, the star is actually the Shanghainese glutinous rice cakes and not the shrimps themselves.  All the essence from the shrimp heads culminated in a rich umami laden sauce that was utterly consumed by the rice cakes making each bite a burst of shrimpy goodness.

Panna Cotta. Oriental touch.
I thought this would be weird but it was actually very good.  The use of a very good milk probably helped and the chef's French training came through in a panna cotta which was ultra smooth and fragrant.  The use of Osmanthus kept him true to his Shanghainese roots and brought the meal home for us.

What the menu lacked in exotic goodies, was more than made up for by the chef's blend of creativity, marrying Shanghainese  roots with French training, and most importantly, the ability to execute it as close to perfection under a tagline.  Well worth a repeat visit.  Thanks KM and WN for introducing us to this place!

1st Floor, 20A D’Aguilar Street
Central, Hong Kong
T: +852 3487 1715

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