There’s only really two things that make a half decent restaurant review. The first is perception. Not just of the restaurant experience, but of the circumstances, trends and economics that surround and form it. The second is an appreciation of flavour. The ability to dissect and describe the food in front of you is what separates the Jonathan Gold’s from the Susan Jung’s of this world.
I’ve no shame in admitting that the former comes easier to me than the latter. Writing astutely about food, or more precisely, writing about flavour is remarkably difficult.
Which is a problem when you visit a restaurant like Black Salt.
The usual trope of adjectives that are the mainstay of your average TripAdvisor critic just don’t cut it. Succulent. Mouth-watering. Foodgasm. Fuck off.
BlackSalt deserves better than that. BlackSalt deserves real appreciation for the simile of ingredients that make up the layers of flavour.
I’ve had a review of BlackSalt sitting impotently on my desktop since its first month of opening. Over the course of the year since then I’ve haven’t been able to bring myself to hit publish. I hadn’t done justice to the complexity and vibrancy of flavour that each dish delivers.
So, on a cold Monday evening and with Mrs A away on business, I called upon the joys of Deliveroo. With an extravagant disregard for my bank balance I ordered enough food to feed a Texan family of four.
Since my first outing, the menu has further been defined and refined. Luckily, they have lost the Szechuan dumplings and Peking duck mos, which were an unnecessary nod to Black Salt’s Honk Kong back alley location. Unluckily, the remarkably decadent lamb rhapsody biriyani is not available for home delivery.
Although it came in enough cardboard packaging to fill a landfill, the food arrived with restaurant quality presentation. The Keralan beet ‘chop’ in particular, was beautifully displayed with meticulous layers of ingredients. This meant that the flavours could be sampled individually or taken as a whole, without them losing any of their charm. Dried coconut gave the grated beetroot patty a fruity vibrancy that made the otherwise earthy vegetable uncommonly addictive. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it. The beetroot was hidden in a little too much of the spiced spinach ‘porridge’, avocado and sour green yogurt. This delivered much needed savoury contrast, but I found myself scooping it all to the edge of my plate in order to get to the maroon slithers below. The dish was finished with brittle sprout crisps which had the sugary sweetness of burnt onion.
The menu is an enlightened interpretation of Nepalese, Bengali and Sri Lankan cuisine. As such, you genuinely feel like you’re trying something new, without a nagging sense of contrivance. The Bangin’ bharta for example, is a falafel like ball of minced kidney bean served with eggplant stew. These crumbled in my mouth unleashing a chalky dry hint of cumin. Bittersweet clumps of lightly smoked eggplant, provided just enough moisture to prevent the bharta from cloying to the roof of your mouth.
The Kothu Roti also remained free of fusion fussing, but again, the flavours are expertly layered, ensuring no taste is lost or over powered. I spent time happily picking out bits of asparagus and pulled chicken, but like Serendip, you gain maximum enjoyment from loading your fork and shoving as much in your gob as possible. Taken as a whole the Kothu was slightly chewy and had a woody, wet bamboo flavour. However, biting intensity was delivered by sambal and fingernail slithers of raw garlic, ginger and coconut added a sweet warmth.
The candied bacon is exactly that; thick slabs of pig loin slathered in a sticky, sweet tar. You can’t eat many, but those that you do deliver the same messiness and warmth as the recollection of a first love.
The house beer naan unfortunately didn’t live up to its billing. The dominant ingredient was fresh parsley, which had the unintended effect of killing any flavour it came into contact with. That said, it was perfectly adept at mopping up entrails of the other dishes and you’d be forgiven for ordering a second.
For all my enjoyment of the food, eating BlackSalt’s fare at home feels like a slight betrayal.
Although I set out to do justice to the flavours, the reality is you can’t do justice to the restaurant without visiting Fuk Sau Lane. In that little enclave of Sai Ying Pun, Taran Chadha has created a very happy place. Despite bringing a little happiness to my otherwise drab, lonely apartment, flavours shouldn’t really be separated from the experiences. So, I’ll be making another booking very soon.
How much? $605
Where? 14 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong (or Delivervoo)
Who goes? Anyone seeking a flavoursome meal