Middle Eastern that’s hummus, right?
Yes darling, hummus.
You know… um… just wait and see.
Truth be told, Mrs A wasn’t alone in her ignorance of what to expect from Francis. ‘Inspired by Tel Aviv street food’ also did little to conjure culinary images in my mind’s eye.
The new Star Street restaurant seems to take certain liberties with its interpretation of Middle-Eastern cuisine, adopting an Ottoman demarcation of the region. With chicken schnitzel, calamari salad, panna cotta and, of course, hummus, the brunch set menu sprawled from the Austrian Tirol to the Greek Islands and back again. But I am neither a pedant nor a puritan. As long as the food is cooked with a bit of heart and a dash of flair, I’m happy to indulge in a little culinary narrative license.
We rocked up to Francis Street on their first Sunday of service expecting to be politely turned away or asked to wait a few hours (there’s obviously a no booking policy). But we had a choice of tables and, with it being a beautiful mid-February day, we decided to perch in the window, half in (her), half out (me).
Sadly, the set brunch menu included none of the more interesting dishes from the al la carte options; there was no veal cigar, no curd and no stuffed mussel. So, with a quaffable glass of red we waited for the prescribed dishes to arrive.
Naturally, the hummus was placed down first. It had none of the traits of your typical grainy, beige slurry. It was clean, nutty and fresh. It was also lusciously smooth and buttery. So smooth in fact, I suspect the scales were tipped heavily away from chickpeas towards top shelf olive oil and tahini. The moist dense focaccia was fairly unremarkable, but it performed its role of hummus scoop adequately enough.
The baked halloumi arrived in a blistering pan of pomegranate seeds and molasses. The sizzle and silt may have masked any significant flavour of Halloumi, but we both scraped the top layer from the iron skillet attempting to get every last bit of the molten treacle.
The falafel was course, crunchy and crumbled into the tahini, yielding a scrumptious cement like mixture. Before we knew it, the small plates were empty, and we both wore Cheshire cat smiles.
Francis is the brainchild of Asher Goldstein (chef), Simone Sammuri (sommelier) and James Ward (front of house). Disenfranchised with the group-dominated HK foodie scene, they’ve gone it alone. In order to create the hottest opening of the year so far, the three amigos have obviously thought long and hard about the dining experience. The music swung effortlessly between Motown and Morcheba. The decor is bang on trend with copious amounts of chrome and a Tom Dixon art deco aesthetic. And the drinks list delightful and reasonably priced.
My main of chicken schnitzel was abnormally fantastic. I can only assume the meat had gone for a swim in a water bath before being coated in golden panko and za’atar, as it was unbelievably light and succulent. It was sadly let down by a small handful of sautéed potatoes which swam in a puddle of their own oil. Mrs A’s Kafta was pretty good too – but what’s not to love about a lamb burger, silky sweet onion and more tahini?
The panna cotta desert sat on top of a sour marmalade type substance, wobbling with the texture of cellulite. It struck the perfect balance of rosemary and rose. Get those flavours wrong and it tastes like chewing on a Lush bath bomb, but get it right and you’re the grateful recipient of a grassy fragrancy – a welcome palate cleanser after a spice laden meal.
There is something very familiar about Francis. I surveyed the room and racked my brain as to what it might be. Next to us a plump moneyed man of nondescript Eastern European origin was pilfering food off a botoxed blonde’s plate. An impossibly middle class couple were engrossed in conversation obvious to their two children (probably named Jack and Anastacia) running amuck. A young Chinese couple at the bar were happily ignoring each other, flicking between WeChat and their guide book. In short, it was just like being back in London on a sunny spring day.
London on such a day trounces every other place on earth. Sitting in Hyde Park getting giddy on M&S prosecco and pork pies leaves even the most ardent workaholic in happy ignorance of the work week ahead. It may have been the crisp sunny weather, relaxed atmosphere or wonderful food, but that’s exactly how Francis felt on that Sunday afternoon. With nowhere to be and nothing to do, we could not have been more content watching the world go by.
Unfortunately, it won’t be long before the heat and humidity will prevent such alfresco afternoons. Sadly, I can’t see Francis having the same appeal when shuttered and stifled with arctic air conditioning. So, my advice would be to get down before the heat and hype rises any further.
How much? $655 for two (including two glasses of wine)
Where? G/F, 4-6 St. Francis Street, Wan Chai
Who goes? West London types