Up until a year ago a dear friend of mine lived in a walk-up on Kau U Fong in Soho. Her apartment had brown sticky mildew, a cockroach infestation and a lecherous old neighbour who’d sit conspicuously in his window with his hands conspicuously absent. I’m not saying her leaving had a positive impact on the neighbourhood, but the area has undergone a demonstrable improvement since then.
That little enclave off Aberdeen Street has always had eateries a plenty, but they’ve been of the fried snacks in baskets, bums of stools variety. You could travel in any other direction to arrive at great restaurants. To the North you have PMQ and the edgy-by-numbers brigade. To the South, IFC and the army of expense accounts that spawn lavish, but soulless restaurants. And to the East, Black Sheep’s grazing ground.
But of late, the alleyways off Gough Street have undergone a quiet transformation. Typically, it’s only an influx of gays or a super head teacher that would have such an obvious impact on house prices. But in this case, it appears to be a series of relaxed but serious restaurants. Beet is the latest of these to join Cocotte and Gough’s.
Beet hasn’t received a huge amount of press attention (though, there was a typically turgid review in the SCMP) but word has spread and a groundswell of interest has made getting a table a little tricky. Admittedly, I always attempt to book late in the day, but I had to wait until the third occasion to secure a table.
The quiet opening is no reflection of Beet’s ambition, the restaurant brims with confidence. The menu includes just four starters and four mains.
Behind a large pane of glass (the likes of which you only see in in Din Tai Fung or the Ocean Park aquarium) a very young brigade of chefs work with a quiet, composed diligence.
The fixtures and fittings have a distinctly Nordic flavour. Rows of pickled vegetables adorn the wall. It’s unclear whether these jars of multi-coloured alien foetus are for decoration only, but they certainly contribute to the impression that interesting things happen within the kitchen.
The high ceilings and refrained decor creates a sense of space that renders you oblivious to other diners. That’s not to say there’s s muted atmosphere. The restaurant hums with patter of happy conversation.
The cocktail menu is modern and inventive. I really fancied the clean pina colada, but my pretence of masculinity prevented this. I needn’t have worried though, as my negroni had also been chemically castrated. The manly bitterness of Campari replaced by a flower and an extraneous amount of ice. It wasn’t unpleasant (while sipping my little finger involuntarily erected in a display of camp appreciation) but it wasn’t a negroni.
As an aspiring critic with delusions of diligence, I should have ordered the more interesting options of Geoduck (‘the penis-like shellfish you see at the wet market’ as explained by our waitress) and Carrot Ravioli. But, I dithered, muttered and shamefully ordered the safer options of Brussel Sprouts and Wagyu beef.
My starter was equal parts sprouts, melted butter, black garlic and flaked almonds. The dish shouldn’t have worked. The almonds should have been dry, the sprouts tasteless and black garlic sparsely adorned. But after mixing the ingredients together, the brittle baked almonds disintegrated adding a slight bitterness, the sprouts were nutty and buttery, and the black garlic emulsion sweetly bound it all together.
The other starters, including a trio of snapper, chicken parfait & parmesan along with Hokkaido scallops with mandarin and marigold, drew an equally rapturous response from my dining guests.
My main of Black Label Wagyu Beef was sublime. It literally glistened. Both the beef and grilled leeks were lightly burnt and contained a welcome tang of charcoal. There was a lot of it, too. I was able to enjoy two sizable slabs of meat without any hint of restraint. A slug of sweet and sour onion jam provided a tasty tang to the whole dish.
Although both dishes were exceptional, they both leveraged tried and tested flavour combinations. I’ve had very close variations of both my dishes in the last few months. But that shouldn’t detract from their execution, as it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.
Service was also bright and enthusiastic. There were a number of dietary requirements (not to mention a Manhattan pedant) but these were accommodated without a fight or a fuss. What’s more, even though we hadn’t batted an eyelid at two main course dishes arriving late, three complementary deserts arrived by way of apology. Although we had all declared ourselves stuffed, the three deserts of brown butter ice cream, sage and hazelnut lasted a matter of seconds.
The strawberries had the sourness bestowed by an alcoholic seeping, the ice cream an autumnal richness and a meringue tuile added a fanciful fizziness.
All in all, we had a wonderful evening at Beet. The restaurant’s arrival is not just a boon for Kau U Fong, but a boon for the entire Hong Kong food scene. Although we are barely out of February, it’s hard to see another restaurant beeting it to the accolade of opening of the year.
How much? 4,250 for five with cocktails and two bottles of grog
Where? 6 Kau U Fong, Central
Who goes? Trendy young things seeking excellent food