Concept Creations is definitely one of my favourite restaurant groups in Hong Kong. Whilst they’re somewhat dwarfed by dining behemoths like King Parrot, Igor’s and Dining Concepts, it’s quality not quantity, right? I’ve already banged on about how great Tapeo is here (and I was a big fan of their homely little Italian in Soho, Mrs Jones, that they sadly decided to shut down earlier in the year) so now it’s the turn of their other flagship restaurant, Frites.
Frites has bagged a prime location in Central (before all those steep slopes, perfect for lazy arses like me) and unlike many restaurants in the area, its premises are larger than a postage stamp. With a lofty, grand but relaxed ambience, it’s frankly nice to enjoy some high ceilings in this city for a change!
There’s a distinctly Bavarian feel to both the place and the menu – think lederhosen, bratwurst and beerhall and you’re not far off. Sturdy wood furniture, long wooden tables, dark green leather, chequered floors and, most importantly, a very big bar! Screw Hong Kong’s interminably long Oktoberfests, it’s like this at Frites all year round!
But the word Frites isn’t German, I hear you cry! So where’s the common ground between French for chips and Bavarian architecture… why, Belgium, of course.
Having been to Belgium, I can safely say the only thing remotely enjoyable about the place was the food. Never mind Belgian chocolate, it’s all about moules et frites, best enjoyed with a pale pint by your side. Almost every little local eaterie worth its salt serves the stuff so unsurprisingly, it’s Frites’ signature dish – and a very good signature dish it is too.
We opted for a kilogram of the most traditional of the six flavours on offer, the Moules Mariniere (somehow, I doubt Belgians are chowing down on Thai Curry steamed mussels just yet), which clocks in at a pricey $310. Served with a side of frites and mayo, plus a slab of bread, it’s just about enough for a meal for two, although you might be getting dinner pangs slightly earlier than usual later.
Dished up in a big steaming pot, the mussels were plump, tender and infused with flavour. The Mariniere broth, made from white wine, celery, garlic and mixed herbs, was a little too watery for my liking, but the delicate balance of flavours was spot-on. I’m all for liberal garlic use and it can be so awesome that it tends to overpower things, but here it played adeptly against the aromatic herbs, heady hit of wine and most interestingly, the flat, almost bitter, tang of the celery to produce a meal that had us smacking our lips from the smell alone!
Elsewhere, the frites were good but unexceptional, though they win marks for being obviously fresh, piping hot and nicely-seasoned. They come with mayonnaise, the most beloved of all condiments in Belgium and France, and though this was a nice touch, it didn’t really add much to the flavour (although I know it adds plenty to the hips!).
Just one slice of bread is a little stingy though, non? Everyone knows practically the best part of a mussel pot is mopping up the excess juices so only one slice for a whole kilogram was a little disappointing.
But where Frites really comes into its own is with its beer selection – they have more beers than they do dishes! With a wide variety of Belgian beers both bottled and on draught that are far from your typical run-of-the-mill HK bar fare, it’s a booze aficionados paradise (beer-mat collectors will be in for a treat too!). It’s also the rationale behind Frites’ monk mascot (Belgium is famous for beer produced in monasteries) and there’s even a ‘Frites Prayer’ extolling the delights of booze, with riffs on the Lord’s Prayer that will doubtless have the vicar’s wife reaching for the smelling salts.
We went for a Leffe Blonde Draught ($55 for 330ml) – check out the head on that! What I know about beer you could write on a Borrowers’ Post-It note but I do know that this beer was delicious. Light, sweet, almost fruity and not wincingly dry, it was the perfect accompaniment.
Sunlight streaming through the massive windows, a huge pot of steaming mussels to pick over and a pint of Belgium’s finest to wash it all down, Frites is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely lunch on a lazy Sunday. Or brunch. Or dinner. Or tea…
Frites: Belgium On Tap, Shop 1 & 2, 1/F, Queen’s Palace, 74 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong, 2179 5179
P.S. Nowhere to really fit this in but I just wanted to applaud Concept Creations for continuing to think outside the box in choosing locations for their new restaurants. After unexpectedly picking Sai Wan Ho for their newest Tapeo (a particularly inspired decision, as you can see here), Frites has just opened their second branch in Quarry Bay. Nice to see Concept Creations showing some love to the neglected Island East side, rather than just carrying on the Central-TST appreciation society.
A version of this review also appears on Sassy Hong Kong.