Lots of countries get beachside dining down pat – freshly cooked fish and chips in the UK, summery tropical seafood in Thailand, mouth-watering barbequed meat in the States – but until recently, Hong Kong was not one of them. Beach eats here often consisted of sad little shacks selling instant noodles and curry fish balls, which don’t get me wrong, I do love… but which just don’t feel quite right when the sun is shining and the waves are calling your name.
However, as businesses have woken up to quite how lucrative sun-dazed hungry diners might be, the quality of beachside restaurants in Hong Kong has crept up – and Limewood in Repulse Bay’s new The Pulse complex is definitely at the crest of the tidal wave.
Limewood is another Maximal Concepts’ creation (the ever-cool group behind Mott 32, Blue Butcher and Brickhouse), this time headed up by executive chef Russell Doctrove – whose food I have happily devoured at another of their venues, Fish & Meat. As ever with Maximal, the interiors are gorgeous and the food even more so, with a menu of crowd-pleasers that are certain to bring our your inner beach.
Limewood’s design is gorgeously bright and breezy, with turquoise walls, bleached timbers, white-washed ceilings, dangling brass lights and funky print cushions all lending to a laidback cabana atmosphere. The best bit, however, is something that no interior designer can really take credit for – that it’s literally right on top of Repulse Bay Beach! Factor in a no-brainer of an open-front that lets in plenty of natural light and a great sea view, and dining at Limewood is a relaxing sun-soaked experience I practically enjoy more than sitting on the beach itself (I burn easily, ok?!).
When I initially heard about Limewood’s menu – which features Hawaiian, Caribbean, Southeast Asian and South American influences – I remember thinking it sounded confused, as if someone at Maximal’s development meeting had stumbled on a box of tacks and knocked them across a map of the world. But once you’re sitting on the beach eyeing up the waves, it all makes sense. It’s basically a greatest hits collection of beachside restaurants from around the world… except without those instant noodles and curry fish balls, thanks very much.
We kicked things off with a round of appetisers, perfectly sized for grazing and sharing. My favourite was the jerked coconut corn. Sweet corn is basically the sunshine of the food world; slathered with creamy sriracha mayo and toasted coconut shavings and it’s pure instant happiness. It’s happiness that you’ll almost certainly get all over your fingers and down your chin, but that’s the best kind of food happiness if you ask me!
Another unexpected favourite was the tuna ceviche. I’m not normally a fan of tuna as I find its taste a little overpowering, but here it was mixed with a yuzu aioli and cucumber relish that gave it bright sweet freshness. I’ve eaten a lot of pappy insipid fish ceviches in Hong Kong, but the dense meaty texture and flavour of the tuna really gave this dish a full-bodied flavour punch (even if it wasn’t at all spicy, as the menu had claimed)… And liberal scatterings of crispy shallots always go down a treat!
Limewood’s guacamole has become something of a Hong Kong food blogger favourite, featuring a trio of ingredients – crispy pork skin, uni and ikura (salmon roe) – that #foodporn Instagrammers go gaga for. I have to confess, however, that this didn’t really do much for me. Although I appreciated the homemade tortilla chips, which were noticeably lighter and crunchier than those at most Mexican restaurants here, I felt that the guacamole was overwhelmed with too many flavours and textures when simple avocado alone does the job perfectly.
The Vietnamese fish tacos were more my cuppa tea… or perhaps pitcher of piña colada would be a more beach-ready metaphor? Either way, I loved how vibrant and colourful this looked on the plate and once it made it to my mouth, the flavours didn’t disappoint either. Think perfectly cooked fish with a light crispy coating, crunchy Asian slaw, creamy avocado and a dash of zesty lime to bring the whole thing alive; a kick of chilli might have added another nice dimension but these were just delicious, and much lighter than expected too.
I’d say you need to eat in a group of at least three or four people to get the best out of Limewood – and the reason why is because the mains are both massive and unmissable. The 48-hour charred beef ribs was a hunk of meaty goodness giant enough to make Fred Flintstone proud; this tender, melt-in-mouth beef was absolutely divine, with a beautifully caramelised crunch and amazing smoky depth to its flavour, brought out all the more by a lip-smacking tangy mango-infused barbeque sauce. This was most definitely the highlight of the meal… and just as good when I ate them six hours later as leftovers!
The other main we tried was the deep-fried Thai-style snapper – and the beach bum in me wholeheartedly thanks Limewood for deboning, filleting and cutting up my fish for me! The blend of seasonings here was absolutely spot on, with lemongrass, kaffir lime, scallion, green peppercorn and a fish sauce dressing all playing their part in making an extremely vibrant, tasty and again, commendably light dish. The shredded cucumber and herbs on top are more than just a garnish too, adding a lovely freshness to the dish… But if I had to choose, it’s ribs all the way!
Remember when I was saying the ribs were the highlight of the meal? Well, I meant except for dessert… because Limewood’s churros with salted caramel sauce are on a whole other plane of awesome! Churros are notoriously difficult to get right in Hong Kong – too hard, too soggy, too greasy – but the ones here pretty much nailed that golden-crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside churros conundrum.
Sprinkled with just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar, these senoritas are served with a sexy-and-it-knows-it salted caramel sauce; honestly, forget pitchers of sangria… pitchers of salted caramel need to be a thing and they need to start with Limewood’s! Decadently rich, perfectly balanced between sweet, salty and utterly sinful, this was close your eyes and rainbows appear kinda stuff. There’s also a very lovely mellow coconut ice-cream but seriously, it’s all about that salted caramel. It would make even a bad hair day taste good, I swear.
I feel duty-bound to also mention that Limewood does some great beach-appropriate cocktails and mocktails – think frozen margaritas and fruity mojitos – which I swear taste even better when consumed with a sea-view and sand between your toes.
Prices here depend on how hungry you are and how many of you are sharing; with most appetisers around $100-150 and mains $300-450, it does feel a little on the expensive side – but Repulse Bay probably isn’t the place to be looking for bargains either. However, once you’ve factor in the great view, cool ambience, excellent food and the fact you’re likely to leave feeling very very full, and it’s a price I’m happy to pay.
Since a beach day isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence for most people, Limewood being a bit of a high-days-and-holidays kind of place feels about right – and just makes savouring that beach vibe and salted caramel sauce coma all the more special. If life’s a beach, then I’d like to enjoy the rest of it at Limewood please!
Limewood, Shop 103-104, The Pulse, 28 Beach Road, Repulse Bay, Hong Kong; +852 2866 8668
Note: this meal was by invitation