Tag Archives: gastropub

The Globe pub review – out of this world!

I don’t miss many things about England, but Sunday Roast is definitely one thing I do!

Whether our small microwave/oven has the capacity to cook a proper joint of meat in anything less than 24 hours, never mind fitting in all the trimmings, remains to be seen – and that’s before we’ve covered trekking to City Super or Oliver’s to get a good quality cut of beef, paying through the nose for it and trying to polish off the whole meal on my own as I’m the only one in my house that eats beef. Basically, that’s a whole lot of issues for a humble roast and too many for me to worry my little head about. Especially since I’ve discovered that The Globe does a top-notch, home quality Sunday Roast all of its own.

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Frites restaurant review – a meal to moule over

UPDATE: Frites’ Central location has now closed – but their other branches in Quarry Bay and Wan Chai are still just as good! See their full addresses at the bottom of this post.

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.

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798 Unit & Co Gastropub restaurant review – rub-a-pub-grub

UPDATE: 798 is now closed.

Whilst Hong Kong seems to be getting the hang of pubs (Dickens, Delaneys and Trafalgar are all worth a punt and I’ve heard good things about The Globe… just don’t head to The Pickle & Pelican if you value your stomach), gastropubs are proving a bit more difficult for HK to get its head round.

I’m not looking for a Heston Blumenthal experience. For me, a gastropub means a bit of a fancier setting, a bit of a fancier menu (featuring regular pub grub but with a few twists) and an elevation in the quality of the food. I don’t think I’m shattering many illusions when I divulge that most standard pubs in the UK are operating an only slightly superior variant on “pinging” supermarket ready-meals, especially as many are now run by cut-and-paste chains. With a gastropub, I’m expecting fresh ingredients, some element of cooking as opposed to just sticking something in an oven and an environment that isn’t coated in sticky beer stains. Of course, with such benefits comes a hike in prices – but within reason!

So whither gastropubs in HK? The Pawn isn’t far off the mark, but it’s a la carte menu is just too pricey. I would classify Jimmy’s Kitchen’s menu as pure gastropub, but its staff and its prices seem to be under the illusion that it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant. Frites (run by Concept Creations, who also own the fabulous Tapeo) has the environment down pat, top-notch food, a quality beer selection and would perhaps rank as a gastropub – in Belgium. Good luck looking for a lasagne there! As such, 798 Unit & Co. Gastropub is probably your best bet.

The environment is perfectly-judged. Looming chandeliers on lofty ceilings, chunky dark-wood furniture and squishy sofas, blackboard menus and other quirky little touches. Food is served in hearty, hefty portion sizes, which should be a given in a gastropub.

As for the food, the lunch menu (available between 12-3pm) is spectacularly good value. $88 for three courses plus a drink is fantastic, especially given that you’re in a Western restaurant in the typically pricey Times Square in Causeway Bay (compare with The Pawn, $150 for three courses sans drink). They also do even cheaper sets if you fancy a salad ($78) or sandwiches/pizza ($68).

All this would be meaningless if the food was rubbish. But it isn’t. For my money, 798 does the best fish and chips in Hong Kong. That’s not a claim to be taken lightly but here’s the evidence. It comes wrapped in faux newspaper. This isn’t just a tacky design thing – it helps soak up the grease! So many restaurants here seem unable to comprehend this simple fact and serve you a fish sliming about in its own oil, a sad but inevitable by-product of deep-frying things. It’s served with a load of side condiments, including vinegar, which you could be forgiven for thinking is a prohibited ingredient out here (alas, not Sarsons Malt but red wine vinegar, still better than nothing).

You get a full fillet of fish, not a few strips, and said fish is moist, creamy but still flakes apart expertly. The batter is golden, crispy and has an actual taste (there may be beer involved), as opposed to the anodyne floury sometimes herby stuff most places do. The chips are steak-cut, golden, fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside. I believe one of the main reasons chips in HK often suck is due to the quality of the spud (have you seen the sad specimens at the local wet market?!) but these ones have a yummy nutty flavour to savour.

[For those interested, I’d rank it alongside The Pawn’s extremely good version in terms of taste but it beats it in terms of presentation and price, even in its a la carte incarnation. And it pisses all over The Chippy from a great height.]

As for the rest of the set, starters are either soup or salad of the day. The rabbit food was underdressed but their soups are lovely. They taste homemade, as if they remembered being a fresh vegetable recently rather than in some dim and distant lifetime. The cauliflower soup was a little watery (a common problem in homemade soups) but the intense flavour came through nicely. It would be nice if you could use some hunks of bread to soak it up but I find 798’s wedges more suitable to propping up wobbly table legs rather than eating.

My auntie went for spaghetti for her main. Here we get a typical ‘gastropub’ twist – the ragu was made with lamb rather than beef. This works better than one of their other twists (for me, the taste and texture of duck just does not work with the taste and texture of lasagne, ok!) and the lamb was sweet, succulent and tender. And there’s lots of it. (I hate when you run out of meat in a pasta, and to keep costs down, it happens quite a lot out here). It’s balanced by a richly appetising ragu, with a heady hit of wine to boot!

No choice for dessert – you get the dessert of the day, although for $20 you can upgrade to an a la carte choice (which are uniformly scrumptious btw). Given the heavy main portions, it’s kept short and sweet. That day, it was a strawberry mousse cake – light and airy mousse, light and airy sponge, topped with a juicy fresh strawberry. Fragrantly sweet rather than overpoweringly so, it’s nothing groundbreaking but goes down a fluffy dreamy treat at the end of the meal.

Any future gastropubs opening in HK would do well to examine 798’s template. No molecular gastronomy, just good honest food at good honest prices. Just try and make it there in time for lunch!

Shop 1203, 12/F Food Forum, Times Square, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2506 0611

Restaurant photo from 798 Unit & Co’s website.

The Pawn restaurant review – the Pawn identity

UPDATE: The Pawn has since been renovated with an entirely new menu!

So we’ve talked history, we’ve worried about heritage and we’ve waxed lyrical about the views – but what about the restaurant itself? Well, it’s safe to say that The Pawn acquits itself fairly nicely on the food front as well.

So what does The Pawn have in common with The Press Room Group’s other restaurants (The Press Room and SML)? Amazing attention to detail, that’s what. Part of what makes all three of those places real dining experiences is that no expense has been spared on the décor, the ambience and the little niggly things that all contribute to giving you a great feeling about eating there. Consequently, The Pawn makes the most of its old shophouse setting – airy high ceilings, balcony seating, long iron-grilled windows and decoration that totally fits with the simple grandeur of the place.

It feels like a comfy dining room. Not a posh snooty one where you daren’t clatter your cutlery, not the one in your gran’s sitting room with the conked-out sofas, but somewhere nice in-between. The chairs are proper rustic wooden dining chairs, with embroidered cushions and arts and crafts style engravings, but all slightly different so it’s obvious they weren’t just bulk bought from Ikea. There are strips of beautiful bespoke floral wallpaper (designed by HK artist Tsang Kin-Wah) that, when viewed up-close, is basically pretty graffiti. There’s lots more honest brown furniture that feels old without feeling ancient, like it had a life before The Pawn rather than being created especially for it, whilst the famous HK pawnshop symbol recurs throughout, on their personalised crockery, restored on the wall outside and even on the platter that your bill arrives on. Add a few Hong Kong touches, like simple dangling plastic ceiling lamps and views over bustling Wan Chai with the audible dinging of passing trams and you have beautifully-executed design that’s obviously had hours of thought poured into it but that still feels relaxed and unobtrusive, rather than fake and try-hard. As you may be able to tell, I loved it.

Meanwhile, the menu is pure British gastropub. Ham hock, bone marrow, liver, hearty portions of red meat and mash in various guises, sticky toffee pudding, apple crumble… but all posh-ed up, with modern chef-y twists and served in a becoming manner, hence just about justifying charging $180 for a plate of fish and chips.

The lunch deal, however, is pretty amazing. $150 for three generously-sized courses of such quality is fantastic value and bizarrely, cheaper than ordering any single main from the a la carte menu.

I started things off with pumpkin and ginger soup, definitely only suitable for those that don’t mind their soups being sweet. Despite it being part of the set, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they hadn’t stinted on portion size and despite it being a piping hot day, I was pleasantly surprised that my piping hot soup still felt summery. It was rich, thick and creamily sweet and I loved the warm fuzzy kick that the ginger gave. There were also two glazed crispy toast type things providing a snappy crunch that complemented the soup perfectly.

Onto my main of Dover sole, with a lemon butter sauce, mash and assorted leaves. When my boyfriend tasted it, he commented ‘The sauce is the best thing on there.’ He was absolutely right, begging the question: why wasn’t there more of it?! One of my pet hates (can you tell I watch too much Masterchef?!) is when sauces are dribbled about for artistic effect rather than actual consumption. Yes, it looked pretty, but it tasted even better and I wanted more! My fish was nicely-cooked and, combined with what little drizzle there was, tasted lightly lovely, but the mash was oddly cold and there was too much of it (a problem endemic with mash in general). And, to me, leaves will always be just leaves.

My boyfriend had the fish and chips. I tested the waiter was genuinely curious and asked what type of fish it was – sole again, apparently. Given how thin sole is, chef did well to fry this without making it dry and flaky. It was soft and moist, coated in golden crispy batter that was just about the right thickness. We knew it’d be a good ‘un when my boyfriend stuck his knife in and it crackled and crunched nicely! The boring peas would have been better as mushy peas, with some appropriately chef-y twist like mint and again, the overall portion was huge. But the chips were the star. In Hong Kong, you’ll get served a lot of supposed chips, with very few of them equating to anything like a British chip. French fries, frites, wedges, criss-cut, curly, julienne, slightly fatter frites but still definitely not chips, very obviously formerly-frozen chips out a bag – we’ve seen it all. These chips were the real deal. Reassuringly fat, crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside, piping hot and made from quality spuds, they were just about the closest I’ve come to real chips so far in Hong Kong. Steak-cut slabs of gold.

Finally, dessert. Otherwise known as heaven. It was a banana walnut cake with toffee sauce, which I was ordering mainly for the toffee sauce, hoping it would be similar to the a-maz-ing butterscotch sauce in SML’s profiteroles. I don’t even like banana walnut cake… I’m now banana walnut cake’s biggest fan. Often, banana can be an overpowering presence but here it was a pleasant fruity undertone and the earthy flavour and crunch of walnuts ran through the cake, in addition to some very Chinese candied walnut clusters on the top (often seen as appetisers in Chinese restaurants). The sponge was light and I’d practically scoffed it all before I realised I’d started. But oh, the toffee sauce! I’m in raptures just reliving it now. Sticky, gooey, dark, rich, sweet, syrupy caramel. I would have licked the plate clean if I could (and as you can see, I gave it a good go with my spoon!). My boyfriend kept catching me give little gleeful grins as I set about demolishing it; I think I was hugging myself with delight by the end. Imagine the infamous scene from When Harry Met Sally and you’re probably not far off.

So yes, the prices are a little steep. Yes, the food is not really aiming at Michelin-starred ingenuity. And yes, you’re paying as much for the atmosphere as for the ingredients. But for a special occasion, a luxurious lunch or just because you fancy treating yourself, I think it’s worth it. And if you really can’t stretch to it, just shimmy up to the roof garden instead!

The Pawn, 2F, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, 2866 3444

Banner photo from Urban Renewal Authority’s website