I have to tell you straight up, I’m not a connoisseur of Middle Eastern cuisine; although I’ve some Isreali friends that swear that the food in Tel Aviv is some of the best in the world.
So I grabbed some friends with a bit more experience with all foods Middle Eastern and made a pilgrimage (well, short stroll) to one of Hong Kong’s hottest new restaurants, Francis.
Head Chef Asher Goldstein is part of a trio of lads who have established the no reservations spot in St Francis Street & has taken inspiration from his childhood memories. Using ingredients and flavours from the Middle East, Chef Asher’s menu is a kaleidoscope of foods that could be found on the bustling streets of Tel Aviv, Israel.
Knowing it was a no reservations joint, we made sure to arrive a good thirty minutes before the kitchen was open, but only just snagged the last four available seats – which were superb. Right on the open windows at the front of the restaurant, we were able to watch the world pass by as we waited for the kitchen to open.
While we waited, we were given a plate of curried and pickled vegetables to snack on, quite an interesting set of flavours and textures. While we snacked away, we started to plan which of the delicious looking menu items we would order to share.
As the clock struck 6 pm, we called our waiter over to take our order, smashing out quite a comprehensive list of delectable options. One small disappointment at the ordering stage was the unavailability of the grilled octopus; however, we were informed that the octopus was just not up to being served, we gave a mental shrug and ordered the lamb (more on that later).
We’d ordered a truckload of food anyway 🙂
First up was the Veal Cigars with red pepper and caraway, the four deep-fried pastry covered sticks of veal having an oriental ‘spring roll’ look about them. Placed haphazardly in a bowl, the red pepper and caraway sauce sitting vibrant on the plate, they looked eminently appealing. There was a deep earthy flavour of the shredded veal and the golden coating was crisp, but it was the addition of that sauce that helped them shine.
Out next, was the Burnt Eggplant with pepper, chilli and yoghurt; which admittedly looked lovely, but was a dish I avoided (yeah, not a fan of eggplant!). While I didn’t even try it, nods from around the table and comments that I was missing out told me that the dish was spot on (if you like that type of thing!)
One of the most amazing dishes I’ve had in a long time appeared up next, not only did the Baked Halloumi with pomegranate molasses and wild oregano look spectacular, it was also heavenly to consume. The deep red of the pomegranate seeds covering the light yellow of the halloumi seemed perfectly suited to the cast iron deep dish they were presented in. I loved the sticky molasses in comparison to the texture and bite of the pomegranate, then the smooth creamy and ever so slightly rubbery texture of the cheese. I definitely loved the dish, the simplicity of its composition and its amazing taste; so I ate most of it (sorry guys!)
A lot of people find chicken hearts quite confrontational, but we ordered them anyway; arriving shishkebab style on skewers, the small meaty and expertly cooked chicken hearts were well received by the table. I loved the slightly minerally flavour of the hearts and found myself finishing off the remaining few once the table had had their fill.
I was pretty much on my own when the whole Sardine with fennel, white bean, tomato and ‘nduja’ appeared. I quite like sardines, but even I was a little bit confronted by the size of that bad boy sardine! It had largely been deboned, but even so, it was still a little difficult to eat (with big size comes big bones) – and it was seriously hot (spicy) from the nduja (spicy salami) – It wasn’t my favourite and not something I’d order again.
We were back on track with a simply stunning dish, a special of the kitchen and a dish that changed components (although not spirit) regularly. Burek was pastry filled with fetta and accompanied by the most amazing tomato sauce you could hope to taste. The crunch of the pastry, when combined with the flakey fetta and sauce reminded me of the taste of a Margherita pizza, so it went down really well. It was a definite favourite at the table and something that we contemplated ordering again!
We were on a roll with another table favourite looking beautiful as it was placed on our table. The Wagyu Hanger spiced butter was a super simple dish, but the quality of beef, along with expert cooking left us in awe of the dish. A caramelisation of the beef blended wonderfully with the tender centre that was a perfect medium rare; the addition of the spiced butter lending a creamy richness to the earthy beef. It wasn’t as fatty as you’d expect from Wagyu, but I personally didn’t mind!
We’d had a few super dishes but not all of them were table pleasers; one of the disappointing dishes of the night was probably the simplest. While I didn’t partake in the Hummus with chickpea and lamb neck ragu (you guessed it, no chickpeas for me!), it wasn’t a winner with my dining companions either, with the feeling that it was a little dry…
The Chicken Schnitzel with za’atar and aioli split the table as well. Personally, I simply loved the simplicity of the schnitzel, especially with the light and delicious aioli smeared over the top. The crumbs were golden and crispy, the dish was seasoned to perfection and it really hit the spot; oh well, not everyone can love everything, so it gave me more of the schnitzel to devour!
It seemed as if we’d finished the savoury part of our meal, our dishes were cleared away, but something was nagging at the back of my mind. I asked our waiter if we were finished and he confirmed we had…… But, we reflected after our desserts that we’d ordered the Lamb Ribs with orange, yoghurt and coriander – but it never came.
We debated if it was a good thing though, we were pretty darn stuffed from the meal & we still had dessert to go.
Interestingly, there were two desserts on the menu, one a savoury and the other a sweeter option. We ordered two of the sweeter Knafeh, deep fried mozzarella with orange blossom and pistachio, along with the savoury Spiced Quince with olive oil, bay leaf cream and sumac. While both dishes were really good, it was the ‘savoury’ spiced quince that was our favourite (and we thought a little sweeter to boot!)
It did leave Alex and Aaron a little disappointed as they’d been raving about how spectacular a good knafeh could be… They rated the Francis version as good – which left me wondering what a spectacular version might taste like!
I think I’m a convert!
There were some spectacular flavours from our meal at Francis, in particular, that halloumi dish, which I could have eaten all night. I definitely loved most of what I ate, with the exception of the sardine, and I know the guys had some quibbles with the hummus as well.
However, when we received the bill for the night, we were particularly pleased.. It felt like we’d ordered most of the menu and a heap of drinks, yet the total bill was much lower than we’d expected. We checked through and it had everything we’d ordered (and didn’t have the lamb), and it was bang on. So the value at Francis was superb.
Will I eat there again? Absolutely, not only is it just around the corner from my apartment, it’s cheap and delicious – I’d be crazy not to!
Get along and check it out, you won’t be disappointed!