Neighbourhood wasn’t really a restaurant on my must visit radar.
Even after my foodie buddy Alex mentioned that she was ‘dying’ to visit, my attitude was still a little bit ‘meh’.
It wasn’t until I saw that the little restaurant has made it to #32 on the recently published Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list that I decided I wanted to get along and check it out.
Going with a group of friends that are ‘spread to the wind’ meant that we all arrived at different times. The girl and Aaron were first to arrive, and I wouldn’t have been far behind them, but I got lost. Alex arrived fashionably late (well, really late), but she’d had as much trouble finding the place as I had and in both instances, the Girl had to go out and help.
Ahh, those Hong Kong laneways can be quite hidden 🙂
By the time Alex had arrived, we’d already started munching on the warm crusty bread (unfortunately the butter wasn’t quite room temperature) and finished a serve of the saucisson ‘noir de bigorre’. The fatty sausage was made from the Gascon, a rare breed of domestic pig usually found in remote regions of France. It was delicious and really set my expectations at super high levels for the remainder of the meal…
Once we were all together, our hostess for the night came over and highlighted the ‘must have’s’ from the menu, which was a simple list of dish descriptions. The menu did separate the pre-order specials, which you need to order 24 hours before your reservation. We went a little crazy and ordered quite a few delicious sounding plates of food!
The Jumbo Dutch Oysters were first to arrive, and as promised, they were massive! We’d only ordered one each, but they were sufficient in size to largely satisfy. The oysters themselves were plump with a low salinity, and on their own quite nice. However, there was a ‘mild’ spicy sauce that accompanied that was anything but mild! Luckily I’d gone last after taking some photos, so I could scrape most of the sauce off, however, it was still so punchy that it slaughtered the taste of the oyster.
Looking incredibly rustic and colourful, the Hokkaido scallops in local zucchini blossom with truffle was presented. The scallop pieces carefully wrapped in the zucchini flower and presented with olives, tomato and sliced zucchini stalks. The combo of the sweetness from the scallop and the saltiness and astringency of the tomato were nice, but not exactly blow away – highlighted by the fact that we didn’t really clean off the plate.
I was, however, completely surprised by how much I loved the roast pigeon eggs in curry, given I’m not a fan of curry. But the little balls of sweetness were a superb match for the mild curry, especially the creaminess from the yolk. Texturally, they were a little firm at first, but when crushed in the mouth, were exquisitely squishy. I was completely baffled at how much I loved this combo, so much so, I went back for seconds, as did everyone else. By the time we’d finished, there was just an empty bowl.
With more than a strong influence from France, the frogs’ legs meuniere were really interesting, super tasty and incredibly difficult to eat! The effort was worth it though, with a slightly fishy flavour and texture like chicken, each small piece of the frogs’ leg was like winning the taste lottery. Even accounting for the odd small bone almost swallowed, it was a really nice dish that we all enjoyed.
I was hoping for more when we’d ordered beignet of asparagus from Provenance with wild garlic aioli but was just a little disappointed with the big lumps of deep fried asparagus arrived. Flavour wise, there was that slightly sweet and very astringent taste of asparagus, but the cooking process had muted the flavour somewhat. Adding the garlic aioli was a must, as they were quite dry without, but thankfully, the aioli added to the flavour nicely.
None of us loved the fried firefly squid, and I personally was a little put off by the little pieces of whole baby squid. I’m normally a huge fan of baby squid, but there was a texture coming from the head that was terrible, almost gritty and dirty that jarred on my palate. I left it at one, and while the rest of the group went for a second, just to be sure, we largely left this plate uneaten.
Redemption came next in the form of wild boar garganelli, the lightly prepared pasta was simply amazing; perfectly al dente with a sauce made from wild boar that was to die for. The sweetness was all-pervasive (in a good way) and in complete contrast to the squid, we had duelling forks to see who would get the last of the remnants in the bowl. Simply put, it was the highlight of the evening.
Only just though, as redemption continued with the aquarello risotto with morel mushrooms and bone marrow. I love, love, love morels and this risotto was stocked full of the delicacy. Helping things along was expertly cooked risotto, each individual rice granule apparent to the naked eye, as well as that sweet, sweet bone marrow. I definetly would have loved more of that risotto 🙂
After such wonderful dishes, it was back to a plate of food that for us, was literally inedible. Let me explain. We didn’t really know what to expect when we ordered the jumbo artichoke with foie gras (well, we knew what to expect with the foie gras!). However, the last thing we expected to see was a huge half of an artichoke sitting on a plate with instructions to peel the leaves off and dip into the foie gras. Now, the leaves of an artichoke are usually peeled away for a reason; the artichoke heart is the piece you want to eat, with the leaves discarded and thrown away.
Yeah, for good reason, it was like chewing cardboard and only one of us could actually stomach swallowing one of the leaves, and that was after a good 5 minutes of chewing. I really don’t know what the thinking was behind this, but it was not good. We did finish the foie gras (which was smooth and delicious) but left the artichoke alone.
We simply didn’t understand the chef’s vision on this one…
Our last dish was from the pre-order menu, which Alex had confirmed during the confirmation call; largely based on the inclusion of morel mushrooms 🙂 – The roasted morel chicken with giblet rice was a really interesting dish, which largely reminded me of a paella. Served in a big cast iron pot, the rise had crusted along the bottom beautifully, providing a caramelised flavour to the dish. I also loved the morels that were plentiful but struggled a little with the star of the dish, the chicken. I found the large pieces to be really tough to eat, and a little stringy. Sure, the flavour was nice, but the texture was a little distracting.
We finished off our meal with the French toast with ice cream and truffle, which was sadly disappointed also. The toast was not light and fluffy, but a little on the dense side and while golden in colour, it was not golden in flavour. The truffle was lost in the dish, and while the ice-cream was decent, it should have been the supporting act, and not the star of the dish.
The girl fared a little better with her incredibly generous serving of Brie de Meaux ‘alloesse’ with black truffle. I mean, it was a tasty piece of cheese with infused truffle, but the serving size was more appropriate for the whole table, so there was way too much for one girl to eat.
Wow, what a confused and confusing meal we’d had. Head chef and owner David Lai is known for changing his menu daily, thriving on seasonality and unusual flavours, but on our visit this felt like more of a weakness than strength. There were elements on the menu that we absolutely adored, and others that were just not great (or good).
While the service on the night was excellent, and the space very cool, I couldn’t help thinking that the regular change of menu might impact the ability to get a great set of dishes that could mature.
To be honest, we were all left wondering if we were missing the point about the restaurant. I know that it’s a favourite of some of Hong Kong’s top chefs to hang out, but I personally just didn’t get it. Noted as the 32nd best restaurant in Asia, I would struggle to put Neighbourhood in my top 50 restaurants in Hong Kong.