Saturday, April 11, 2015

A story to tell at The Popsy Room

On the last day of March I was at The Popsy Room, a relatively new establishment on Cat Street which is an art gallery by day and a private dining space by night, serving a seasonal, "art-inspired" menu.

Cat Street, or Upper Lascar Row as it's officially called, is a small enclave near Sheung Wan famous for the antique stalls lined on both sides of the pedestrian-only street. Lately a few new restaurants started to pop up in this neighborhood, including Bibo, the place we had brunch once a couple months ago.

I arrived just when the antique stalls were finishing up their business and started packing up for the day, and soon, the usually busy street became amazingly quiet with just a few stray cats roaming around (maybe that's where they got the name Cat Street from - who knows). The Popsy Room is sort of hidden behind one of those street-side antique stalls so it could be easy to miss if you didn't pay attention to the street number. As I walked in, owner Jennifer was already waiting for us at one of the tables set up. 

You probably couldn't ask for a more intimate setting to eat in anywhere outside your own home. Dim lighting, beautiful floral arrangements, little tea-lights surrounded by flower petals, fancy tableware and designer chairs, and on display on the walls were the art exhibits which change regularly. These completed the dreamy, feminine and artsy mood of the place, especially perfect for anyone looking for a private, romantic venue to dine.

Two different menus were offered depending on the number of people in the party - they could sit from 2 to 24 - a 6-course tasting menu and the option for 2 additional courses for a more sumptuous feast. The menu changes according to the exhibition theme and the dishes were said to be inspired by the art pieces on display by residence chef Kaze Lo.

We started with a light appetizer of salmon. A small cube of Balik salmon was served on a bed of curried quinoa with lemon creme fraiche and salmon roes. I reckon replacing the blini with a lightly-seasoned quinoa was a refreshing touch and worked well with the lemon creme fraiche.

The second course was the orange ginger corn soup, topped with a light foam and on the rim of the bowl were crispy baby corn, a brush of herb puree and dots of piquillo puree as condiment. The combination of the spicy puree and the light and creamy corn soup was an interesting one, with good contrast of flavors. 

Third course was another elegantly plated dish - two small pieces of sole was rolled up, slow-cooked and finish with searing on the outside, which were served on a bed of pomelo salad and hollandaise sauce, and garnished with dill, some edible flowers and bok choy. I love the firm texture of the fish, but I thought the hollandaise sauce was a bit too rich and too much. I understand what the chef wanted to do with the heavy brush of the sauce on the slate plate like a canvas of a painting, but I thought it threw the dish a bit off-balance. Otherwise it was a nice fish course.

I knew the scallops were plump and perfectly cooked when I saw them wobbling a little bit on the plate as it was laid down in front of me. They were only slightly seared on the outside so they were still soft and tender, with a stalk of mini asparagus pierced through the middle. The lobster cream sauce served on the side was rich and flavorful - I only wish there was more of those on the plate. Same with the risotto actually.

Our main course was the chicken roulade. It's done in a classic French way - savoy cabbage was wrapped inside a piece of deboned spring chicken breast, rolled and slow-cooked, similar to how the sole dish was made. It's served with a jus reduction sauce and chestnut puree. I love everything chestnut so I thought that's a nice choice of ingredients, adding to the dish some sweet and nutty touch. The chicken was moist and tender too with the crunchy cabbage in each bite.

The dessert was simplistic, compared to the other courses, but it's delicious. A slice of chiffon cake was dressed with diced fruits on top with a quenelle of strawberry sorbet on the side. Dots of lemon cream in between provided the balance to the sweetness and added to the beauty of the dish.

I was secretly worried the portion might be a bit light but at the end it's done just right, leaving me feeling satisfied enough without being bloated. Colorful macarons with various flavors were served on a wooden palette as mignardise course at the end - they were marvelously done too. I wasn't usually a big fan of macarons but I chowed down three of them (and coffee was my favorite)

During the meal, we also had the opportunity to enjoy the art pieces from a different angle. The current exhibition is by the local fashion designer Ranee K who told a story - her own story - through a series of interactive installations and artifacts, and in effect, let us walk right into her mind and walk through her life. I was pretty amazed by that, and in a similar way I thought the chef tried to tell her own story too, by using her food as a storyboard, drawing ideas from the art pieces with her own creations using classic cooking techniques and presented for our enjoyment.

From the perspective of a private kitchen I thought the meal was excellent. I liked the element of originality seen in every dishes and admired the inspiration drawn from the art pieces giving everyone an one-of-a-kind, sensual dining experience. The food was well prepared and plated beautifully. And they handled the pace of service very well - not only for our table but for others too.

It's a fascinating idea to combine art and culinary art forms under one roof, and I thought the team executed it brilliantly at The Popsy Room. I certainly will keep an eye on what's coming up in the future installations (and the menu that went with each exhibition) and look forward to coming back for them.

(The dinner was an invited tasting organized and paid for by the restaurant)

When? March 31 2015
Where? The Popsy Room, 30 Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Chicken Roll with Savoy Cabbage, Seasonal Vegetables, Chestnut Puree and Chicken Jus.

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