Monday, December 21, 2015

The Pit-iful Smokehouse

Last week, I went for dinner with a very high expectation at a private barbecue kitchen inside an industrial building quite literally in the middle of nowhere on the island side as our group's pre-christmas celebration. Some friends of mine loved the turkey they made at a pop-up event during the thanksgiving weekend, and from the pictures on their Facebook page everything looked good and proper. Maybe after all these years Hong Kong finally got a legit "artisanal smokehouse" as the place claimed to be, or so I thought. Well sadly from what I have tried on that night I reckon it was quite a far-fetched statement, and it's more like another living proof that just by putting "artisanal" in your logo doesn't mean you are necessarily any good or know what you are doing.

I must say I actually love the space when I arrived, after getting over the fact that it took most people a good 45 minutes in a taxi from downtown to the tip of Ap Lei Chau (near the Horizon Plaza outlet building). Almost two-third of the room was dedicated to a well-equipped open kitchen, with the rest  fit 2 tables for a sit-down meal. They even got a nice balcony with a sea view under a canopy perfect for outdoor dining when the weather is milder. But as more people arrived, I soon realized our table was far too small for our party of 14, and that coupled by the issue of having to share the dining area with another (bigger) group of a few parents and their kids having their Christmas party. I am not complaining about the presence of the kids - just a bit curious why the parents decided to throw a kid's party at a hipster joint and they were relatively well-behaved most of the time, but I just found cramping over 30 people in a rather tight space wasn't the best idea from the customers' point of view. And I felt like we were the second class citizens to the bigger group the entire evening - often the staff has to reached in crossing their table to reach us so service was slowed down as a result - but turned out all these were the smallest of all problems we have encountered.

The dinner started after everyone arrived slightly late (traffic!) and settled with our drinks. The menu was fixed beforehand and served family style, so they just started bringing in the food as they were ready and laid them in the middle of the table in front of us. First was the Low Country Boil, coming as 2 platters of clams and mussels served with a sprinkle of herbs, and a casserole with ears of corn and sausages in a broth. There's nothing wrong with the clams and mussels - just as what you expected from a pot of boiled clams and mussels, but the corn and sausages in broth was just strange - the broth has zero flavor except being peppery. Think of it as a poorly-made, foodcourt-quality Bak Kut Teh and you wouldn't be too far from reality.

Then came "The Pit Board", an assortment of barbecue items as our mains, starting with the Baby Back Ribs, cut and served on oven dishes with some coleslaw on top in a fancy pan. At first the dish did look promising - with a nice color and a good crust, but beyond the pretty presentation came bitter disappointment. Meat was dry, slightly tough (definitely not tender, falling-off-the-bone material) and again, zero flavor, once we went past the surface. It was way under-seasoned - I felt like having a low-sodium diet at a hospital or something. An additional spread of barbecue sauce on it helped a bit after we requested some on the side, but still, once you didn't marinate your meat properly before you cooked it, things just went downhill from there and often beyond recovery, especially for barbecue.

The brisket - said to be done Texas-style and came right after the ribs - fared worse, believe it or not. Once again, it's way under-seasoned (I wouldn't even bother coming out with a different word to describe the chef's stringent use of salt - he must have missed his Barbecue 101 class on preparing rubs or something) And it's not even cooked properly, to the extent I wondered how much time that thing actually spent in the smoker. There's no taste of grill or smoke at all. If you tell me that was a Portuguese boiled meat instead I would have believed you. A generous pinch of salt helped a little bit - I swore I have never ever asked for extra salt at a restaurant before that evening - but only to make it marginally more acceptable for consumption. And the most remarkable of all, they served the dish with slices of white bread. Well, I personally don't know where the bread came from so I would leave that to your judgment by showing you the picture - okay I gave it to them for halving them perfectly. Bravo. And don't ask us how that tasted because no one touched any of them all night long, even as we left the place half-hungry at the end. Seriously, this is disgraceful.

I was secretly hoping the turkey would be the saving grace of the evening, but again, I was out of luck. But in all fairness, the turkey was probably the best of the three meat dishes, relatively speaking. The carved meat was juicy, even though I think the bird was only borderline cooked through, especially the part near to the bones. And I did like the gravy made with the giblets, which provided the much needed flavor to the meat (yeah, the meat was still under-seasoned) But once again, it's described as hickory smoked but I ain't smelled no hickory in there. I gave it an average grade at best - that's as forgiving as I could be, in the name of Christmas season.

Three side dishes were served. Of all things that evening, lentils were perhaps the only dish we managed to finish and by consensus, the only presentable food all night long. Finally something with a pleasant flavor and the lentils were cooked to the right texture. Nothing to write home about the Mac N cheese (there's mac and there's cheese, that's about all I could say - we half-suspect it may have come out of a box though I wasn't 100% sure), and by the time the salad was brought in, I was so upset with the food at this place that I wouldn't even bother to touch that. I did have a dip of the homemade zesty dressing, and you know what, calling watered down vinegar arbitrarily as "homemade zesty dressing" fooled no one, dude. I reckon pouring in the cider I was drinking in the salad would have made a better "dressing" than that.

I guess apart from the lentils, our dessert of Pecan Pie was perhaps the second best. But then I suspect it's not made in-house, leading to the question, why do we get all the way out here to eat the pie we would have bought ourselves at Pacific Place?

With absolutely no disrespect to the host who kindly arranged the dinner, this is a meal to forget (sorry V!). What have they been smoking to think their food is half-presentable and call themselves an "artisanal smokehouse"? Okay, to set the record straight, the food was not disgusting or anything - if it's served in a shopping mall chain restaurant and we paid $200 per person, I would say this is actually an okay meal, but for close to $1000 per person without wine, I definitely didn't expect the food to be that far worse than an average home-cooked meal. To say that it's amateurish would be an insult to the amateurs. And for crying out loud, please buy some decent bread to serve and some salt to rub in the meat.

I won't even bother posting their address. Seriously, you wouldn't want to know. If I were you, I would avoid this like the plague.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Sorry for what you've been through but it's a great review.

I had a similar experience at Jamie's Italian CWB: everything tasted absolutely bland. Told the waitress who explained the chefs were new and they might have changed the seasoning coz there were complaints it's too salty this morning. My goodness don't you ever taste your food?


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