Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New at the Fringe

It’s strange that the space which once housed the legendary and popular M at the Fringe restaurant hasn’t quite found a long-term tenant able to bring it close to its heyday for almost a decade. Over the years we have seen changes from a café to art gallery to kitchen studio, all relatively short-lived, but the latest project did catch my attention and sounds promising, with a cozy restaurant specializing in Franco-Japanese cuisine.

This new concept of combining Japanese and French cooking seems to be fashionable again lately with a few similar restaurant openings this year, including this restaurant, called Circa 1913 as part of The Fringe Club (the restaurant is named after the stone carving at the façade of this historical building indicating the approximate year of construction). We came here for dinner a couple of weeks ago at the invitation of the restaurant.

The light grey-colored wall, the art pieces hanging around and the plants on the table as centerpiece does bring back memories of the old M at the Fringe with the similar rustic, countryside style, but there's also the addition of a wooden bar counter and a DJ booth stretching across the length of the restaurant for the modern feel.

Knowing the kitchen size of this space I was surprised at the number of dishes available on their a la carte menu, most of which fusion style with both French and Japanese (or even pan-Asian) elements. We gave Chef Anderson a free reign at what he wanted to show us and he prepared a few signature courses for us.

I think the beef dishes were definitely the star of the evening, which should be of no surprise given they import their own top grade wagyu from Kumamoto (called Waou, or king of wagyu). And we did have a few of those - starting with the Kumamoto beef tartare served with pickled vegetables, okra and rice krispies "toast". It's heavily seasoned but matched well with the strong meaty flavor of the beef and I love those tangy, crunchy pickles mixed inside.

I also liked the gyoza with foie gras and beef as filling served in a deep dish with daikon cream soup. The light potage-like soup with distinct radish flavor contrasted with the gyoza with rich filling and deep-fried. I did enjoy the creative element for this one. On the other hand, I wasn't so sure about our rice dish of Sashimi Risotto al Salto. Yes it's one of its kind with Chef Anderson attempt to combine the concept of Japanese Chirashi with Milanese Risotto al Salto, serving the dish with pan-fried rice "cake" underneath with slices of sashimi on top, with a wasabi foam and a soy-sauce "sphere" a la El Bulli. But other than the fancy presentation and the wow factor, I wasn't much of a fan especially with the quality of the fish used. Nonetheless I could see that working with a simpler presentation as an appetizer course for lunch - say, with just salmon and salmon roes.

We shared two main dishes - both were very decent. First was the whole spring chicken was roasted and served with poached red baby radishes and grilled porcini. I could live with a little more brining for the chicken but I like the subtle miso flavor on the crispy skin, having marinated with shiro-miso for overnight. And the beef tenderloin using the same Kumamoto wagyu breed (as our previous courses) were outstanding with just the right amount of fat and rich flavor, served with a deep cocoa sauce and jus reduction. That was memorable.

Our two desserts were definitely more Japanese than French with the wagashi mesmerizing style. On one bowl was the Wakayama White Peach cooked sous-vide in champagne and served with the sweet champagne syrup poured underneath and topped with the bouncy konnyaku (made with agar) and edible flowers. We have approached the end of the peach season but this one was still juicy and sweet. The second dessert was like a 2-for-1 deal, with a panna cotta-like steamed egg custard with kuromitsu in a Japanese bowl, and next to it a slice of mango crepe cake.  I definitely loved the former better with the super sweet flavor including the mashed candied chestnut on top and it definitely looked easier to make than it seemed. This custard has a perfectly smooth texture.

Overall I liked the thought process chef and his team went through to create some unique and interesting dishes with solid techniques and (mostly) well-chosen ingredients, especially the wagyu beef. And I always have a sweet spot for this cozy venue which is certainly a bonus and I reckon this would be the great venue for those who are adventurous for some avant-garde cooking and something slightly different than the ordinary, which in a sense was consistency with what The Fringe Club is about.

(Dinner was by invitation)

When? November 14 2017
Where? Circa 1913, 1/F The Fringe Club South Block, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Grilled Kumamoto Wagyu A5 "Waou" Tenderloin with Cocoa Beef Jus
Web: www.hkfringeclub.com/en/venues/7-Circa+1913.html

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