Saturday, December 16, 2017

Post Concert Yakitori and Cheese

We were desperate for food the moment we stepped out of the Cultural Centre after a classical concert on a Friday night, and I remembered there's this new bistro/bar which just opened in TST East just a few weeks ago. So after a quick phone call to make sure their kitchen is still open this late  (we wanted some hot food), we hopped on the bus and made a quick ride over for a late night supper.

I haven’t recalled any new dining outlet at The Royal Garden hotel in TST East since maybe the Vietnamese Le Soleil some years ago, but this new place, called J’s Bar Bistro, represents not only something new for the hotel but for the area in many ways. In the past when we talked about cheese room, first thing came to my mind is, well, you know where, followed by the pair of sister restaurants On Dining and Upper Modern Bistro, all on the Island side, but J’s Bar Bistro carried just as good and as wide a selection on this side of the harbor (from the same supplier too). If that’s not considered pioneering, the concept of combining a menu with yakitori/kushiyaki items, classic bistro dishes, a well-stocked cocktail bar, decent selection of fine wines, plus cold cuts and cheeses all under one roof is certainly one-of-its-kind, and that’s the reason I am curious about this place (since that included everything I love)

The bar/bistro was on the second floor of the hotel - and what used to be the conference room facilities have been converted into a spacious bar/dining area with typical bistro-style interior completed with dimmed lighting, leather couches, lounge chairs and table, and further at the back, a long bar and DJ station. There’s also an outdoor terrace for al fresco seating (and a smoker corner, I suppose) It was well past normal dinner hour when we arrived but there’s still a good crowd chilling with drinks or finishing up their meal, and we were seated in a quiet corner. More came in after we did so it's quite lively.

We wanted something to eat but nothing too heavy, so we quickly ordered something from the yakitori/kushiyaki menu to start. The menu was kept in a tablet so one just have to browse through online. Of course, we were more interested in their cheese selection and they gave us a quick tour of their cheese room, which was on the other side of the dining area (a few staff who worked in Caprice and On Dining recognized us and offered to show us around for a little tasting session). We were impressed with the varieties they were offering – they must have more than a dozen listed on their menu, each listed according to the type with tasting note and picture. And there were more on offer from the cheese room. There were the usual suspects such as Brie or Comte or Mimolette, something we would love to have every time but tonight we wanted to try something different. So after a quick tour and tasting, we made our choices, just as our hot dishes began to arrive at our table.

We picked a few items to share, all served on skewers. The Tsukune (or chicken meatballs) was served with the sauce and raw egg in a separate bowl. They were on the soft side (I personally love more soft bones mixed in for some crunchiness) but still with a good grilled crust, well marinated and juicy. Both the pork belly and ox tongue were grilled over charcoal like all their skewer dishes with just simple marinate and sprinkle of salt, but they were both perfectly cooked. And my favorite was definitely the beef short rib, basted with a slightly sweet teriyaki sauce and good with the tender meat. They seriously can rival any top yakitori restaurant in town and I regret not having room for more this time around being my second dinner.

Just as we finished our skewers our charcuterie and cheese platter arrived. On the plate were a few cold cuts (ham, chorizo and cured sausages), a generous portion of pork rillette, dried apricots, pickles, olives and toasts, plus the four cheeses we have picked at the cheese counter earlier. We began with the Cabri Ariégeois which is a goat’s milk cheese. The packaging or even the texture reminded me of the Mont d’Or with the same tall wooden box and super creamy and smooth texture, but it’s richer with a mild gamey goat taste. Then it was the Reblochon, another soft cheese but made of cow’s milk. I love the texture with a strong, mature taste as well. To me the Tomme des Grisons, served in thin long strips, was like a “baby Comte” with a similar mineral, nutty flavor with the tiny salt crystal inside, but much softer (because it’s not aged as long) and somewhat milder. Normally I am not a big fan of blue cheese, but this Bleu de Brebis Cire was on the mild side (in blue cheese standard) and I love it being creamy and smooth – it’s served in a small sauce dish and we could just spoon it up like those soft cheese.

I only went through their drinks menu in a hurry, but judging from the 2 pages long selection of gin, I would say they have a wide variety of bottles. CYY went for the gin and tonic while I ordered a drink from their Signature Cocktail section called “It’s Complicated” – it’s gin based with maraschino liqueor, lime juice and butterfly syrup giving it a pale pink color served in a stemmed glass. Yup, that’s exactly my kind of drink!

After our cheeses, they sent us the deep-fried squid to try and I thought that’s made a fine bar snack with black sesame mayo for dipping, and we finished with a banana toffee cake with salted caramel cream, something one can never go wrong with with the sweet caramelized slices of banana on top. We ran into my friend H who ran the hotel’s PR team here and she insisted on taking up our tab despite our protest – that’s just way too kind of her. Overall we love the place – we haven't seen a better cheese place in this part of town and we would love to come back for a proper meal with some serious yakitori and drinks (and more cheese, that goes without saying). Or for another post-concert bites given its convenient location to both pop and classical concert halls in the neighborhood.

When? November 17 2017
Where? J's Bar Bistro, 2/F Royal Garden Hotel, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon
Menu Highlights? Charcuterie and Cheese

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