Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First thought on Neighborhood

We seized the opportunity to try out our friend Chef David Lai's new Soho restaurant, Neighborhood, in its first evening of service during the soft-opening week in mid-October.

The restaurant is located at a relatively quiet corner on Hollywood Street between Peel and Aberdeen, with the entrance tucked at the back facing a little park. Decor was minimalist and tasteful, with gray wall, wooden, clothless tables - we were adoring every single piece of tableware from the short glass tumblers to the forks and knives that David brought back from Paris.

The main dining area looked a bit small (can sit maybe up to 20?), and then there's another room at the back which could presumably be used for private function and then a bar area on the side. David mentioned this was meant to be a casual, everyday neighborhood restaurant (hence the name) but to me, it definitely looked like a fancy, upscale bistro that ones could go even for special occasions.

I am not going to give you a drill down on every single dish (yes, we literally shared the entire menu among the 6 of us) so you could discover on your own. The menu featured about 20 different items and will change regularly, we were told. But let me just tease you with a few of our favorites:

Quail "Escabeche"
Quail "Escabeche" - a straight-forward countryside dish with puy lentils and carrot puree. Quail was tender with well-charred skin, carrot with just the right sweetness and puy lentils perfectly cooked with a firm texture.

Frog Leg Fritter
Frog Leg Fritter - deep-fried with batter and then coated with herbs. The batter reminded me of the Cantonese deep-fried oyster (酥炸生蠔). The dish was served with a half-cooked egg and aioli - I think the egg was slightly overcooked with the yolk not as runny as I would have expected. But still, the dish was easily the best of the evening.

Beef Daube Ravioli
Spicy Tomato Garganelli
I liked the few pasta dishes we ordered as well, especially the Beef Daube Ravioli and the Spicy Tomato Garganelli. Just love the "bite" from a well-kneaded house-made pasta. And we just didn't have enough of the creamy lardo from the charcuterie platter too! 

Daily Fish in "Bouillabaisse"
The Daily Fish in "Bouillabaisse" was a scaled down version of what we used to at David's other restaurant On Lot 10 not far away from here. A piece of fish fillet from local market - on our day of visit it's tilefish, or Ma Tau/馬頭 in Chinese (or Amadai in Japanese) - sat on top of boiled potatoes, a slice of bread and the seafood stew broth with rouille, served in a deep soup plate. I think the best part was the bread well-soaked with the rich broth - I ended up wiping the plate clean with more bread.

Overall I loved almost every dish we ordered, except maybe one or two which we thought there's some room for improvement (for example, I thought the chicken broth with onsen eggs was a bit too oily and not enough flavor). I would describe the cooking style as being "honest" - with emphasis on the best ingredients, using traditional cooking methods and no-nonsense seasonings. I was also impressed with the simple yet beautiful plating and the clever use of colorful side vegetables and condiments to make the dishes look ever so appealing. The portion was pretty generous - each dish was said for one person but I think it's probably just as good ordering a few to share family-style especially if you have a big group.

Well there were common, minor teething problems with any restaurant opening - noticeable but understandable given this is their first evening and they were dealing with a full house - but the staff was friendly and worked hard to help and serve.

Chocolate Palette
We ended our dinner on a high note with the chocolate palette dessert. It may look ordinary and it's anything but. It's a small cake with soft chocolate ganache with a texture resembles more a slightly melted marshmallow and underneath the cake was a thin layer of sweet chocolate cookies crust. Filled your mouth with the divine richness with a single bite and I wish that taste never went away. It's so good that it's the only thing we asked for a second helping as soon as we finished our first.

I can totally see this as our go-to place for simple, comfort food especially when I am too lazy to cook or want something fancier and better. Promise it won't be long before we come back, especially knowing the menu will change weekly to give us something new all the time (but David, please don't take the chocolate palette dessert away!)

Note: On the day of visit, the restaurant offered a 50% discount to everyone during its soft-opening. (in the spirit of full disclosure)

When? October 13 2014
Where? Neighborhood, 61-63 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong (between Peel and Aberdeen Streets and entrance on Pak Tsz Lane Park behind Hollywood Road)
Menu Highlights? Frog Leg Fritter, Chocolate Palette
Drinks? Domaine de la Cadette Bourgogne Vezelay "Les Angelots" 2012

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