Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Lot 10's Last Harrah

Earlier this week we said goodbye to On Lot 10, our friend David Lai's restaurant on Gough Street with a grand finale dinner here. Over the years we have had great memories at this place, with its casual bistro setting, showcasing the best food ingredients with classic, no-nonsense cooking style. Earlier when words came out that the restaurant finally succumb to the rising rent in the area and will be closing down at the end of January, we also felt obligated to come for one last time.

Coming in as a big group (eleven of us) I asked David to prepare a few dishes for us in advance to be served family style. A simple, warm frisee salad with croutons, crushed boiled eggs and pig's ears over a light drizzle of balsamic dressing gave us a refreshing start of the meal, followed by two hot appetizers. I think the sea urchin omelette was the one that impressed us most, with eggs cooked like a Japanese tamagoyaki with a fluffy texture and mild sweetness, and on top was a sumptuous display of sea urchin roes, with dashes of olive oil, creamy foam and paprika giving the dish some additional complexity.

The second hot appetizer was a plate of scallops served with Iberico ham, black truffles and Jerusalem artichokes. The scallops were perfectly seared and I love the rich flavors presented in this dish, particularly the combination of truffles and Jerusalem artichokes - cut in wedges and deep-fried - providing an earthy tone.

We continued with a couple more starter courses - a house-made wild game pate served with radish and gherkins, and another salad of artichokes, duck foie gras, mushrooms and truffles. I think I was a little overwhelmed by the richness of the dishes earlier so the pate tasted a little too mild to my liking but it's nonetheless decent. I loved the artichokes salad - the whole artichoke was steamed to the right doneness, stuffed with smooth foie gras wrapped with big slices of black truffles, then cut into wedges. At a glance it almost looked like a boiled egg. And the dish was completed with slices of raw ceps and a drizzle of olive oil and shaved parmesan. A simple dish with rustic flavors and casual but beautiful presentation.

Hard to believe this was only midway through our meal and the main courses that came after were just as amazing, if not more so. Soon after the appetizer dishes were bussed away, two giant baking pans landed on our table, each with a John Dory fish roasted whole with well-seasoned broth and a bouquet of vegetables, coming with the liver and roes and all from the fish too. We were at Chef David's other restaurant a few days ago and he was showing us some frozen fish jetted in from Kyushu, which I assumed was from the same batch of what we got on the table. John Dory is a funny looking fish (or ugly as some may say) with firm yet delicate meat full of flavors and not boney at all, making it perfect to be cooked whole. We also liked the equally tasty fish roes came in abundance on the side of the pan. While common in Cantonese cuisine, not a lot of western restaurants served whole fish in town these days, and On Lot 10 is one of the handful that regularly does and does it so superbly, as we have experienced that once again tonight.

Our friend Goz asked for the roast, so David prepared the beef for us. The whole slab of 120-day dry-aged Rubia Gallega ribeye - well 2 of them to be exact - was roasted in the oven to rare-doneness, finished on a pan for a burnt crust, sliced and served with potatoes and savoy cabbages. To me, this encapsulated what the restaurant is all about - top-notch ingredients and classic cooking. My friend Peter has been raving about the beef for (more than) a few times already and yes, this is as incredibly delicious as he described it (again and again). To me, the meat was a bit on the chewy side and took a bit of effort to cut through, but the intense meaty taste made it all worthwhile, and gosh, the double cooked potatoes - crispy on the outside and fluffy inside - and the shredded cabbages just soaked up all the tasty meat jus at the bottom. The unassuming bowl of side vegetables served next to it was almost as delicious, with well-braised carrots, daikons, pearl onions and green peas cooked with the chicken broth. I can't ask for a better bowl of veggies.

Not quite the end yet. Our last main course was what I would call Chef David's interpretation of chicken a la king. The whole chicken was stuffed with black truffles and baked with a salt crust in the oven, finished with a creamy foie gras sauce and served on a bed of long grain rice cooked with chicken oil, a la "Hainan style". I am lost for words to describe how amazing this was. Chicken meat was moist and juicy, and infused with the rich, unmistakable truffles flavor. Of course the combination of chicken and a cream sauce was classic, but this is even better with a foie gras based sauce. And serving this with rice was simply a touch of genius - with the rice taken in all the good flavors and without being too filling. We had absolutely no problem wiping clean all of the rice in the pan. This is borderline gluttony, I must confess.

We didn't bring our own wines so we picked one from their wine list, which always contain interesting and delightful choices. This time we went for a vintage Lebanese Chateau Musar, the very winery that put the region back into the world wine scene (since the Biblical times). A dark ruby hue with a lot of sediments at the bottom (typical of their wines - should have asked them to decant first), it opened with a rustic nose and hit you right on the palate with a ripe, almost jammy taste of plum and dark cherry. It's not particularly tannic but the finish was long and rounded. I suspected our first bottle could have been a little corked, or a case of bottle shock, with a hint of nail polish that quickly went away, but the second bottle was absolutely gorgeous. It's perfect for the roast and the other rich dishes that we had, and a little tribute to its winemaker Serge Hochar who passed away recently, perhaps?

Pear tart is our all-time favorite dessert here, so we requested an extra serving of that, plus the 2 generous slices of raspberry tarts to share. Not the best we had here - I personally preferred the pear to be sliced and spread on top instead of in chunks - but still, the fluffy, buttery (almost shortbread-like) crust was to die for. A dollop of whipped cream was all that's needed as accent the sweetness.

Over the years On Lot 10 has represented an alternative force to our fine dining scene dominated by chain and hotel restaurants or celebrity chefs only making whistle stops in town every now and then. At times the meal here did feel a bit on the pricey side but with the top-notch ingredients and mind-blowing dishes we always got much more than we paid. It's sad to see it go but hopefully the closure only meant one chapter closed for another to begin. Luckily, we could still get to taste Chef David's excellent food at Neighborhood, his other restaurants a few steps down near Hollywood Road, with the same relaxed, rustic style cooking in an even more comfortable setting. This is what we need more here.

More pictures in my Flickr album:

When? January 22 2014
Where? On Lot 10, 34 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Salt-baked, Truffle-stuffed Chicken with Creamy Foie Gras Sauce and Rice and pretty much the rest of the meal
Drinks? 1999 Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

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