Sunday, April 3, 2016

School Time at Night

We finally made our way to the "far far west" to check out our friend David's new-ish restaurant project "Fish School" (in collaboration with restauranteur Yenn Wong), a few long months after it opened.

There were no excuse for waiting this long actually - when I said "far far west" it only meant a quick 30 minute MTR ride to the other side on the blue line plus a 10 minute walk from the station, before we stood in front of the restaurant, located discreetly in a side alley up in the rejuvenated Sai Ying Pun district, guided by the graffiti sign on the main street leading us to the entrance. And all my friends who came and tried just loved the place and the food and couldn't stop talking about it.

While the low-profile facade somehow reminded me of those small classic Kyoto kappo restaurants inside the narrow alleys, inside the decor was modern and trendy, resembling David's other restaurant, Neighborhood, in Soho but with a larger space, higher ceiling and an open kitchen (and louder background music). Almost half of the seats were in front of the bar and kitchen counter, and then there were a handful of tables for bigger group.

The food menu featured a dozen or so dishes served in small plates - tapas portion good for 2-3 persons - listed on a clipboard, and more dishes written on the blackboard behind the counter based on seasonal ingredients and daily seafood catch, either the live ones directly from the market or the frozen ones regularly imported from suppliers. Such menu concept may be common in local Chinese seafood restaurants but not so much in a western setting so I was curious and didn't know what to expect.

At the bottom of the menu there's also a "Feed Me" option, basically an omakase menu with a number of surprise dishes brought to us for whole table sharing based on chef's selection, which was something we went for at the end at the recommendation of David, whom we happened to run into inside the restaurant.

Well, all the dishes we had were delicious and very enjoyable. We began with the popcorn mantis shrimp, a crunchy, golden snack made with picked meat from mantis shrimp, coated with thin batter and deep-fried and served with grated salt-cured egg yolk on top with a light yuzu-honey dressing drizzled over. A simple southern food given a clever facelift inspired by classic Cantonese Dai Pai Dong cooking based on local ingredients. We finished them in no time.

The monkfish liver and foie gras terrine was another interesting dish done in classic preparation with a twist of local touch. I am always of the opinion that the taste and texture of monkfish liver, or Ankimo in Japanese, can easily rival that of foie gras if it's done right, so it seems natural to combine both together and pressed into a smooth terrine. In between were bits of dried tangerine peel - one we used often in Chinese cooking especially for seafood to balance the "fishy" taste - that complimented the liver flavors well with the hint of sweetness and tangy after-taste. It's served with crispy tarragon thins with pickled purple cabbage and sweet rosselle cream on the side, but we reckon it worked just as well with simple toasted bread.

Many have commented that the rice with marinated raw crab and sea urchin roe is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant. The flavor was not as intense as what I have expected, but tasty in a subtle kind of way, combining the hearty Japanese pearl rice with the umami flavors from the raw crab meat (served in the original shell) and sea urchin roes only slightly warmed by the steam of the cooked rice as they were spooned in and mixed. I personally was more intrigued by the combination of thinly sliced squid, bits of pomelo, lardo, chilies and topped with squid floss, for the complex flavor profiles and textures with the spicy kick.

We were surprised by more than a fair share of non-seafood dishes being presented. Turned out Fish School does meat too and did it just as good. Among them my favorite was the hand-chopped wagyu tartare with mustard brulee and also the beef bavette seared medium rare. Equally wonderful was the bowl of oxtail ragu with potato puree served as a side dish to the beef. The most interesting part was the bits of slightly pickled shimeji mushroom, adding to some interesting acidity and a bite to the melt-in-your-mouth oxtail braised in red wine.

We almost heaved a sigh of relief when our final savory dish arrived – we felt like our stomach was about to burst after countless courses. The fillets from locally-caught mullet were perfectly pan-fried with the crispy skin. The texture of the meat was firm and reminded me of those used for Cantonese salt-cured fish, and the side dish of charred Shanghainese cabbage and pickled cabbage was tasty too with a hint of sweetness. Two light desserts were served at the end – I particularly liked the "vegetal" dessert with pumpkin icecream, persimmons and candied melon. It’s not very sweet and I think it’s the surprise factor (with such combination) that impressed me most, offering something different than the usual ones.

Better late than never. We were glad that we made it here, and for a great time catching up with friends living in this side of town while being well-fed with delightful dishes. But we definitely need a "make-up lesson" at Fish School soon to cover the dishes that we haven't tried this time.

When? March 12 2016
Where? Fish School, 100 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Popcorn Mantis Shrimp with Salted Egg Yolk, Monkfish Liver and Foie Gras Presse with Aged Tangerine Peel
Drinks? Broadbent Vinho Verde NV, Portugal

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