Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dinner with a crowd

My friends and we were at Rhoda one Wednesday evening as the occasion to catch up and also to try out the dishes at this 2-month-old restaurant located on the main street in Sai Ying Pun and a short walk from the HKU MTR Station. This hip restaurant is the newest project by Yenn Wong, who seems to hold true to her current title of "Best Restauranteur of the Year" with a string of new restaurant openings under her belt in the last 12 months. Behind the kitchen is Chef Nate Green, formerly of 22 Ships and Ham and Sherry.

I do like the interior design of the restaurant, with that typical "industrial chic" which seems to be the trend at the moment (I am sure we will all look back at these metallic and concrete themes and said, "oh this is so 2016!") The dining room was spacious and set up as an open space, with one end being the hot grilling station and the other end, the bar. There were also seats in front of the grilling station, for those who wants an up close and personal moment with the food being prepared right behind, or the chefs, or both. Throughout the dinner I kept saying I was impressed with their dishes and plates, which were a nicely curated selection in various styles – that was an extra bonus too. My only complaint was the place got extremely loud especially as the night progresses, which seems to run contrary to the place being marketed as a "family-oriented restaurant" - we literally had to yell across the table to make a conversation.

While this was only our first visit, a few friends at the table have been here already before, so they took care of the ordering duty. The menu was said to be changed daily, but I suspect they are only making minor adjustments day by day given a majority of the ingredients used were imported. With a big group this time we managed a good sampling of the dishes from various sections of the menu, which was divided into Snacks, Cold, Grill, "Something a little bigger", Sides, Desserts and Cheese.

First up was the beer bread, baked in-house with dark ale and served with a small slice of seaweed butter on the side. I don’t usually compliment on bread service but this one was spot on, with the warm roll felt like just coming off the oven with the right, slightly crispy crust. A few more snacks and cold dishes arrived at our table soon after, and among them, my favorite was the chicken wings glazed with Xeres vinegar. I could smell the smokey flavor immediately as they arrived and I like the well-charred surface brushed with a sweet glaze.

Without a doubt I would call the slow-cooked octopus the best dish of the evening. Well, with Chef Nate coming from a tapas restaurant I don’t expect anything less of the dish cooked in the typical style of Pulpo a la Gallega, and the tender octopus, slow-cooked then finished on the open-fire grill, did show off the capabilities of the open grill station that is the centerpiece of the restaurant. The dish also went down well with the wine we were drinking too (an equally easy-going Beaujolais-villages).

We ordered two main courses to share, both of which were reserved in advance, and both were excellent. The chicken dish probably drew inspiration from the local cooking style of mixing with ginger and green onions, with the whole chicken probably cooked sous-vide then grilled, and then dressed with the fragrant green onions and ginger dressing. I have seen a similar version of this done elsewhere but I thought this is the better version with the chicken cooked to just the right done-ness, moist and tender, and the dressing was delicious with the bits of deep-fried garlic on top.

The lamb shoulder, slow-cooked for 12 hours, was the crowd-pleaser - I could hear the sound of exclamations as it was brought to our table in a gigantic black cast iron pot. Inside was the whole lamb shoulder, bone-in but the meat was tender like it’s almost falling off the bones. Along with the meat, seasonal vegetables (zucchini, squash, aubergine and more) was stewed Provençal style with a bouquet of herbs served inside the pot as condiments. There were also pickled radish and a chimichurri-like sauce served on the side, both of which were tasty and worked well with the dish. And the loaf of bread was just handy to soak up all the stew vegetables and sauce from the bottom after we were done with the meat. And please don't trust the menu description which said it's good for 4-6 people - there were 8 of us and we found it challenging to finish them all. (we ended up packing some home)

I got to say I wasn’t a big fan of their desserts. The vanilla “cheesecake” was done no-bake style, so it’s more like a cheesy flan with a runny texture then a cake with rich flavor like what I would expect in my cheesecake. For the berries dessert with cherry granita, I swore it's ricotta that they used rather than the "lemon crème fraiche" that was in the description. There's nothing wrong with the dessert but then it's nothing mind-blowing.  Same with the other two desserts we tried – they tasted fine but just very generic – I bet more than a dozen restaurants elsewhere are serving something similar.

The food was decent and I thought most of the dishes were reasonably priced (I think they comped our desserts). And I loved the fact that they served water processed in-house and charge only a nominal amount for water service – even came with the choice of still or sparkling. There should be more restaurants providing this option in town, for the sake of our environment and to minimize carbon footprint. I thought it's probably a bit of an exaggeration to call this the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2016 as some might have suggested (to start with, 2016 is only half way through), but Rhoda is a place I don't mind coming back to, either for a light, easy dinner with a few drinks, or come as a big group to share some of the main dishes like we did.

When? August 10 2016
Where? Rhoda, 345 Des Voeux Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights?
Fresh Chorizo, Slow-cooked Octopus, Peppers, Onions
Brink's Farm free-range chicken, spring onion and ginger dressing
2015 Le Grappin Beaujolais-Villages "Nature" Du Grappin
2012 Boom Boom Syrah, Charles Smith Wines, Washington State

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