Monday, June 18, 2018

Facelift at Our Old Club

I was surprised to see a few familiar faces at The Refinery Club when I was invited to a lunch tasting there recently. The members-only club at Quarry Bay’s Taikoo Place complex was re-opened earlier this year, taking the place of The Butterfield’s, a similar social/dining club at the same spot which we were members of for a number of years and over time, became our go-to eatery regularly, especially when we couldn’t think of something else different to eat around this neighborhood (that happened at least once a week)

Other than a few staff who returned to work at this new facility after the year-long renovation and under the same management (the parent company of The Peninsula with a few other private clubs under its portfolio), there’s little that resembled the old clubhouse. Making way to the Victorian-style décor with a vast classical art collection and the iconic spiral staircase is a fashionable interior with an energetic river blue color tone and a touch of marble and metallic theme now stretching over two levels at the same spot instead of three (the original site is now shared with a co-working space for start-ups which took up about 1/3 of the floor area). The traditional bar and lounge on the third floor with leather couches and snooker table in the previous club was replaced by a slightly smaller bar serving wines and artisan cocktails (with better selection, I reckon), plus an outdoor terrace downstairs overlooking Tong Chong Street for drinking and relaxing. The gym has expanded in size with more variety and newer equipment, and it’s no surprise that they kept the Chinese restaurant, given it was the most popular in the old days, but now featured a new menu, a modern, brighter décor and a much cozier dining area now in the same level as the bar, and they managed to keep Chef Jacky Chan, who was the head chef at Soong Room, the Chinese restaurant at Butterfield’s and now overseeing the kitchen of the entire club.

We were seated in one of the private rooms with a round table that can accommodate 8-10 comfortably. The menu was customized to give us a good taste of what’s on offer at the restaurant, including a few Hakka dishes as part of their latest promotion starting in June. The table setting also received a major facelift, with the classic Christofle tableware and glassware now replaced by the modern design custom-made by Legle, another French porcelain maker with a history of working with a number of top restaurants around Asia.

For our lunch, we began with a platter with three different types of dimsum dishes, and all of them were excellent. My favorite was the steamed seafood dumpling with a touch of Sichuan peppercorns for the spicy kick and that went well with my favorite XO sauce, still as good as I remembered. The Wagyu Beef puff was beautifully made too, with the perfect pastry shell and the tasty wagyu beef filling and black pepper sauce.

Our friend J who came a few weeks earlier raved about the char siu here, and it was indeed great. The pork was from a special breed from Yunnan with the shoulder cut being used. It’s roasted with a good portion of charred crust and a light brush of honey glaze. I loved its tender texture with the right balance of sweetness. And the double-boiled soup with chicken, fish maw and wonton was sumptuous and comforting too.

A few Hakka dishes were then introduced, including the salt-baked chicken, the braised duck with “mui choy”, or preserved mustard green, the deep-fried pork belly with red fermented tofu, and the bitter gourd stuffed with minced carp and pork. Hard to tell which ones were my favorite among those dishes since they were all good, but I think the pork belly and stuffed bitter gourd with carp and pork were the more special ones, true to the traditional versions. I remembered Chef Chan made an awesome Hakka-style stuffed carp dish back then and the bitter gourd one is a modified version of that with the same excellent taste.

We wrapped up with a vegetarian dish, sautéed seasonal vegetables with black truffles, a bowl of fried rice, and a pair of Chinese desserts – the steamed bun with runny egg yolk filling and mango cream with sago and pomelo. That plus a tasting of the rice dumplings that they made for the upcoming Tuen Ng Festival, available for dine-in or takeaway for members.

It’s great to be back and see the transformation, and good to know the food was as good as I remembered. This does give us some serious food for thought as to whether to re-join the club – after all, we have been looking for a proper replacement as our go-to restaurant in the area ever since The Butterfield’s was shut.

(Meal was by invitation and courtesy of Swire Properties. The restaurant was part of a private club normally only accessible by its members and their guests)

When? May 24 2018
Where? The Refinery Club, Dorset House, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Hakka-style Deep-fried Pork Belly with Fermented Red Bean Curd

No comments :