Tuesday, January 22, 2019

One to Watch

I was happy and excited for Chef Stephanie Wong when her restaurant Roots finally opened in Wanchai after the two separate stints at PMQ Taste Kitchen mid last year. I walked by the place a couple of times in the past few weeks and finally got a chance to sit down and check out her food 2 weeks ago.

The restaurant took up the space in the quiet section of the Star Street Precinct, with the spacious dining area in the front (which can seat 20?) and the bar and open kitchen further back. I like the modern, minimalist design with deep blue façade and simple wooden furniture inside. The dinner a la carte menu was straight forward, with choices in each of the snacks, starters, mains and dessert sections. One could easily spot the obvious local influence with many ingredients sourced in town, from the heirloom cherry tomatoes from Yuen Long, to local seafood items, to locally-made condiments such as XO Sauce, or Yu Kwan Yick chili sauce.

With the four of us we managed to try quite a number of dishes in each of the sections. The red mullet tartine represented Chef Stephanie’s attempt to make use of something commonly found locally (red mullet or 紅衫魚) in a slightly more creative way. The curry flavor was not very distinct but I like the smoky flavor from the torching of the fish skin.

The Yuen Long heirloom cherry tomato was done in the simplest way possible, with just a light drizzle of olive oil and dressing, which highlighted the great flavor of this local produce. (chef dropped by and explained the tomatoes were just harvested early morning and shipped to the restaurant the same day – one can’t get anything fresher than this).

The duck liver pate was another interesting starter dish. The pate was made in-house with a gamey flavor, and on the side was julienned chives, celery, whole cherries and cherry jam, emulated those condiments normally for Peking Duck. And it’s served with deep-fried bread dough aka you tiao. I wish the cherries were pitted, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with the combination. I was a little overwhelmed by all the strong flavor presented in the clam dish, with clams from local market sautéed with a splash of cream and wine, and served with Chinese black beans, chive oil, and julienned bell peppers. The clams were plump and juicy with great umami flavor on their own, so I thought the other additional ingredients were a bit too heavy-handed causing a distraction rather than complement. (just thinking out loud - perhaps use dehydrated black beans "powder" sparingly instead?)

The main course of roasted French spring chicken was a clear winner – I am happy to come regularly just to have this dish alone. Served in the cast iron casserole was this perfectly roasted spring chicken, chopped into pieces with the slightly charred skin, and underneath was the glutinous rice “stuffing” taking up the meat jus and mixed with diced octopus, ham and shiitake mushrooms, taking a hint from the traditional Cantonese sticky rice, normally done either fried or steamed in lotus leaf. Both the chicken and the stuffing were great for each other, and full of flavor in every bite. And the portion could easily feed 2 or more.

A couple of desserts were listed on the menu. The pistachio cardamom financier was the one inspired by chef’s recent travel to Morocco. The black sesame ice cream that accompanied the financier was a bit on the icy side, but other than that, I loved the slightly exotic flavor and colorful presentation. Overall, I enjoyed the dinner and thought it’s promising given more time for the team to settle in and make some small twists here and there. The place is certainly the one to watch with its unique position of being a French x Canto Bistro and an adventurous menu full of characters.

(Dinner was by invitation)

When? January 8 2018
Where? Roots Eatery, 7 Sun Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Roasted French Spring Chicken with Glutinous Rice Stuffing
Drink? 2016 Benanti Etna Rosso, Sicily

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