Last night marked the grand opening of Lan Kwai Fong’s latest entry into the restaurant scene: Sal Curioso. With a sultry, dimly-lit entrance on Glenealy street, guests must climb stairs inside to reach the bar and dining area.
And so, on Tuesday night, for six Hong Kong bloggers (including myself), the mystery and curiosity began for our pre-launch dinner and tasting.
Thinking I had arrived fashionably late (10 minutes late!), I was only the second blogger to arrive. I took this opportunity to try a cocktail at the colourful mosaic bar… my choice? A Curious Paloma: made with tequila, grapefruit, lime and ginger served with basil and a cinnamon salt rim.The drinks menu is exotic to say the least. With such bizarre and intriguing names as Purple Smoke and Blood and Sand, I was a bit at loss for what to choose. In the end I scanned ingredients until I found a delicious-sounding combination of tequila, citrus fruits, ginger, cinnamon (yum!) and basil (I love herbs in drinks).
I really enjoyed this cocktail; chewing on the basil while sipping and delighting in its unique cinnamon salt rim (made in-house by crushing cinnamon sticks and unrefined salt). The tequila was rendered smooth and subtle with the drink’s ginger/citrus blend, resulting in a refreshing and flavour-packed winner.
Their menus are large A3 fold-outs, printed on ribbed paper. This small detail makes holding and perusing the menu a sensuous experience, as most people’s fingers will consciously or subconsciously stroke the ribs.
On the back of the drinks and food menus are black and white drawings of odd, fantastical mechanical devices. This blue-print feeling is extended to the menu text on its inner side, reminiscent of the Courier font with its monospaced lettering (each letter takes up the same area). So there you have it, some eye-candy for those design lovers out there. 🙂
Time to talk food! Above are the appetisers we got to try, both from the ‘TAPAS inspired’ section of the menu. The numbers next to menu items are a quirky, although unexplained, aspect to the menu: each item belonging to a different N/Series (e.g. N/Series 7000). Still not sure what that means… but as I’ll explain soon, part of the mystery and culture-mixing is what makes Sal Curioso so enjoyable.
Part of the Tapas line-up, this lamb meatball dish is bursting with Moroccan flavours. The juicy, tender meatballs (cooked medium-rare; perfect) sit on “walnut braised” chickpeas. I wrote a note that the chickpeas were al dente (a term used to describe slightly firm pasta). In this case I mean that they’re on the line between soft and crunchy, adding a nice contrast (with the walnut bits) to the tender, fall-apart quality of the meat. According to the menu, this dish has “shaved foie gras”, which wasn’t particularly evident in terms of quantity, but did explain the rich, buttery flavour that made the meat (and its jus) as scrumptious as it was. I joked with the other bloggers that if I was home alone, I would lift the plate to drink the remaining jus/sauce because it was so tasty.
7004: Corn Crackers
A nice little snack with artistic dollops of green (avocado), red (tomato relish) and white (goats cheese). Slightly awkward to eat since each deep fried corn cracker twists and turns, making scooping up the sauces a bit of a challenge. Small bowls containing the sauces would make this easier… but then it probably wouldn’t look as good.
3001: Jumbalaya – Sal’s Style
Knowing this dish is “Sal’s Style” is nice… that is, if you know what Jumbalaya is to begin with! I didn’t, so relied on the menu’s description in the choice of this seafood-dominated dish. According to Wikipedia, jambalaya (not sure if the ‘u’ in the menu is a misprint?) is a Spanish/French/Creole dish: “traditionally made in three parts, with meats and vegetables, and is completed by adding stock and rice”. Here in Sal Curioso, the dish is given an (attractive) update with puffed rice crackers, celery gel (the green dollop) and popcorn amongst chorizo and seafood (squid, prawn and mussels).
5688: Sherry Marinated Tomatoes
At a glance, this looks like another (boring) caprese salad. But take a bite and be surprsied by the soft and fluffily “cheese whip” which deceptively resembles a blob of mozzarella. The added herbs and Middle Eastern-spiced tomato relish bring an interesting dimension to this would-be standard.
8023: Molasses Suckling Pig
With a sweet crispy skin, tender meat and a nice sampling of fruit and veg to stop it from getting too heavy and rich. A very nice take on a classic pork and citrus marriage .
2020: Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Although my expectations of fried, crispy chicken goodness were shattered (didn’t seem fried at all), the flavours and guilty pleasure of this chicken + corn + cream + bacon combination were more than enough to make up for it. This dish was particularly popular amongst us bloggers, with a few “have you tried the chicken yet?”‘s resounding across the table after it had been served.
2056: Biscay Marmitako
With another foreign name requiring Wikipedia research, a Biscay Marmitako basically means a fish stew from the Basque region of Spain, an area renowned for great seafood. This multicoloured plate featured mussels (very fresh), squid, seared tuna and swordfish in addition to chorizo and peppers for that distinctive Spanish touch. While the tuna was briefly seared and matched the dish perfectly, the swordfish seemed overcooked and not particularly distinctive… I believe the Marmitako would be just as successful without its addition – this would also make the dish more eco-friendly due to swordfish’s dwinndling populations.
How gorgeous is the photo above? It’s a dessert freak out! With so much to try and so little room left in my stomach, it was our last stretch in the marathon of food we’d been presented with. The numbers represent my top 3 favourite from our selection…
N.1 – 6750: Peanut Butter is the Pate of my Childhood
Although Chef Chris Woodyard rightly joked with us that it’s a shame the presentation is so limited with this dish’s ingredients, its nostalgic and quirky name adds some of the glam right back. An all-round favourite dessert of the night, we learned that this pate is made painstakingly by layering layer upon layer of thin meringue and peanut butter over each other. So smooth and rich, it feels like eating a meringue/peanut icing that’s somewhere between cream and toffee-sticky. Irresistible! Rum banana compote, icecream and crunchy coffee cookie bits add variety to the peanut butter pate, although it could very easily stand on its own.
N.2 – 6700: Truffled Vanilla Rice Pudding
From the first bite, truffle aroma overwhelms your palette with this delicious rice pudding. Various textures come in to play, including ice cream, chocolate shavings, caramel, popcorn and diced apples. The more you eat, the strange and wonderful truffle+vanilla duo might become too overpowering for some: this dish can only really be shared between 2+ people despite its relatively small size… or perhaps the kitchen could cut down on the degree of truffle infusion to make the dish more sustainable after a few dozen bites?
N.3 – 6211: Potted Key Lime Pie
Served in a cute cocktail-type glass, a sweet crunchy cookie conceals a layer of ultra-smooth and authentically eggy keylime custard. It’s paired with a delicate house-made coconut sorbet and fun, pretty coconut and keylime peel shavings.
Like many of LKF’s latest concept restaurants (this being Woolly Pig Concept’s second restaurant, after Wan Chai’s Madame Sixty Ate), Sal Curioso is sleek, urban and on-trend in their design aesthetic. The decor and menu reflect the restaurant’s eclectic and multi-cultural inspirations, drawing from European, South American and Middle Eastern influences.
In a similar vein, dishes are intended to be shared between guests, just as the cooking itself borrows from cultures and shares them with the Hong Kong diner. If you’re not really into sharing food, then this probably won’t be the right fit for you. But, if you like a casual yet chic atmosphere; a cultural melting pot attitude towards food; and an imaginatively confusing whirlwind of a menu, then Sal Curioso is for you.