This is another menu I discussed in more detail for another publication, so I will keep my descriptions relatively short. For anyone looking to check the place out, I recommend it as a swank spot to grab a cocktail with a client or maybe take a not very adventurous date after work. In my opinion the cocktails far outweighed the food in creativity and wow-factor. I very much enjoyed meeting Mixologist Chris Bassett (formerly of PX in Alexandria) and trying all these funky liquid creations made by him personally. The food was good too but, well, I’ve lived in Hong Kong so I have a standard for dim sum that is perhaps a bit too high a city with a Chinatown that… looks like that…
First came some of their house specialty dim sum in a characteristically bite-sized serving. The Fried Eggplant, marinated in garlic and sesame oil before being coated in a light batter and deep-fried, was a delicious, nutty little burst of flavor and the eggplant reached a nice texture between tender and mushy. A cleaned up version of the street food original I had in Mong Kok almost every Sunday, and definitely a more pleasant one to crunch on. There was some Lemon Chicken which didn’t really do anything for me – boneless, skinless and boring, flavored with only a bit of honey, chili and lemon. There was also what was perhaps my favorite bite of the night served in a cute little spoon, the Garlic Shrimp Dumpling in Black Squid Ink Pastry. Shrimp was diced up and mixed with garlic butter to form a delicate filling to stuff into a thin dumpling sheet which was dyed jet black with squid ink. I couldn’t really make out the flavor of the ink too well because the garlic overpowered it, but this was both texturally and flavorally a very satisfying snack.
Perhaps my least favorite thing of the night was the Crispy Duck and Citrus Salad, because the roasted duck had gone rigormortis cold and incredibly tough to chew, making the salad awkward to eat all around. I also don’t really like fruit in my salads as I prefer to keep citrus in a category on my palate far away from savory greens.
As I mentioned before, Chris Bassett clearly seemed like the star of the night, cranking out wonderful signature cocktails which were all pretty unique.
One of his warm cocktails was the Smoky Apple, with fresh apple juice flavored with a hint of smoke given by lapsang souchoung tea. This was delicious when hot, but turned a bit syrupy when it had cooled down. So drink quickly! My favorite cocktail of the night was the Cucumber Curry Sen Sei, with a Hendrick’s gin base and some bamboo liqueur added in. The drink was brought to complexity by fresh curry leaves tossed in, which made the drink slightly spicy and gave it a deep herbal flavor that lingered for quite a while on the palate. Cucumber and apple juice added freshness.
The first entree to arrive at the table was the Steamed Hong Kong Style Fish, a steamed sea bass flavored with soy and a hint of yuzu and served on a bed of steamed bok choy. Pretty boring in flavor if you ask me, but the fish was nice and flaky, not overcooked.
Next came the (Twice) Braised Pork Belly with Five Spice, a giggly, fatty and delicious pork belly braised in five spice sauce and sliced up to be eaten with ease. It was served on a bed of bok choy and sprinkled with bean sprouts. I appreciated the extra five spice seasoning in one corner of the dish in case one wanted to add a bit more heat to the dish. In another corner was also a fried round of lotus root, in case one added a bit too much five spice and needed something to soothe the tongue. Not nearly as impressive was the Crispy Beef with Citrus Soy Sauce, which had long strands of chewy beef, breaded in an uncomfortably thick batter and fried until it was as tough as overcooked octopus tentacles in texture. Eating this thing was awkward because the strips all stuck together and it was difficult to separate them, especially without a knife (chopsticks reigned supreme). The beef was further pulled down by the heaviness of the stir fried peppers it was served with, which were glazed with a glossy, syrup of citrus and soy.
Further on in the night I tried the Smoked Jalapeno Margarita which came with Mezcal flavored with a hot sliver of jalapeno which made my tongue tingle just a tad. There was also a Honeysuckle Margarita with very subtle flavors of honeydew melon and tarragon adding a nice depth to the floral notes of the honeysuckle infused tequila. It was also served with a honeysuckle lolly pop dipped into it, which was cute.
One of the most satisfying entrees was the Hanger Steak with Sichuan Pepper Sauce, juicy and tender steak grilled to a nice medium rare and sliced beautifully against the grid into easy-to-cut pieces. The meat was glazed with a Sichuan pepper sauce with that citric heat so characteristic of the peppercorns. I found the glaze light enough for the char flavors on the meat to shine. A well balanced dish that seemed to be a crowd-pleaser. An also pretty popular seafood option was the Seared Jumbo Shrimp with Tomato and Ginger which kept things real dang simple. Six jumbo shrimp were seared to a very nice, moist and tender texture which at first almost seemed undercooked but then turned out to just be buttery soft and juicy moist. This was served with a side of diced tomatoes and a pool of ginger sauce on the bottom.
Better than the Lemon Chicken dim sum was the Crispy Chicken in Citrus Glaze entree. It was still chicken breast but with some of the skin left on and allowed to become nice and caramelized and crunchy through the frying process. The strips were served with a simple and light citrus reduction on a bed of snap peas which had an awesome crunch and a leafy green freshness to them, characteristics that survived the stir fry.
By the end of the meal I needed to start working in some non-alcoholic drinks as the sheer variety of cocktails would’ve quickly resulted in a Monday night crazier than what I was looking for and a harsh Tuesday morning. I tried the Chinese Sling, a spicy and fruity concoction made with ginger, coriander, lemon and pineapple juice, along with a hint of clove and shaken to a frothy, foamy, very enjoyable smoothie-like texture. There was also a Honey Lavender drink, which contained lavender-infused honey, fresh lemon juice and some lemonade for volume. Tart and sweet, though slightly boring compared to the adult version, Honeysuckle Margarita.
For dessert, there was Ice Cream Mochi which came in a variety of flavors. We got strawberry, green tea and mango. There was also a seasonal pumpkin on another tray. These were good (especially the leafy green tea), but they were brought out at a texture that was still way too frozen through and too hard to bite into. I prefer letting it sit a bit until the ice cream melts on the exterior and the glutinous rice coating loosens up a bit and gets sticky, starchy and smooth to bite into.
A delicious dessert was the Chinese Fried Chocolate and Sesame Donuts, Ping Pong’s cleverly Westernized version of the fried jin dui sesame donuts so popular as street food and bakery snacks in Hong Kong and all throughout China. These were toasty warm and the exterior had a wonderfully gummy texture that made biting into them quite a delight. The donuts were filled with warm chocolate custard in place of the red bean paste popular in China, to appeal to the Western palate. The custard itself was nice, not too sweet and with a hint of bitterness which contrasted the powdered sugar sprinkled on top and the caramelized nutty flavor of the toasted sesames dotting the exterior.
The crunchy and chewy warm sesame donuts were brought to perfection by dunking them in Bassett’s Pop Raisin Alexander, made with cognac and Pedro Ximénez Triana sherry which were shaken with white cacao and some half and half for a creamy body. The cute little cocktail was stopped with chocolate popping candy which added a cool snap and fizzle to the drink. Following this wonderful combination of chocolately bitter-sweet and creamy smooth, I also tried the Chocolate and Tobacco Old Fashioned, with whiskey, tobacco liqueur, and chocolate bitters. Something called “smoked water” was also incorporated into the cocktail and it harmonized with the tobacco liqueur and the oaky whiskey nicely to create a smokey, smooth grandpa flavor which placed me in a warm, comfortable place.
But my favorite item of the night was no doubt the Warm Winter Punch, which was a beautiful warm cocktail made with 18 year old Centenario rum Flor de cana, mulled wine, Punch Abruzzo with flavors of chocolate, caramel, clove and orange, some chocolate bitters and a triage of lemon, orange and lime zests. The warm, toasty flavors of clove and caramel infused the mulled wine and gave it a very cozy, festive touch, while the rum spiced it up and gave it a boozy kick. This base was paired with hot chocolate infused black tea served in a boiling pitcher for the guest to add however much he or she saw fit. I really cannot say enough good things about this one…