Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hong Kong - Ta Pantry

In my last post about Hong Kong, you may have noticed I did not mention dinner on my last night.

That's because for our last night in Hong Kong, my friends had managed to book a 'private kitchen' at fairly short notice and I thought it deserved it's own post. As it was really an amazing meal.

Private kitchen's, which are essentially the same as a speakeasy, are becoming really popular in Hong Kong, where they are also most common, and to be able to book one with less than 3 weeks notice is a rare occurrence.

Tonight we were dining at 'Ta Pantry' and getting there…was a bit of an adventure. It was really, the speakeasy experience. We got taxi's to somewhere on Star Street (such a cool street name!), where it looked absolutely dead, with barely a sign in sight and wandered around a bit until we found the building.

When we got to the building, I was getting a bit worried. It was literally a grey, slightly depressed looking, apartment building with no signage, that looked a little run down, with the tiniest of tiny entryways.

Nevermind. In we go.

Through the security grate, up the narrow, fluorescent lit, white concrete emergency stairs we went. It felt incredibly seedy and I was half worried that the 7 of us trooping up the stairs, would make so much noise that a resident would stick their head out of the door, abuse us in Chinese and have me scream apologetically and run back out.

We got up to the floor, and even there, we weren't sure which door it was. It was a small residential hallway, all 4 doors looked the same. What hole in the wall place had we been taken to? What if we accidentally knocked on the wrong door? How would we explain that we were looking for a restaurant that had no sign?

Fortunately we knocked on the right door.

And into a very cosy and intimate setup we tumbled into. With but a single dining table in a room, wall to wall with wine, and the room next door being the kitchen and also a relaxing place to kick back on the sofas, it was as private as you can get!

Ta Pantry was set up by the Chef, Esther Sham, who has the most curious background. From Hong Kong and originally a student of contemporary art in the US, she modelled professional for three years in Hong Kong before deciding that food was her passion. It's quite inspiring to see that one's life path is never set in stone!

She has worked and gained experience in a multitude of 2-star Michelin restaurants, including L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Amber of Landmark Mandarin and Relaid Louis XIII in Paris!

The concept of Ta Pantry started, as her brother, an avid wine collector, who used to spend a lot of time travelling between the US and Hong Kong, needed somewhere to store all his wine. So Ta Pantry became a place for the brother's wine to be stored (and he did have some very nice wines), and for Esther Sham to flex her culinary prowess. Be warned, they won't turn the air-con down as they need to keep the room cool enough for the wine!

At Ta Pantry, Esther has come up with several unique set menus, which guests must decide on before arriving…which is quite the challenge in itself as they all sound so amazing. Fortunately for me, my friend had made the decision for us two weeks prior, so all we had to do was show up with an empty stomach. I think I can manage that!

We had almonds and olives to nibble on, as well as a variety of breads including a sumptuous and buttery brioche and cornbread. Loved the cornbread. It was served warm, and just fell apart in your mouth with a really homely texture.

My friend had chosen Menu three…"L'Americain Nouveau". This excited me. I know this southern style, American food is all the trend in Melbourne at the moment, but no one's taken it to a fine dining level. Which Esther has dared to do.

Our first course, a giant prawn cream corn gelee, topped with salmon caviar, arrived in a martini glass. It was a very elegant twist to the 1960's prawn cocktail. I loved the bright colours and the translucency of the gelee. It was the perfect start to the meal, with light fresh flavours, I particularly loved the pairing with the sweet corn at the bottom of the glass.

Course two. Mushrooms medley soup served with foie gras croutons. I know I've been doing this a lot lately but…foie gras croutons. Foie gras croutons. FOIE GRAS CROUTONS.

Are you excited as I am now? Cause I certainly was when I read that. The warm bowls were placed in front of us and Esther came around and personally gave us a little dollop of cream each.

The foie gras crouton did not fail me. It was like a crouton that had just been injected with foie gras, crisp outside and intoxicatingly rich when you got to the centre. It was sad we only had two. The soup itself was a touch on the sweet side for me, being mushrooms I like earthier flavours, but it was still quite nice.

I think the next course sung to me, as it reminded me a lot of brunch. With it's joyfully bright colours and neat stacking. The sun dried tomato crab meat tatin topped with a sunny side egg was just arrestingly beautiful.

That is until you tucked in and broke it down. Tee hee.

But my goodness, the yolk of the egg was perfect, easily running down over the succulent and sew tomatoes. There as something crunchy at the bottom of the stack as well, which added a fun little texture contrast to the dish. It was a mix of rich yet refreshing.

The next dish also saw some tableside service. Melting onion duck, slow cooked and carved by the table. And also sauced by the table. Oh my lord, the duck was cooked beautifully, so tender and I just fell in love with the bed of caramelised onions that it was served on. So comforting!

We also got a little bite of a confit duck leg with mustard, served on bread to go with the main. As if there wasn't enough protein already….

When I first saw the 'Prosciutto BCT Macaroni', BCT standing for bacon, cream and tomato, I was not sure how that could be elegantly presented.

But hey, you can always be surprised right? I breathing a huge sigh of relief as this plate came to the table. I was half worried we would just be getting a giant bowl of macaroni, and after the richness of the duck? I don't know if I could have handled it, but this was just perfect. It was not as rich as I expected it to be either. I suppose as it's not in a cheese based sauce, the tomato gives it a bit more punch and tanginess.

A plate of cheese before dessert…although we were all struggling to get through it at this point. I loved the cute cheese knife!

Dessert was a brownie covered with melted marshmallows and Oreo crumbs…with a choice of chocolate or vanilla ice-cream. Although I would normally go for the double chocolate hit, I decided vanilla would be a wiser choice to make dessert a little less rich.

To be honest, I felt a little bit let down by the brownie. It was actually quite hard, and probably a little overcooked as I was really hoping for a soft, moist and gooey brownie to mix in together with the delicious marshmallow.

The ice-cream was surprisingly delicious though, with a really nice vanilla bean flavour. Wish I had a bigger scoop!

My friends and I really had a lovely time, we are normally quite a rambunctious group, so it was nice to have our own space and be as loud as we wanted really.

I think what I really enjoyed about this menu, was that the dishes all had a different twist to them and most of them, aren't things I have come across anywhere else. I do also love that some of the more classical style cooking comes through as well, and the table side service.

Ah, although I would love to be able to try all the menus, I don't know how often I could stomach a meal like this!

Ta Pantry

Star Street

Wan Chai, Hong Kong

+852 9403 7430

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