October 30, 2014

Another mediocre 'celebrity chef' restaurant

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Like my fellow blogger Gary, I will preface this post by saying out loud (for the hundredth time) that I've never been a fan of Dining Concepts' restaurants.  I've been to a handful of their numerous outlets over the years, and so far I have had the overwhelming urge to go back to... just about none of them.  It's not that they serve bad food, but mediocrity runs through their veins, and there's no pull factor for return visits.

Then came a string of so-called 'celebrity chef' outlets - which started years ago with Olive - probably the lone outlet of the group I have fond memories of.  Then it was Michael White's Brainless Al Molo followed by Mario Batali's widely-panned Lupa and the now-defunct Carnevino.  The latest gweilo big name to plant his flag in these territories is Gordon Ramsay, who opened the doors to Bread Street Kitchen a few weeks ago.  All of these guys inexplicably chose Dining Concepts as their partner.  Why?  Well, I'm told that when posed with the question, Mario Batali said something along the lines of "Because my good friend Michael White told me to."   Orz x10...

Anyway, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked about my experiences with the two new "celebrity chef restaurants" which opened up recently (the other one being Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian), and my standard response has been that I have little or no desire to pay either a visit.   I wasn't about to pay out of my own pocket to go there, and since the restaurants themselves would never have invited me (and I probably would have turned down those invitations anyway), I was pretty much destined to not dine at either...

...until I was asked to join a review of Bread Street Kitchen.  Being slightly higher-end than the other - and with slightly better feedback from the community - I decided to join a small roundtable for lunch.

The organizer was unable to book by phone, so CY689 arrived early and got us seated in the bar area.  We wanted to sit at a high table for four instead of at the big communal table that seats about ten, but the request was turned down.  Later on another group of four came in, and while they were initially seated at the other end of our communal table, they were soon relocated to the table which we had requested to sit at.  So... did we not look respectable enough?!  Must have been the way CY689 was dressed... Anyway, we ordered up a storm to share...

First came our starters:

Seared scallops with carrot puree, treacle bacon, celery cress - the scallops were mi-cuit and pretty decent.  Adding a little bit of bacon with molasses made it a little more interesting than usual.

Tamarind spiced chicken wings, spring onions, coriander - this was surprisingly tangy, and pretty decent.

Flat bread, caramelized onions, taleggio cheese, cured pigs cheek, basil pesto - all the toppings were pretty tasty... from the onions to the guanciale (of course!), and even the basil pesto worked well with the rest.  The only issue we had was that the flat bread was... too flat.  There just wasn't enough of it, and we thought Harlan's version at Gold by Harlan Goldstein was better because the bread was a little thicker, which resulted in a better balance.

The mains arrived together:

Bread Street Kitchen short rib burger with Monterey jack cheese, spicy sriracha mayo - this was the one item that everyone wrote about in all the reviews I'd seen.  Didn't spend too much time analyzing this, but decided to just chomp on it while it was still warm.  This was OK, and the kick from the sriracha was definitely noticeable.

Fish and Chips, crushed peas, hand cut chips - honestly, I didn't like using barramundi for this, as it was a little too mushy and flabby.  I would have wanted more bite and texture in my fish.  The batter was fairly thin and soft.  I'm sure many people would have loved the fat, hand-cut potato wedges but not me...

Traditional shepherd's pie with braised lamb, potato puree, brioche garlic crumbs - by far the best dish of the meal.  This was seriously good.  The lamb was sooo lamby, which was really right up my alley.  The flavors were also very rich, and definitely very traditional.  I'd definitely give this one full marks.  The only downside is that as one would expect, this was really heavy... which meant I had some difficulty eating more than a few spoonful...

Dingley Dell pork chops 10oz - the major FAIL of the meal.  I realize that some minutes had passed by the time we got to this, but I was very surprised to see that it wasn't even lukewarm but flat out cold.  The plate obviously didn't help in terms of retaining heat.  The other problem is that the meat was tough.  It didn't seem overcooked, and still had juices when you put pressure on the meat, but it just wasn't tender.

Macaroni cheese - I actually liked this, as I found the cheese flavor to be more interesting and intense.

I was getting pretty full after the shepherd's pie, but we couldn't exactly leave without reviewing the desserts!  Turns out that was the best decision we made all day, as the desserts were all pretty good.

Pineapple carpaccio, passion fruit, coconut sorbet - WOW!  This was really damn good!  The cold slices of pineapple were very refreshing, and the passion fruit provided even more acidity here - not to mention an additional layer of fragrance.  But the best part was the coconut sorbet, which was surprisingly rich and intense in terms of its coconut flavor.  Yum!

Banana Sticky toffee pudding, Muscovado caramel, clotted cream - what's not to love about toffee and caramel?!  'Nuff said.

Chocolate tart, salted caramel ice cream - very rich chocolate, and again, what's not to like about caramel?!

We were very, very stuffed at the end of the meal.  There was just a chunk of stuff sitting in my stomach, and it would be there until well into dinner time...

Lunch today was OK.  There were only two obvious fails - although both were mains - and there were even a couple of highlights.  But when the desserts clearly outshine the savories at a restaurant, you kinda do have to wonder...

Last week I had a conversation with a chef who felt that Gary was being a little unfair in saying that diners here were paying a premium for ordinary gastropub food.  Having tasted the food myself, I now feel somewhat qualified to add my own comment on this.  Yes, I do think the food was pretty ordinary, although that wasn't any different from my expectations before the meal.

Were we paying a premium?  Divided evenly, each of us had the equivalent of a 3-course lunch, and our cost was about HKD 430 or so per head, inclusive of service charge.  Not ridiculously expensive, but not cheap by any means.  Could we have done better elsewhere in town?  Well, the cheapest set lunch L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon offers costs HKD 478 before the 10% service charge.  But you also get an amuse bouche at the beginning and mignardises at the end, plus a cup of coffee or tea.  So when you take all of that into account, suddenly Robuchon doesn't look expensive compared to Gordon Ramsay's gastropub anymore.  And whose food do you think I'd rather be eating on any given day?  Oncle Joël, of course!  Do I choose fine dining or gastropub for the same price?  That's a no-brainer.

Thanks to the celebrity hype, Bread Street Kitchen is booked flat out for weeks to come, and no doubt it will do brisk business like many other Dining Concepts outlets.  You just won't find me at one of its tables, because there's precious little there that will draw me back.

For a different take on the same meal, here is the review on South China Morning Post's 48 Hours.


Derek said...

Your review is much more positive than I expected. will have to try.

Peech said...

Derek, as I said the food was OK, but I just feel that it's not exciting and there are other plenty of options that are just as good or better value for the money.

gary s said...

Ha ha... let me quality a little bit where specifically I think is overpriced, as a clarification not a defense. Each of the salads in the menu cost over $120, which were nothing but ordinary items - if you compare BSK's chicken caesar salad at $128 at lunch and Carbone's much better caesar salad with much generous portion and prepared tableside at $168 at dinner, it's clear what my preference is.
For mains, I personally wouldn't pay more than $150 for the fish & chips (compared to say, what's offered at Frites), and while the burger sounds reasonable at $168, it came with no side at all. Nothing. Zip. Not even a pickle as I mentioned. So if you add a side that would go up to over $200, and that's not any better than what I would have gotten at BLT Burger under the same group, and I would have gotten a burger (with more condiments), fries, milkshake, and change in the pocket.

Robert said...

I was just doing a web search on 'mediocre dining concepts' and I came upon your review. I am perplexed why famous chef's would trust their reputation to a group that excels in shooting blanks. Though I tend to give the idea of a group based celebrity restaurant in Hong Kong little credit I was curious whether Gordon Ramsay would really deliver. I think the review and comments on pricing are fair, it is overpriced but gets away with it because it is a 'branded' restaurant. Even more, without the 'branding' the restaurant would probably close in a year.

On to the food, I was there with my wife so we really couldn't try lots of the food but enough to agree that the highlight was dessert (the mint ice cream brownie was great and complimentary).

My wife had the sea bass carpaccio (from the dinner menu) which was good but uneventful. She followed with the pork chops which are, equally, good but uneventful (and pricey). I skipped the starter as the lunch menu starters seemed pretty generic. I went for the shepherd's pie (which probably should only be eaten at the Mandarin in Hong Kong). Having lived in the U.K. for a decade and prior been known to cook up a decent shepherds (and cottage) pie I had a rough idea of what I was looking for. Though the dish was rich (as described) I found it extremely salty (though braising lamb apparently makes the dish saltier).

I was allowed to replace the dish and asked about the sausage. I would have figured it would have been home made sausage (it is after all Gordon Ramsay and the sort of thing you can make cheaply and well), but they are flown in from somewhere (presumably frozen). All that said I still opted for the sausage (I was in pub grub mode) and found them a bit like breakfast sausages.

Overall my wife's dishes were uneventful (and lukewarm) and mine were disappointing. The staff was fantastic (not just because we got free dessert) but the food and price were off market in my opinion to go back to or recommend.

J said...

I think it's a bit harsh to say that Dining Concepts restaurants are mediocre. Haven't tried Bread Street Kitchen yet but I really liked Bellbrook and Restoration... Hated Soho Spice though.

Peech said...

Well, J, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine. I have always found their restaurants mediocre and there are easily 20 other places I would think of returning to before feeling that I must go back to one of their outlets.

Am I harsh? Yes, I am. Too many others out there are writing fluff so you won't see it here.

Limitless Reader said...

The first time I came, I was with my cousin! And, I fell in love with this place already! The mushroom rice at Boston restaurants was good as well, my cousin said that it was better than risotto! After one visit, I knew I had to come back again soon.


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