Above: Chef Dangâ€™s Hokkaido scallop with clams in a saffron broth.
Hong Kong Restaurants: TBLS
Don’t bother going to TBLS (7/F, 31 Hollywood Rd., Central; 852/ 2544-3433) unless you have a reservation; with space for just 18 guests, Hong Kong’s hottest dining room is also its fullest. More than that, you need to punch in a secret entry code to gain access to the rather innocuous-looking Hollywood Road address. Do make that booking though, because what awaits is the cheeky new face of Hong Kong cuisine.
Initially opened as an outlet for New Yorkâ€“raised Vietnamese chef Que Vinh Dang to experiment in the kitchen and cook for friends, TBLS (as in “tablespoon”) gradually began welcoming the public, although without compromising its relaxed, homey ambience. More than half of the indoor space, simply decorated with framed photos and windowsill planter boxes stocked with fresh herbs, is taken up by an open kitchen, while the petite patio looks out over the neighborhood.
Once you’re seated, the only thing you have to choose is your wine. The menu is set, and changes only once a month, but its six courses offer a taste of the city’s freshest ingredients and Dang’s freshest ideas. The meal begins with an amuse-bouche: the night I visit it’s a spoonful of seared chicken topped with pickled daikonâ€”clean, simple, and delicious. The plates that follow are playful renditions of the familiar; recipes from Dang’s childhood given a dazzling, modern look.
Served in bright Le Creuset cookware, the pot pie could quite possibly be the ultimate antidote to a Hong Kong winterâ€”tap through the thick crust of pastry and you discover hunks of melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef and Portobello mushrooms submerged in a rich gravy. A saffron broth appears next, dotted with a Hokkaido scallop and dainty clamsâ€”a testament to Dang’s formal French training alongside the likes of Geoffrey Zakarian at his Manhattan restaurant, Town. The highlight of the meal is undoubtedly the finale, which Dang (who delivers every dish to his guests) describes as a tribute to his youth: toasted coconut ice cream and chocolate ganache smeared between two chewy macaroons. I call it pure bliss. â€”Nicholas Walton
Originally appeared in the June/July 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine as part ofÂ “Top Tables”