Friendly setting and dainty dishes cushion leap into The Frog Pond
The Frog Pond: 38 Wyndham Street, Central, Hongkong. Phone: 522-5566. Hours: Midday-3 pm, 6-10 pm. Closed Sundays. Decor: Frogs. Cuisine: Continental vegetarian, with some fish and chicken dishes. Buffet at lunchtime. Clientele: Low-key. Service: Quirky and friendly. The difference between a hotel restaurant and an independent. Reservations: Not necessary. Parking: New World car park in On Lan Street. Cellular phones per table count: None. Smoking policy: No non-smoking section. Overall value for money (outof five): three plates here PUBS are one thing, bars something similar. But it is a mystery how, when some restaurants seem to get away with ordinary and sensible names, others get landed with the sort that are embarrassing to repeat out loud, even to the anonymous voice at directory inquiries.
Investigation revealed The Frog Pond to be a joint venture between a Wan Chai publican and the former creative director at an advertising agency. Perhaps that clears the mystery up.
Thankfully things get more subtle. The interior would make a perfect setting for an Earl Grey tea commercial. White walls and black ceiling produce a solid-looking background for the wicker, trendy wrought iron, ferns, window boxes and, naturally, frogs in various shapes and sizes which combine to evoke sunny terrace and garden pond.
The menu is one of the slightly irritating sort that bears footnotes like: ''We hope you enjoy the Frog Pond as much as we do'', and forced-friendly invitations to submit one's favourite vegetarian recipe - should one carry such a thing around - for possible inclusion in next month's all-new menu.
Subsequent allusions to the freshness of ingredients and lack of preservatives would probably be refuted within one visit to the supermarket to investigate what Sara Lee puts in her (and The Frog Pond's) cheesecake.
These observations aside, dinner in a (mostly) vegetarian restaurant proved more accessible than a visit to one of those sort of New Age places that serves hearty kidney bean stew mopped up with huge chunks of wholemeal bread, and carob mousse to finish.Dishes like marinated artichoke, avocado and citrus salad, and salmon and asparagus rolls sounded like things that could be happily served up at Wimbledon. Everything turned out to be dainty both in portion size and presentation - even a ''competent'' ratatouille and a highly praised chilli con eggplant, both served with couscous.
Someone rather cleverly commented the flavour seemed to have leaked out of the potato and leek soup, and French onion soup lacked something, though whoever ordered it was not sure what. On the not-so-vegetarian front, chicken with asparagus bearnaise andgrilled tuna steak were pronounced unexciting but no one left a morsel.
Everything and everyone was congenial enough. But there was something frustratingly bland about the place, with the notable exceptions of, firstly, a nearby diner who chose The Frog Pond to give an employee a too public dressing-down and, secondly, one particular waiter, certainly far too sexy for his tie and with a voice so husky he must have been cultivating it for years, just for this job. He also managed to produce some surprisingly good wines, given the lack of a wine list to speak of.
Including a decent amount of wine, the bill came to $300 a head.