Off-the-wall cafe offers organic treat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 1997, 12:00am

Feel like you're going up the wall in the city? Take a mini-break and head out to the Black Sheep in Shek O - it's a little off the wall and the perfect culinary retreat for city folk.

The Black Sheep has the air of a backstreet Parisian cafe, and it is small - in an intimate, friendly way rather than uncomfortably crowded.

The first thing you notice are the chairs, the ones on the walls that is. A huge armchair and a high-backed rattan chair are bolted to the wall, as are artsy black-and-white photographs. And to complete the existential decor, a clock is bolted to the ceiling.

The chunky, wooden tables spill out on to the street, which is probably the best place to sit. Off Shek O's main drag, the thoroughfare is peaceful. One hundred metres away, the incense burns in a small Chinese temple with an ornate green-tiled roof. Hikers, urchin-like children and the odd domestic animal wander along as if they have all the time in the world.

Across the road a young man sits perched on the wall scribbling. He looks as though he is composing a romantic verse. In fact, he's writing the menus on paper plates.

Hot off the press, we studied our menu and decided to skip the soup ($35) in favour of a starter.

Even a hard-core meat eater cannot go wrong with the roasted mixed vegetables salad ($45). Marinated in a combination of mustard and garlic, the flavours were subtle. There was no fear of the vegetables turning to a baby food pulp, as they retained their texture.

Probably one reason for the strength of the Black Sheep's vegetables is that the charismatic owner, Pat Li, gets as many as she can from her friend's organic farm in Yuen Long, while the rest are delivered fresh from the market.

The baked mushroom with creamy cheese ($45) and served with organic lettuce was devilishly tasty and healthy.

My dining companion ordered the sauteed ostrich in mushroom sauce. As with all Black Sheep dishes, it looked as though it were a work of art, with generous portions of seasoned saffron rice and vegetables. The ostrich, imported from South Africa, is one of the most popular dishes. In both taste and texture it resembled top-quality beef steak.

The sole fillet ($70), topped with almond butter sauce, was so fresh and tender that it melted in the mouth. It came with crunchy zucchini and potato wedges.

Whatever you do, do not miss the espresso coffee cheesecake with fresh cream. This must be Hong Kong's most delicious dessert, and incredible value at only $20. It was rich, without being sickly sweet.

Open for nearly four years, the Black Sheep still does not have a liquor licence. But guests can linger and soak up the atmosphere over an espresso or cappuccino. It's the sort of place that would attract artistic folk so do not be surprised if you leave with an urge to sketch, pen a poem or ponder the meaning of life.

Hong Kong needs more places like the Black Sheep, and given the restaurant's increasing popularity - it's quite a trendy spot these days - maybe we'll get them.

But what gives the Shek O venue its distinct advantage is the setting. Combine a visit with a walk along one of the pleasant coastal paths, or simply a quick game of mini-golf, and you'll feel as though you've had a healthy day in the country.

As the temperature drops and Hong Kong gives up the blue skies and crisp days that make it criminal to stay indoors, I can think of few better places to enjoy it than Shek O. And the Black Sheep will be adding more wintry dishes to its menu, such as lamb and vegetable stew.

The restaurant has a sister eatery of the same name in Sai Kung. Despite the friendly staff and larger venue it is not as popular as the one in Shek O. This must be due to the owner Ms Li, who bases herself in Shek O and is the life and soul of the party.

The Black Sheep is usually packed on Saturdays and Sundays, so staff take a well-earned day of rest on Mondays. But no matter how busy Black Sheep gets, there is always a chair free. On the wall that is.

Black Sheep, G/F 452 Shek O Village, Shek O, Tel: 2809-2021, Hours: Tuesday to Friday 5pm-9.30pm (last order), Saturday and Sunday noon to 9.30pm (last order)