Harlan settles into his Comfort zone
Anna Healy Fenton
For the record, Harlan Goldstein did not lose his Michelin star for his Lan Kwai Fong steak restaurant Strip House. Absolutely not. In spite of what some nasty journalists have written, its’ not true. “Harlan did not lose the Michelin star,” insists Hong Kong’s ebullient celebrity chef, who likes to talk about himself in the third person.
Strip House wasn't quite working any more, the numbers were going down – “people thought it must be expensive because it had a Michelin star but I didn’t jack up the prices like some restaurants do – I added value instead,” he stresses. So last August – way before the French tyre manufacturers announce their stellar choices – Harlan dropped them a line to say Strip House would close in November so don’t consider it for the star awards, announced in December each year.
This was no rash move – Mr G has run 12 eateries in Hong Kong since making his name in the Aberdeen Marine Club, and 60 in total if you count his long and varied career with Shangri-la and. “Strip House was just wrong place, wrong concept, wrong thing,” he sighs. He’s now hunting for a better venue.
“Lan Kwai Fong is not about luxurious, it’s about cool, fun” he says. So the opened up the windows in Grand Progress Building in changed the deep red steak joint into a “Euro loft-style resto”.
Harlan Goldstein’s’ Comfort is born.
That’s its name, and it’s been packed since it opened four weeks ago. It’s not comfort food, as some people wrongly assume, but instead, a comfortable, laid back easy feeling sort of place. I feel an Eagles song coming on.
“It’s not meatloaf and mashed potatoes,” says Harlan. It’s all his favourite recipes from 40 years, the yummy ones that wouldn't quite fit in his trendy upmarket joints like Gold. “It’s my comfort zone, it’s food for friends.” Having dug out 30 old recipe books from storage in the New Territories, he nearly drove the kitchen staff nuts with nine versions of the menu before he was happy. “This time it’s Harlan’s own home kitchen, it had to be perfect,” he says.” I was like a kid in a candy store. I went at it 190kmph until I hit rock bottom – that’s the way I drive too,” he says. People didn't know he could do Indian, Singaporean, Swedish or Russian food, but now they do.
Top sellers are My Tai Tai, beef brisket curry rice and picked vegetables, Hk$158. Then there’s Grilled King Prawns with Singapore black pepper sauce, served with friend buns, $298, and slow cooked Spanish pork ribs, $328. Japanese Wagyu beef croquettes at $108 and Truffled beef tartare – “the original bad ass” - at $138 gives you an idea what he’s talking about. Steaks are $388 for 12 ounces. Served on wooden chopping boards with sides and vegetables in tiny copper saucepans, the style is funky and fresh. And unfussy. And the food is very tasty.
So how about the prices, can he make LKF rent charging under $100 for a starter and on average $200-300 for a main course? I think anyone can afford $400 for dinner, he says, adding his goal is for punters to have a good meal for under $1,000 for two, $1500 if they really spank the wine. Wine is $380 and upwards, with a ceiling of $1280. If you want ritzier than that, you can ask for the Gold wine list. Of course he won’t be over thrilled if you spend $300 between two and sit and chat for three hours.
“You’re coming to my home and taking it easy. All I ask is you pay the check so we can keep going!” I hope he does succeed. Having been twice, Comfort is a breath of fresh air.