Restaurant reviews: Nur and Aberdeen Street Social
Jason Y Ng
It is almost impossible to say anything negative about Nur. Located on the third floor of Lynhurst Tower in Central, the new restaurant grows its own herbs and sources much of its produce locally. Fewer food miles means fresher ingredients and a cleaner planet. The restaurant itself is an intimate space where the open kitchen blends seamlessly with the minimalist dining area of white walls, hardwood floors and an abundance of lush indoor plants. Half way through the meal, the master chef Nurdin Topham (who hailed from London/Copenhagen) will even come out to greet patrons and discuss his culinary philosophy. The kale, he will explain, has only taken 40 hours to go from farm to table. Impressive.
So what’s not to like about this place?
Let’s just say Nur is not for everyone. The restaurant has no a la carte menu and you must choose between the nine-course “Feast” ($988) or the six-course “Light” ($788) prix-fixe. I decide to go with the more expensive option but quickly discover that it is anything but a feast. The portions are small and some of the courses, though innovative, feel like mere palate cleansers. The “Tomato” course, for example, is literally three tiny peeled cherry tomatoes in tomato water. Likewise, the “Salmon” course is a small piece of smoked fish next to a paper-thin slice of beet.
To be fair, everything is beautifully presented and the contrasting tastes of key ingredients are carefully balanced. Most of the dishes taste good – especially the crabmeat with pomelo and lemongrass – and at least one of the courses – wagyu beef with black garlic – feels somewhat substantial. The restaurant will probably appeal to those who value lightness and freshness enough to spend four figures on a modest meal. Most people I know, however, will expect more bang for their buck.
Nur has good intentions and lofty goals, but the execution leaves something to be desired. To me, the idea of charging top dollars for a socially responsible meal is somewhat self-defeating. I would have written off the place as experimental or even pretentious, if I hadn’t met the unassuming Chef Topham in person and learned about the changes he was trying to bring to the local food scene. Nevertheless, if the restaurant were to survive the cut throat competition in Central, he is well advised to rethink the price point, expand the menu and perhaps get some tablecloths.
Eager to replicate their successes with 22 Ships and Ham and Sherry, English celebrity chef Jason Atherton and Singaporean entrepreneur Yenn Wong have teamed up again, but this time for a project of a much higher profile. Aberdeen Street Social – whose name came from Atherton’s own Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social in London – is the only restaurant at the PMQ, the highly anticipated and recently revitalised creative hub converted from a defunct police dormitory.
Opened just three weeks ago, the restaurant with an unfortunate acronym, is the latest “it” place in Hong Kong. Getting a table, even on a weeknight, requires a bit of planning, a bit of groveling and a bit of kicking and screaming. Part of the reason is its limited dining space. Even though the restaurant takes up two levels in a duplex, the first floor is wasted on a bar-slash-waiting room that only serves finger food and is almost always empty. That leaves only the second floor for dinner guests and the space upstairs is barely big enough for a dozen tables and a VIP room.
Once you manage to get in, however, it is all good. Designed by Shanghai architecture firm Neri&Hu, the artsy dining room, with a clever use of materials like cast iron and brass, transports you to an industrial loft somewhere in London or New York City. The service is also impeccable. The well-trained servers – and there are many of them running around – know the menu and seem happy to be there. That’s more than you can ask for these days, considering the shortage of qualified personnel in the city’s service industry.
But it is the food that will win your heart. Among the half-dozen or so appetisers, the clear winner is the quail. Roasted to a beautiful pink on the inside, the poultry is juicy and well-balanced by the peach chutney – so good that I almost lick the plate. In comparison, the black pudding (a traditional English dish made with oatmeal and pork blood) with pig's ear is a bit of a disappointment. The black pudding itself is starchy and the pig’s ear is so deep-fried it is devoid of both texture and taste. For mains, the lamb rump and the ox cheek tie for first place. In both dishes, the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender and complemented perfectly by the accompanying garden vegetables, whether it is the pea puree, sautéed fennel or poached baby carrots.
You may want to skip dessert, not only because you will be quite full by then, but also because the restaurant will offer you a complimentary green apple and celery sorbet and generous petit fours. Dinner with a glass of wine (and without dessert) will set you back around $700 per head. With great vibes and delicious food, Aberdeen Street Social should be on your to-visit list, if not now then in a few weeks when the insane queue subsides.