Restaurant review: Tate in Sheung Wan – chef Vicky Lau cooks with poetry, emotion
Voted Asia’s best female chef in 2015, Lau pulls out all the stops in her ‘Odes’ menu, with memorable dishes in her Michelin starred French-Asian outlet
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote odes to just about everything that caught his eye, from his socks, to the lemon, to “a large tuna in the market”. Chef Vicky Lau’s creations pay homage to his poems with her menu of unaffected beauty. Behind such simple names as “Ode to Meat”, “Ode to Scallop”, and so on, are delightful compositions that far surpass their mundane descriptions.
Lau was named Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Best Female Chef in 2015, and her attention to detail starts with the interior decor of her Michelin-starred French-Asian Tate Dining Room & Bar, now on Hollywood Road. Ultra feminine, with gilded accents on pastels and a hint of quirk, the overall concept extends to the book-shaped box in which the menu is housed (on a bed of moss); and even the presentation of some dishes (including the unusual cube of brioche, resembling fried tofu).
With only a regular tasting menu (HK$1,580) and a vegetarian option (HK$1,380) available for dinner, we ended up with two of the former, instead of one of each, because of confusion, possibly self-caused. Instead of eight “chapters”, however, we opted for six (HK$1,280), not counting the introduction: beetroot gazpacho, with house-made sour dough and kombu butter. The menu changes often, and what we tasted probably won’t be available now.
Lau’s Japanese influences made more than cameo appearances throughout the three-hour-plus meal, with the Japanese kelp playing a repeat role, along with yuzu (in the delicious Ode to Mackerel) and small mochi for dessert.
Among the dishes to score full marks was Ode to Umami, which combined miso-grilled kinmedai with kinome purée and white asparagus. Atop a perfectly cooked piece of golden eye snapper was a sprig of kinome, which should have been renamed “kapow”: that was the big-flavour effect of the citrusy, peppery purée the herb produced.
My guest also fawned over Ode to a Chiu Chow Classic, a combination of foie gras egg custard with marinated goose. This dish was velvety, not too rich, and devoid of any graininess.
An alternative to the foie gras was “Ode to Origin”, although it came with the warning we’d be out of sync by about 20 minutes because of the last-minute request. This filling dish, from the vegetarian menu, consisted of rich salted duck egg, average soft-boiled egg and OK sweetcorn cream, which was, nevertheless, remarkable because it had been stamped (presumably) to look like rows of corn kernels cut into the shape of a coaster. The tiny yellow blossoms decorating the perimeter of the plate explained the wait.
But we were both able to pin gold stars onto the Ode to Meat (Bresse pigeon with orange carrot, aged mandarin peel and poultry jus), the only traditional French dish that evening (notwithstanding the peel). The meat, precisely pink, was a treat.
For a rare girls’ night out, Tate fit the bill. Neither of us paired our dishes with wine, but we appreciated the option to choose six glasses (HK$780) or half that number (HK$480). We also liked the space to talk; this being a weekday evening, only a couple of other tables were occupied. But mostly we enjoyed the excitement of the dishes, all of them subtly flavoured but with the taste equivalent of sparkles.
That fairly described the penultimate dish too. Ode to Guava came in a bowl we would have licked clean had backs been turned. It combined sweet (Chinese almond ice cream), crunchy (courtesy of bean sprouts), slightly bitter (strawberry) and tart (kaffir lime sorbet and guava soup).
The evening ended as charmingly as it started when Lau’s mignardises were served on a marble tray. Called Ode to Zen, her signature dish was landscaped in the style of a rock garden, complete with sesame boulders, marshmallow mountains and matcha-cake benches, on a dry bed of white sugar.
Our assessment? “How beautiful is that.”
No doubt Neruda would have been more eloquent.
Tate Dining Room & Bar, 210 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, tel: 2555 2172
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