New restaurant in Wan Chai: Francis serves Middle Eastern food with charm and enthusiasm
With great Middle Eastern flavours and textures, affable and knowledgeable staff and no reservations, you had better show up early if you want to get a chance to enjoy bar dining at its best
There's been a lot of buzz around Francis, the new Israeli/Middle Eastern restaurant on St Francis Street in Wan Chai. Foodie friends have been posting their photos on various social media sites. The restaurant, which is open all day, doesn’t take bookings, so I arrived at 6pm to make sure I wouldn't have to queue. Soon after 7pm, the restaurant was packed and by the time we left at around 8.30pm, people were lining up outside.
There are only a few tables and they’re reserved for larger groups, so my friend and I were offered communal seats by the entrance or along the bar. We chose the bar and discussed with another friend (who happened to be eating there that night) how rare bar dining is in Hong Kong, and how enjoyable it can be if the staff – in this case, the manager and bartender – have the right personalities. They did – they were affable and knowledgeable, and talked about the food and cocktails with enthusiasm.
The menu is brief – just 10 mezze, four vegetables, four “more” dishes (slightly larger than mezze) and two desserts.
Veal cigars (HK$120) were the weakest of the dishes, oddly because they were too meaty (some people wouldn’t complain about that, though), which made them heavy and one-dimensional.
The falafel with tahini (HK$50) were also dense but they were made with fava beans, rather than chickpeas, and they had a slight bitterness that made them interesting.
They went deliciously with our favourite mezze of the night: burnt aubergine (HK$70). The refreshing dish was composed of chopped aubergine mixed with peppers and chilli, and had a nice amount of acidity from the addition of yogurt.
Cured Japanese sardines (HK$120) were delicious: the meaty fish fillets came on a tiny piece of toast with pickled onion, although we couldn’t really detect the listed ’nduja.
A special of the evening, beef manti (HK$130), was another winner. The bite-size dumplings had a tender wrapper, subtly spiced filling, and the whole combination of chilli oil, burnt butter and yogurt made each one a delicious mouthful.
We ordered one dish from the “more” section. The kafta (HK$160) were made with “70 per cent spring lamb and 30 per cent wagyu skirt” (so the manager explained). We loved this dish. The two meats had been roughly chopped and the meatballs, which were served with tahini, grilled onions and chopped tomatoes, were light, juicy and perfectly seasoned.
For dessert, knefeh (HK$80) – mozzarella wrapped in kadaif pastry (like finely shredded filo) – sounded as if it was going to be heavy, but it wasn’t. We loved it because it wasn’t too sweet; it had a small amount of orange blossom syrup and chopped pistachios.
Francis, 4-6 St Francis Street, Wan Chai, tel: 3101 9521.
About HK$350 without drinks or the service charge.
While you’re in the area: