Although this restaurant is a little far from our comfort zone that is the industrialised bubble of the island, One-thirtyone is definitely worth the forty-five minute taxi journey to get to this tranquil part of Sai Kung, especially given how spoilt we are with the low cost of taxis here. It’s advisable to call the restaurant when in the taxi so that the driver can speak to them and get directions as it’s a little off the beaten track and you might otherwise drive straight past it.
As you approach, you pass a row of wooden boats that have been turned into a little herb garden; all the herbs they use in their cooking are grown there and freshly picked everyday. Past the herb garden, iron gates lead to you a terracotta-coloured 3-storey house with a beautifully manicured lawn (yes grass in Hong Kong!) overlooking the sea: such a perfect setting which reminds you how lucky we are to be able to jump into a taxi in the bustling city and shortly afterwards arrive in paradise.
One-thirtyone seats only 25 diners at a time, offering a four-course lunch ($500) or six-course dinner ($900), so understandably, bookings are taken weeks or even months in advance.
Probably more of a special occasion place and as our only celebration was the fact that we had managed to get a table after weeks on the waiting list, we decided to dress up (‘English garden party’ was our theme) and make a day of it. So, in our colourful pretty dresses and waistcoats respectively, we were seated outside under an awning, facing the house-turned-restaurant.
The waiters were all very attentive, although they failed to understand what a Pimms was. We had to send it back three times before they finally got it right, and then their bottle ran out! Needless to say, as it was such a beautiful day with everyone’s watches showing Pimms ‘o clock, there were a few grumbles of disappointment. They apologised by showing us the outrageously priced wine list, although this was to be expected; when you’re in the middle of nowhere and require some wine, restaurants are fully aware that they can get away with charging the earth for it.
This is one of those places where the menu (which changes monthly) is a series of words put together, almost as a non-sequeteur. For example our starter: ‘Carbonara Iberico asparagus egg 65c’. You almost want to add Gordon Ramsay’s “done” at the end of it. This starter was beautiful and although I am not usually one for food photos, this time I will make an exception:
Head chef, Caith Chow, came to our table to announce and describe each dish, which for me always wins bonus points. Second course, ‘Cappuccino wild mushroom winter truffle’, did in fact appear like a cappuccino with frothy cream and truffle shavings on top of a wild mushroom soup. I’ve told you how I feel about fungus and how I’ve only recently taken a liking to it, so I must say that this was a little too rich for me. Nevertheless there was not a dirty bowl in sight and I even polished it off so they must have done something right!
Third course, ‘lamb loin shoulder eggplant couscous’, was divine, although they let themselves down a little by slightly overcooking the lamb shoulder. That said, the braised lamb loin was perfect, accompanied by charcoal-cooked eggplant puree and couscous which was interestingly made from chopped up cauliflower rather than couscous itself. I have always been of the mentality that cauliflower is the most pointless of all the vegetables, but was intrigued by the way it was presented this time and it was indeed a pleasant addition. I particularly enjoyed the shallot and lavender chutney; Chef Caith told us he always prefers to serve lamb with lavender rather than the usual mint and I have to agree that he’s on to something there.
Dessert was hands down the star of the show: ‘flower rose petal chocolate vanilla’. Everything on the plate from the petals (made from strawberry, cream cheese and sugar) to the soil (made from chopped nuts and chocolate) was edible and so delicious that I didn’t utter a single word until I had devoured what was on my plate. In fact there was silence around the whole table.
Bear in mind that the restaurant is kind of far from anywhere so accept that it will take a long time to get a taxi. I believe it took us around an hour to track down the necessary three taxis to get us back to the island. During this time we tried to order another bottle of rose, and when it took forever to arrive, we were told that they didn’t have any more chilled bottles which was slightly disappointing for a top-end restaurant.
My complaints are few, however, as all in all it was a lovely day, with delicious food and perfect company in a beautiful setting. It’s always nice to get out of the city and do something different. Admittedly this kind of different isn’t possible every weekend as sadly not all of our bank balances will allow it. After adding on the cost of water, wine and service, we were looking at a rather punchy bill exceeding $1000 a head. Not for me, however, as this was one of the only times I was thankful for my nasty bronchitis and antibiotics meaning I was spared the cost of the wine I couldn’t drink!
131 Tseng Tau Village Road
Shap Sze Heung
Tel: +852 2791 2684
Date visited: Saturday 7th May 2011