Knowing how much I love my food, people keep asking me what my favourite restaurant in Hong Kong is. I find this question incredibly difficult to answer as there is just so much on offer and so much that I am yet to taste. I can certainly say which are my least favourite restaurants, but picking one particular favourite is far too tricky. Having now visited TBLS Kitchen Studio, however, I think I can safely say that this is, without a doubt, one of the best restaurants I have been to in HK, or perhaps even in the world.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, located across from the new Ebeneezer’s on Hollywood Road, and doesn’t even look like much on the inside – it seats a maximum of 22 people plus a couple of tables outside on the balcony. The (open) kitchen isn’t huge either but there’s something about a kitchen where you can see the food being prepared which always wins bonus points with
TBLS (which stands for Tablespoon) had been on my list probably since I moved back to HK a year ago. It is, however, not the easiest place to get a booking. It is fully booked weeks, or even months, in advance, so it is very worth calling up and asking for the next available table, or banking on a cancellation. When we managed to get a booking several weeks after trying, I cannot explain how excited I was about it.
The six-course set dinner menu changes every month according to chef Que Vihn Dang‘s chosen theme. This month the theme is ‘Flavours of Summer’ to really get you in the mood for the long hot summer that has already descended upon us. Although the theme changes, there are a couple of dishes which always appear (using different ingredients depending on the theme); Que always begins with a soup and a sandwich, always has some kind of starchy dish, always has a meat and a fish dish, and always finishes with one of his signature macaroons.
Prior to our soup and sandwich, we were served a little amuse bouche, served in a tiny glass jar: chopped tomatoes, onions and haddock; a beautiful start and we knew we were in for a real treat. (See photo above.)
The Fennel and Green Apple Soup with a Pulled Pork Sandwich and Pickled Watermelon Skin was divine. I would never have thought of putting green apple (or indeed any coloured apple) in a soup, but the slightly tart taste complemented the fennel perfectly. The pulled pork sandwich was also amazing; I kind of wanted to take a couple away with me for a midnight snack…
Next up was a Summer Risotto: Rabbit and Leek Risotto with Fried Carrot Chips. I must admit that this was my first taste of rabbit as, growing up, I was always convinced that my orginally named pet rabbits Snowy and Sooty would disown me if I ate their friends. Having now “grown up” I happily accepted my rabbit risotto and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the right amount of creamy and cheesy without being overly heavy and the braised rabbit summoned a myriad of cravings for all the rabbit dishes I have missed out on all these years.
Along came Ocean Beets: Slow cooked Ocean Trout, Asparagus, Beet and Truffle Vinagrette, Corn Foam. The trout was so fresh and so tender that one of my fellow diners likened it to sashimi. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables. This particular asparagus was made all the more sweet by absorbing the beet vinagrette – delicious.
One of my two complaints is about the Berry Good Duck: Pan-seared Duck Breast, Buckwheat, Dried Figs, Mixed Berry Chutney, Shaved Endive Salad. It is only a very small complaint that the duck was ever so slightly on the chewy side. Aside from that, the flavours of the berries perfectly matched the richness of the duck and the buckwheat and dried fig mixture had an interesting crunch to it. (My second complaint was the temperature of the restaurant as I was absolutely baking in there, but it did not in any way lessen my enjoyment of the meal.)
Enter Palate Cleanser. A small dish of very red sorbet which I was not expecting to be nearly as good as it was. My eyes nearly popped out of my head and I couldn’t stop smiling which made for quite an embarrassing moment where one of the chefs caught my expression, tapped Que on the shoulder and pointed at me. Chef Que came straight over and went into much needed detail about this delicious palate cleanser made with yamamomo berries and Yakult. Yamamomo berries, meaning ‘mountain peach’ in Japanese, are only in season in Hong Kong for about three weeks. I neeeeed to find out exactly when those three weeks start, where I can find them and then eat them solidly for those three weeks. Think the red-coloured Jolly Rancher sweets, multiply that amazing taste by five-million and you have yamamomo berry and yakult sorbet.
First of the two desserts was Jasmine Tea Party: Jasmine Tea Panna Cotta, Strawberry Water, Milk Chocolate Mochi Ravioli. I am not usually panna cotta’s biggest fan but this was a rather special one, made even more so by the strawberry water with basil seeds, although they may have looked a little bit like frogspawn.
Last but nowhere near least, we were presented with a PB&J Macaroon Sandwich. This was home-made peanut butter ice-cream with home-made strawberry jam sandwiched between two perfectly formed peanut butter meringues to make a rather tall macaroon. I didn’t want it to end.
The service at TBLS by far outshines any other restaurant in HK. Particularly endearing is the way Chef Que goes around each table to describe each dish to diners. I was eager to find out more so I frequently made him linger at our table longer than he intended, which he seemed more than willing to do. We even got a sneak preview of what next month’s theme might be…
The set dinner is $620 per head. Add on a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and service charge and you’re looking at $800 a head. Punchy, yes, but 110% worth every cent. I really want to go every single month to see what the next exciting themes will be, although I fear that might be a tad over-indulgent…
TBLS Kitchen Studio
7/F 31 Hollywood Road
Tel: +852 2544 3433
Date visited: Tuesday 7th June