I am slowly accomplishing my mission of trying every private kitchen in Hong Kong… even if it may take me my whole lifetime to get there. The latest on my list was Mandy’s Private Kitchen, a Caribbean feast in Sai Kung set up by Mandy Nathali in her own home overlooking Sai Kung town and the outlying islands.
British-born Mandy is of Punjabi Indian descent but, after marrying her Trinidadian husband 20 years ago, moved to Trinidad with him and developed her already-strong passion for cooking by learning to cook Caribbean cuisine from her mother-in-law.
Mandy’s Private Kitchen stemmed from the number of successful dinner parties Mandy would host for friends and family on her beautiful terrace. We organised a dinner for 16 on one of the only sunny Saturdays we’ve had for some time… or so it began.
Wanting to make the most of Mandy’s terrace and pool in what was left of the sunshine, we made the winding journey up to Mandy’s house mid-afternoon. Hopes of lazing in the sun were put to bed due to the average weather and lack of lounging space; unfortunately, by the time we arrived the sun had gone behind the clouds. A few of us ignored the iciness of the water, however, and built up an appetite by trying to swim against the resistance jet, something I found incredibly entertaining.
Meanwhile, starters were served buffet-style for us to pick at at our leisure from around 4pm and included Pokora, Jamaican Beef Patties, Caribbean Potato Salad and Traditional West Indian Corn Bread. I could not get enough of the latter, with its fluffy, cake-like texture and savoury-sweet flavour. Smothered in some of Mandy’s homemade spicy sauces, it was even better. Mandy even made a gluten-free corn bread as an alternative. The beef patties were also delicious – flaky on the outside and warm, tender goodness on the inside.
A couple of side dishes of St Vincent Coleslaw and Mango Chow Chow were also served. The coleslaw wasn’t anything to write home about but I loved the sour-spicy contrast of the green mango chow chow. I also kind of loved the name.
After a few hours of enjoyment before the rain came in, the main courses were served, again buffet-style. By this time we had watched the leg of lamb and jerk chicken being cooked on the barbecue, so were more than ready to eat them!
The Steel Pan Leg of Lamb is one of Mandy’s signature dishes. Marinated for five days in a secret blend of Trinidadian spices, the lamb is then slow cooked for around two and a half hours on the barbecue, leaving it intensely flavoured and incredibly tender.
Mandy’s slow BBQed Jerk Chicken Pieces, a Caribbean must-have, were delicious: having been marinated for two days, the chicken was wonderfully succulent, with a fiery sweet flavour. Apparently Trinidadian jerk chicken differs to Jamaican in that it is sweeter and less spicy; either way, it worked!
Perhaps even more delicious was the Trinidadian Fish Curry. A recipe taught to Mandy by her father-in-law, known to the family as ‘Papa’, this curry is not like any Indian curry; rich and zesty, Papa’s curry is infused with a lot of fresh lime and a lot of chilli; the side dish of rice n’ peas was definitely necessary.
Other side dishes of Pumpkin Talkari and Spinach Callaloo were deliciously comforting. Both were decadently buttery and taste bud-tinglingly spicy. In Mandy’s words, “healthy with a little bit of naughty is what food is all about.” I wholeheartedly agree.
One aspect of Trinidadian cuisine that I love are the baked bread pockets. They remind me of Venezuelan arepas: just slit them open and stuff them with anything you like. I even took some home and tried them filled with cheese for breakfast the next morning – obviously not quite the same as arepas, but I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two.
Dessert, after such yummy food, for me, was a little bit of a disappointment. Although I loved the Christmassy-spiced flavours of the Caribbean rum cake, it was a little on the dry side. I’m never a huge fan of trifle, so the Rum Trifle didn’t excite me too much either. Fortunately, I had eaten so much already that I hardly needed dessert anyway.
By the time we were half way through our main courses, unfortunately the heavens opened, as they seem to do every weekend of late, and we were forced to come inside, something that regrettably did dampen our moods (excuse the pun). Inside, as we huddled around the table, we couldn’t help but feel that we were intruding on Mandy’s private home, especially as she and her family sat eating their dinner just metres away, and this inevitably took a lot of the enjoyment away.
Prices at Mandy’s Private Kitchen vary depending on the menu you choose. Our menu was $500 a head; not too bad on its own, but once you take into consideration the costs involved in getting there and back, the added 10% service charge, on top of a $95 corkage charge per bottle (and we drank a fair bit of vino!), plus beer charges and coffee(?!), it can turn out to be quite a pricey meal, so do beware and give your wallet a little pep-talk to prepare it.
Mandy’s Private Kitchen
Sai Kung (address only given on confirmation of booking)
Tel: +852 9816 9946