As much as I love eating out in Hong Kong, I do get a little bit fed up with how expensive Hong Kong restaurants are, especially when I convert it back into pounds (yes, I still do this after seven years in Hong Kong!). Every so often, however, a restaurant comes along that gives me hope that not all restaurateurs in Hong Kong are trying to rip me off! BlackSalt is a prime example.
Opened by chef Taran Chadha and his wife Sheila, BlackSalt is a lovely, cosy restaurant tucked away on Sai Ying Pun’s Fuk Sau Lane, opposite Locofama. Having worked as a corporate chef for one of Hong Kong’s biggest restaurant groups, Taran was also fed up with the corporate mind-set to Hong Kong’s dining scene and so decided to set up on his own. He wanted to give something back to the people of Hong Kong and bring back the family-run, casual style of eatery he remembered from growing up here, when portions were large and affordable so that customers would leave full, happy and not a whole lot poorer than when they arrived!
At BlackSalt, you immediately sense that friendly, welcoming vibe that comes with a family-run restaurant, as if Taran is welcoming you into his home, which is exactly the vibe he is going for.
The menu consists of a selection of ‘short plates’ designed for sharing, which feature influences from all over Asia, with Indian cuisine at the core. Perhaps it’s due to Taran and Sheila’s preference for using natural, wholesome ingredients, which are predominantly sourced from Hong Kong, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that BlackSalt replaced Prune Organic Deli and therefore felt the need to follow the healthy trend, but there is a large percentage of vegan and vegetarian dishes on the menu, and almost everything except the bread is gluten-free. Since Taran wanted me to try more of the menu, the dishes you will see below are smaller portions than the regular ones.
Every meal begins with a complimentary bowl of beluga lentils with mini poppadums. One bite of these and I quickly realised that this meal was going to be something special.
The BS okra fries that followed further substantiated this realisation. These were battered in chickpea flour (therefore making them gluten-free) fried to crisp, golden perfection and served with chilli kewpie mayo. I couldn’t decide which I was more in love with – the fries or the mayo!
One of my favourite dishes of the evening was the What’s the Mattar Paneer? This is a kind of variation on an Italian caprese salad, but here made with pan-seared homemade curd, incredibly juicy locally-sourced grape tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mushy green peas and “gunpowder” seasoning. The flavours, the textures, everything just came together to create one mind-blowing, magical dish.
I probably would not have chosen this dish myself, but the Keralan beetroot chops were excellent. A crispy beetroot patty was topped with charred avocado, spiced spinach ‘porridge’, fresh coconut and crispy brussels sprouts, with a dollop of fresh hung yoghurt. I think the combination of flavours here would convert any beetroot-phobe.
I rarely order fish cakes as they usually contain more potato than actual fish. Here, the Konkan Coast fish cakes are made with literally just hand-chopped barramundi – nothing else – marinated in turmeric and served on a bed of octopus coconut curry that was to die for.
The Kathmandu meatball mos are so called because they are like a cross between an Italian meatball and a Nepalese momo, as Taran feels that regular momos never have enough filling! Together with the quality and quantity of the pork filing, the crispy chorizo and spicy “Jhol” gravy took the humble momo to a whole new level.
Char siu is one of my favourite things in the world, so I insisted on trying some of Chef Taran’s Chindian char siu. The actual dish is served on a bed of basmati crab fried rice, but, since we were already close to reaching stomach capacity, we tried just the pork and crab, without the rice. We had been watching the pork belly bubbling away in front of us in madras-spiced maple syrup for a good twenty minutes, resulting in incredibly tender meat with an amazing sweet, sticky, caramelised flavour.
Chef Taran’s pride and joy is his Poulet Tikki Masala. Fresh whole chickens from Yuen Long are first flash roasted, then smoked in a palm leaf and slow-cooked in a rich onion jus for about six hours, resulting in insanely delicious chicken that falls off the bone, in the style of French confit. This comes served with pilaf, chopped salad, raita remoulade and the fluffiest, most delicious garlic naan bread you have ever tasted.
Do not leave BlackSalt before trying the carrot halwa cheesecake. Chef Taran first blowtorched some crumbled carrots to caramelise the natural sugar from the vegetable. On top of this went a slice of cardamom-cooked carrots and cream cheese, topped with coconut sugar cashew nuts and a scoop of deliciously chewy and moreish homemade Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Just wow.
To say I was impressed by BlackSalt would be an understatement. I was blown away by the incredible flavours, beautiful presentation, and amazing attention to detail, but also by the humbleness of the owners and the very fair prices for seriously generous portions. It may only be March, but I already know this place will make it onto my list of the top 10 restaurants of 2017.
14 Fuk Sau Lane
Sai Ying Pun
Tel: +852 3702 1237
Closed on Tuesdays