When there’s an exciting new restaurant opening in Hong Kong, everyone who loves food will know about it and everyone will try to go there, all at the same time! When said restaurant doesn’t take reservations, don’t be surprised to wait multiple hours for your meal. Francis, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in the Star Street precinct, is guilty of all of the above, but with good reason!
Francis opened its doors on St Francis Street at the beginning of the year as a collaboration between former Aqua manager James Ward, former 121BC sommelier Simone Sammuri and former 121BC chef Asher Goldstein. The latter was born in Tel Aviv and brings to Francis family recipes that have a slight likeness to some of the dishes he prepared at 121BC, yet with a definite Middle Eastern flavour.
We arrived for dinner on a Friday night and were pleasantly surprised to be told that the wait would only be around 25 minutes. However, 90 minutes of standing outside the restaurant later and, just as the pregnancy hormones were getting ready to throw a full-on tantrum, we were thankfully ushered into some seats at the bar. I was determined not to start our meal with a sour taste in my mouth, but, given there is nowhere really to perch outside, I wasn’t best pleased at feeling like we had been lied to about the wait time!
As soon as the complimentary Israeli style pickles arrived, which are made using Chef Asher’s grandmother’s recipe, however, I was content again. Having had plenty of time to study the menu, we were also able to order straightaway and were soon served our long-awaited, delicious Middle Eastern feast!
Francis’ hummus is rather different to others around town. The chickpea and tahini purée itself is as smooth as it gets. The texture comes from the toppings of whole chickpeas and lamb neck ragu that give it the required level of comfort. The hummus is accompanied by beautifully fluffy pillows of pita bread, fresh out of the oven.
I love halloumi and absolutely adored Francis’ baked halloumi topped with pomegranate molasses and wild oregano. The cheese was sliced thinner than usual, meaning it remained perfectly stringy, without turning rubbery.
I was expecting the burnt eggplant to be like your typical babaganoush, but it was far from it. Here the smoky, chopped aubergine was mixed with pepper, chilli and yoghurt to create a fresh, light and lovely dip that also paired beautifully with the pita pillows.
My favourite dish at 121BC was Chef Asher’s lamb ribs. He has these on the menu at Francis and I think they might be even better. With an orange glaze, coriander pesto and fresh yoghurt, these meaty ribs were absolutely beautiful.
The sweet potato with paprika, Israeli couscous and feta was also lovely and comforting, with a rich, full flavour that made this not just a side dish, but a worthy dish in its own right.
Last, but my no means least, of the savoury dishes, came the chicken schnitzel, which was absolutely divine. The chicken was juicy and tender, encased in a light, panko-style crumb and sprinkled in za’atar. We were also impressed with the portion size, which was very generous for its $170 price tag.
The dessert menu features only two options and we were recommended to try the traditional Middle Eastern knafeh, a light, crispy pastry filled with creamy mozzarella, topped with orange blossom, pistachio, crispy rosemary and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. To those with a serious sweet tooth, this might not have sufficed, as it wasn’t all that sweet, but I thought it a lovely end to a delicious meal.
Francis offers a great selection of interesting wine by the glass, the half bottle, or the bottle, at affordable prices. We went for a half bottle of Lebanese red, Les Breteches, which was only $180.
Service, once we were inside, was excellent and personal. Not including pre-dinner drinks while we waited for our table, the total bill came to about $1000 for the two of us, which we thought rather reasonable for the quality of food. Aside from the wait time, we loved our experience at Francis and would highly recommend it – just make sure you go early to avoid having to wait! Either that, or take snacks and a fold-up chair!
4 & 6 St. Francis Street
Closed on Mondays