Ever been to Madam Sixty-Ate in Wan Chai and wondered what on earth was going on behind the highly bizarre menu? Sal Curioso will leave you in the same state of mind. Wanting to keep their two restaurants connected but far from identical, husband and wife team Chris Woodyard and Bronwyn Cheung, the eccentric brains behind Madam Sixty-Ate, created Sal, based on Madam’s fictional secret lover. Curious yet? I definitely was.
The space, located just round the corner from Wyndham Street is expansive, elegant and dimly lit. Just as in Madam, there is a bar area, a lounge area, and of course the restaurant, adorned with similarly peculiar drawings by the same artist as in Madam.
Having been to the pre-opening Sassy dinner party at Sal back in October without being overly wowed, my expectations were neutral, which, in my mind, is always a good way to start a meal. So we sat back, ordered some mocktails from the gigantic menu (we were trying to behave, as it was only a Monday night) and let the Latin-inspired sharing menu (again gigantic) do the talking.
According to one of the many quirky, yet remarkably true quotes on the menu, we must “remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster”. The sardine salad can certainly testify to this. Each mouthful, filled with gorgeously fresh fish, sweet red peppers, salty smoked bacon and curiously moreish croutons, was like taking a bite of the Mediterranean. The medley of flavours melted in the mouth and set the bar high for an yummy meal.
The Brandada croquettes, three crispy balls stuffed with creamy salt cod, were spot on. However, although the small black olives were pleasant, the giant green olives were far too strong and completely hijacked the flavour of the croquettes.
I perhaps wouldn’t describe the Wagyu beef ceviche as ceviche; it was more of a carpaccio. But was it delicious? Absolutely. The paper-thin slices of lemon-cured beef were incredible, particularly smothered in the little dollops of burnt lemon cream and horseradish yoghurt. The battered shallots added some crunch and sweetness to the mix, whilst unfortunately the ‘parrilla mushrooms’ added nothing.
Although I was surprised to see Jambalaya, as opposed to paella, on a Latin-inspired menu, this was one of my favourite dishes. Made with bomba rice, which absorbs three times more liquid, each grain had the perfect texture. Add to this incredibly fresh mussels, clams, squid, fish and prawns, as well as suckling pig and chorizo, and you have yourself an amazingly delicious jambalaya.
The coral trout was the first disappointment of the evening. Compared to the other dishes, there wasn’t a lot of excitement going on in this dish, which for $275, would definitely be expected. The other disappointment was the molasses suckling pig. Having been slow-cooked for six hours and paired with a pear and mustard fruit compote, what little meat we found tasted great, but alas there was hardly any meat; there was mostly just skin, fat and bone.
Forget these dishes, however, and have the buttermilk fried chicken. A gorgeously crispy coating gave way to wonderfully tender and still juicy chicken, creating the perfect comfort food. The soft grits, corn ragout and corn fritters gave it a sweet contrast that more than impressed.
To accompany our many main courses, we tried sides of roasted beets with feta and walnuts, and sherry-marinated tomatoes. Both were surprisingly tasty and kept our taste buds alert, as there were so many textures and flavours (perhaps a little too many) going on at one time.
Moving on to dessert, the Rocky Road, true to the nature of the rest of the menu, offered an array of textures to excite the palate (something that chef Chris insists heavily on). Chunks of crunchy chocolate biscuit cake were served alongside creamy marshmallow mousse, crumbs of chocolate biscuit, almond brittle and last but not least, raspberry sorbet. I loved the sorbet and the marshmallow mousse, but unfortunately found the main component of the dessert, the chocolate biscuit cake, a little too sweet.
The name “Peanut butter is the pâté of my childhood” begged us to order this dessert. Aside from the coffee crumble, which was too bitter for my liking, I loved this dish. The ‘pâté’ was created by stacking alternate layers of smoked peanut butter and meringue, which absolutely did give it the texture of pâté. The rum bananas and banana ice cream complemented it perfectly, as did the peanut tuile. Personally, instead of the coffee, I think the cherry on top would have been some form of chocolate.
It’s difficult to comment on Sal Curioso’s service in general, as on a Monday night the restaurant wasn’t very busy. For us, however, service was very efficient, and through their no service charge policy I can expect it would be for others too. For a ridiculously large feast such as ours, expect to pay around $400 a head (although there were only three of us!).
To sum up our meal, I will use another of the menu’s remarkably fitting quotes, this one by Emma Bombeck: “I’m not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.” Quite right.
2/F, 32 Wyndham Street
(Entrance on Glenealy Street)
Tel: +852 2537 7555