Creative offerings with a downside
With its alternative styles, independent thinking and effortless cool, Po Hing Fong remains ground zero for hipsters in Hong Kong. One of the earliest establishments setting the tone in this formerly sleepy part of town was Café Deadend and its retail bakery, Po’s Atelier. Known as one of the best places to get away from Central’s hustle and bustle and to get your hands on some crisp, fresh bread, it was only a matter of time before the crew behind these ventures decided to expand their concepts into a fully-fledged restaurant.
Opened on Sai Street, just off Tai Ping Shan Road, the name A-side B-side alludes to a vinyl record (naturally; we’re talking hipsters here), and the undercurrent of energy provided by the acid jazz soundtrack indicates how important music is to the whole experience. In this instance, the mood set at this eatery is just right. A-side also happens to refer to the lunch menu, while B-side is the dinner menu. A single strobe light illuminates the menu, which doesn’t exceed a dozen items, written in chalk upon teal-coloured walls. Bookshelves full of hardback and paperback novels, and a turntable with a small collection of records visually enhance the trendy feeling of the whole place. And it’s no accident. Working with Tokyo’s Shin Harakawa, of Beard fame, the location, music and theme here embodies a similar vibe.
Customers are escorted to the 22-seat countertop that encompasses the prepping station, and glass partitions are all that separates the dining room from the kitchen. The farm-to-table experience is important here and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. So the vegetable lineup varies the most, while mainstays include pork rillette, steak and chicken.
We kick off proceedings with the aforementioned pork rillette ($70), served with crusty, crunchy bread from Po’s Atelier and pickles. The spread ought to be a winner, but it’s not. Even on bread the rillette is far too salty, and the pickles are so acidic they almost burn our palates. We’re hoping for something softer with the radishes ($95), which are organic and sourced from the New Territories. Accompanying the vegetable is a tofu and dill dip and some sea salt. The idea of the tofu smoothing out the pepperiness of the radishes are great in theory, but in practice we feel another flavour is required to add a bit more punch to the dish.
Fortunately the chicken ($200) fares better. Local yellow chicken is roasted with Sichuan peppercorns and kaffir lime leaves, a flavour combination initially both novel and refreshing. A few more bites of chicken, however, proves problematic. If Sichuan spices are like a Molotov cocktail in your mouth, then the peppercorns are to petrol as chillis are to the fire. Without the chilli, the numbing effect of the peppercorns sloshes around our palate with nowhere to go, and we once again find ourselves feeling something is lacking. Next comes our steak ($250), garnished with chopped shallots atop a bed of cauliflower puree. We enjoy the perfectly pink beef with its melt-in-your-mouth texture, but alas, the dish is over-salted and the thin vegetable puree isn’t enough to abate the saline flavour.
The sweet chocolate crème brûlée dessert is a welcome change. Garnished with orange zest, Sichuan peppercorns are again added to pique patrons’ interests. It works very well with the chocolate, and the numbness we experienced with the chicken is less pronounced, though unfortunately it still lurks in the background. We feel an acerbic kick, such as a stronger chocolate, would fix the problem.
A-side B-side definitely has potential. We want to be the first to tell our friends about this little out-of-the-way eatery, but it seems the recipes – though decent on paper – haven’t been thought through thoroughly. As for the saltiness, we advise the kitchen to taste its food before serving it. Where a regular restaurant might be wary of its clientele seeing staff check the food, we hope these guys are a little too cool to care what others think.
|Venue name:||A-side B-side||Contact:|
53 Sai St
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