Tucked away discreetly at the quieter end of Wan Chai’s Ship Street is modern British newcomer Limehouse – as unpretentious a restaurant as you’re likely to find in this city.
Limehouse’s owner, Toh (a former chef who acts as maître d' and sole waiter, and who welcomes every new customer with a personal greeting at the door), likes to use the word ‘simple’ a lot. And while that could be taken as a coy attempt to cover all bases lest any mistake is unearthed, it’s actually as apt a description as one could muster. From its white-washed exterior, interior bedecked with wood panelling, rough concrete flooring, 1950s jazz soundtrack, and walls adorned with black and white photographs of industrial-era east London (populated by the Chinese sailors who emigrated to the area by the docks), Limehouse feels like a home away from home. It's a Medcalf-esque mainstay of confident and consistent British cooking.
The delightfully frank menu of six starters, six mains and four (unnamed) desserts ensures the whole affair remains satisfyingly unfussy – awash with the quintessential English spirit of refined restraint and reserved hospitality. To start we ordered the duck’s liver ($98) and the sweetbread quiche ($92). The liver was succulent and perfectly seasoned, complemented beautifully by the richness of the egg yolk – all of which was soaked up by the (somewhat small) brioche. The sweetbread was juicy and tender, and the quiche sweet and mellow, encased in a light and buttery pastry with flavoursome cherry tomatoes to boot. Both were expertly presented and accompanied by a side order of warm, homemade soda bread (a recipe that was soon given to us without asking).
The mains went one step further. The Steak Diane ($172) was cooked medium-rare (as any good chef will insist), and was generously smothered in a rich mushroom and red wine jus. The lightly salted garden peas and roasted, rosemary-enthused new potatoes were simply too good to share. The shepherd’s pie ($138) was generous in size without being obtrusive; the gorgeously gamey lamb shoulder was nicely braised beneath a rich and creamy mash and ever-loyal crust (every last remaining piece of which was scraped from the casserole by my dining companion).
From the tried-and-tested British classics on the now-revealed dessert menu, the refreshing lemon tart ($48) was the perfect palate cleanser. The soft but tangy citrus – smooth as warm butter – was wrapped in a subtle pastry and topped off with a dollop of whipped cream. The bread and butter pudding ($48) was in fact more like traditonal spotted dick due to its heavy, cakey texture and presence of suet, but the vanilla custard combined to create a devilishly sweet treat.
Ultimately this is humble, sincere and delicious food served without any fuss or pretention, in an environment that encourages an equally inclusive ambiance. Limehouse brings a slice of England to these balmy shores, and is a dining option that can only be ignored with bloody good reason.
35 Ship St, Wan Chai, 2528 5818. Mon-Sat noon-2.30pm & 6.30pm-11.30pm. Meal for two: around $600. Set lunch: $88 per person.
35 Ship St, Wan Chai