Number 12 Garden (CLOSED)
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Number 12 Garden is no purist restaurant and the cooking here is not afraid to deviate from tradition. Mind you, it’s also not the sort of wildly modern arena that slings avant-garde techniques and over-embellishes its dishes with decidedly fusion ingredients. The chefs here experiment but they do so with a subtlety that’s more in line with a creative home cook trying to impress friends at a dinner party.
Buried inside an unassuming building on busy Haiphong Road, a quick elevator ride opens up into a space split into a sparsely decorated indoor dining room and a much more appealing alfresco terrace that looks right over to the lush foliage of Kowloon Park. The venue channels strong speakeasy vibes, not surprising since the owners operate a private kitchen just down the road. But unlike the private kitchen, which only does prix fixe dining, Number 12 Garden offers a well-padded à la carte menu alongside one set dinner option ($150) with 12 appetisers anchored down with a daily soup, meat and a carb-based main.
Starters from the set menu are mostly cold plates including thin slices of lotus root soaked in hibiscus jus, Asian pear layered with pork in bite-sized sandwiches, delicious dumplings spun from shaved asparagus lettuce with shredded roast duck filling, and sliced jellyfish tossed with willow mushrooms and cucumber. There are some prosaic offerings; strips of jicama and pig skin fall on the bland side and delicious as the sweet soy sauce marinade is, the Shanghai-style smoked fish is a little too bony for our liking. Thankfully, these misses are in the minority. The kitchen plates up a creative riff of the classic century egg, pickled ginger and tofu combo that’s perked up with a tart glop of yuzu sauce. Simpler, palate-cleansing items include peeled tomato immersed in sweet plum juice and an intriguing fresh Chinese wild yam – a soft, tasteless root that’s served with a liberal coating of blueberry sauce. Marinated beef shin shines like a star with striations of translucent collagen that give each paper-thin sheet an almost stained-glass effect. Then there’s the addictive shrimp toast, deep-fried with seafood paste smeared within a golden brown, breaded crust.
Following the feast of small plates, individual pots of double-boiled soup arrive at the table with a thin film of oil at the top and hunks of fatty pork and mealy peanuts loaded at the bottom. It’s rich and fortifying, saturated with the essence of the generous cache of ingredients. Next up – sticky spareribs marinated in garlic and fermented bean curd, and flecked with green wasabi sesame. There’s so much flavour to the meat; it’s salty, garlicky and treacly all at once... don’t be surprised if you find yourself fighting with the rest of your table for the last bone. The meal rounds off on a mellow note with a humble fried rice that’s cooked to just the right dryness.
The set dinner is a good crash course for first-timers but it’s also worth delving into some of the other menu options such as the poetically named Bitter Before Sweet (sweet figs enrobed in bitter gourd jelly, $38) and Green Crystal spheres constructed from asparagus lettuce filled with preserved vegetables ($30). For dessert, go à la carte with the poached pear ($48), which is hollowed out in the centre and infused with osmanthus honey, or the red bean mousse ($48) studded with homemade soybean dumplings.
Food at Number 12 Garden harbours a creativity that’s quirky, fun and full of little surprises. A meal here won’t revolutionise the way you eat but it’ll still give you and your dinner mates plenty to talk about. Dorothy So
4/F, Zhongda Bldg, 38 Haiphong Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, 3590 6927. Daily 11.30am-3pm & 6pm-11.30pm.
Set dinner menu x2 $150pp
Bitter Before Sweet $38
Green Crystal $30
Poached pear $48
Red bean mousse $48
10 percent service charge $46.40
Total (for two) $510.40