Sal Curioso (CLOSED)
Time Out says
Husband-and-wife duo Chris Woodyard and Bronwyn Cheung of Woolly Pig Concepts sure have the sort of imagination which can run for miles. They – along with brand designer Maxime Dautresme – are the brains behind Wan Chai’s whimsical Madam Sixty Ate, a fairytale of a restaurant which would suit Alice’s Wonderland just as well as Hong Kong. Madam is based on a fictitious character and the venue is meant to be a reflection of her personality. The restaurant’s cheeky portraits of animals in British clothing, powder blue seat cushions and bird-lined wallpapers make for a dream spot for ladies nights out and long Sunday brunches.
But now Madam’s eccentric wayfaring brother Sal has come to town. Sal Curioso, Woolly Pig’s new establishment, located in a slightly quieter part of Wyndham Street, is a beautiful restaurant making full use of its massive space. Upon entering, we’re immediately transported to Sal’s cavern, lined with the imaginary scientist’s sketches, prototypes and gadgets, including the chicken who lays avocados for the guacamole or the squidpop, a machine that turns seafood into fresh popcorn. It’s absolutely charming if you like your eccentricities and oddities along with your food.
Lucky for Sal, we love the quaint and quirky. And we fully appreciate checking out the bumbling genius’ digs. We adore how spacious the restaurant is, with an immaculate long bar on the right side and a welcoming open kitchen on the other. Every table in the restaurant is a winner. The longest one – perfect for group dinners – faces wide windows with a view that looks like it could be from a street in Spain. And the corner seats are quiet enough for intimate dates. We get downright giddy over how the doors leading to the toilets automatically slide open and, for those waiting in line, there’s a cosy area replicating a study room to relax in.
Unlucky for Sal, we’re also here for the food. And the dishes, while ambitious in concept, are often messy when they arrive. Sal’s plates, mainly Latin in flavour, are meant to be shared among groups. The corn crackers ($50), jumbled with goat’s cheese, tomato relish, cilantro salsa and avocado mousse, and the Jambalaya Sal’s Style ($90), both contain far too many flavours that don’t blend well together. A jambalaya’s selling point is its heart and chef Woodyard’s rendition of puffed rice, seared squid, torched prawn, smoked chorizo, celery gel, pepper, onion rings and popcorn chicken comes off a tad too airy and just-tossed-together. The seared tuna chunks ($90) and buttermilk fried chicken ($140 for two pieces) – free-range chicken, soft grits, corn ragout and fritters – also lack juice. With the chicken, the meat’s dry texture is saved by the ragout’s creaminess but it needs to be more succulent in future.
Not all of Sal’s dishes fizzle out, however. The glazed wagyu cheeks ($270), sitting atop a bed of magna couscous, chestnuts and dates, are cooked to juicy perfection, with a festive cinnamon coat on the crust of the cheeks. And the nostalgia-tinged, charmingly-named peanut butter dessert ($90), Peanut Butter is the Pate of my Childhood, is a wonderful slice of coffee crumble, banana ice cream, smoked peanut butter pate, rum bananas and hazelnut wafers. Every nutty bite is like a trip down memory lane, reminding us of when we used to sneak spoonfuls of peanut butter into our mouths before dinnertime.
The chemicals are all here for this mad scientist’s laboratory. The location is ideal, the décor is luminous and the chef-owner’s heart is undoubtedly worn on his sleeves. We’re already sold on grabbing drinks at the bar before dinner and, with a bit more tweaking and experimenting on the dishes (and maybe holding back on too much over-thinking), we may even stay for dinner again. We’re still curious. Janice Jann
Sal Curioso 2/F, 32 Wyndham St, Central, 2537 7555; curioso.com.hk. Mon-Sun midday-1am.
Corn crackers $50
Glazed wagyu cheeks &
Seared tuna $90
Buttermilk fried chicken $140
Peanut Butter is the Pate
of my Childhood $90