Tate Dining Room & Bar: An Edible Sonnet
Poetry in food lacks definition nowadays, just like in the English language. The triumph of free verse means cuisines transpose, merge, or mutate into too many shapes and forms to be defined. Certainly, there are not many fixed forms—but (food) poems that follow an established framework may sometimes prove to be successful for inquisitive tastebuds. Herein lies Tate Dining Room & Bar—its graceful concision, perfect lines, and powerful and compelling diction. Chef Vicky Lau’s tangible sense of confidence is noticeable as she addresses the dinner table further affirming the sonnet’s dynamic message—something along the lines (pun intended) of perfection.
Before I could deliver this prose on Tate Dining Room & Bar, I had to retrieve a digital copy of the menu to jolt my memory. Hear me out, this meal was far from forgettable, instead, it comes together with so much conviction that the interim between dishes are forgotten and the overall effect was one that sparked joy and radiance. Like the feeling of warmth on your skin after spending a day bathing in the first rays of spring.
I messaged Boon, who was supposed to dine with me, but due to the usual Hong Kong traffic, our 8pm reservation got delayed by another half an hour. Hoping to ease the wait, KC, the restaurant manager, pours me a glass of bubbly. It came with the latest copy of Reais & Châteaux, a fancy mode of distraction of utmost luxury.
It worked and not before long, my accomplice arrives, windswept hair and short of breath. Just in time for sourdough rolls with a side of kombu butter. Dainty serves of amuse bouche follow and the oomph of flavour it provides is larger than life. There was a sour cocktail imposed by a century egg mimosa ensconced under tofu espuma and a tiny tube casing of squid ink paste littered in chives. Both of which titivate the palate and set the mood for more poetry to unfold.
The first course is exquisite, by way of the flower chip graced by Ossetra caviar. But more than that, Chinese yam studs are propelled to stardom with bonito jelly and a genial pooling of cauliflower puree. You are to wash that down with a lovely chaperon of sake. The restaurant, run by Chef Vicky Lau dispenses artistry in all forms—from the presentation of dishes to the choice cutlery and wine pairings. It would be too far-fetched to call it a seamless marriage, but as I admire the flat lay of the Red Abalone Carpaccio interrupted only by mounds of pike roe marinated in celtuce, it’s easy to be swayed.
An attractively honeyed pour of Domaine Lebrun Pouilly-Fumé 2015 rolls out the red carpet for the next dish—Ode to Kumquat. God’s own sea pearl—the scallop is escorted by a pool of aged kumquat grenobloise-style sauce. It is sharply dressed by orange zest to balance the ominous richness.
A second bread course? Don’t you dare turn that down. “Fu yu is Chinese cheese, so why not mix it into butter,” articulates Chef Vicky as she parades the cuboid brioche and dish of fermented bean curd churned butter, a compelling sell given the undeniable whiffs of butter afloat in the cold drafts. It was gone in thirty seconds.
Meanwhile, the dishes continue to shine, albeit with an elvish footprint on the tummy. Like the Rosey seabass sitting in a magnificently composed sour cabbage spicy bouillabaisse. Schmears of lobster quenelle tofu, an unexpected accompaniment. It pitches new ideas, an essence of culinary meekness and femininity in a French culinary world dominated by bold sauces. And boy was my interest piqued in its unfettered chain of imagination.
Vicky’s heritage re-emerges in the next dish of Brittany blue lobster balanced with scallion ginger sauce and a foam adrift of French yellow wine suffused with shoaling wine. Loosely based on the local dish of ginger and scallion crab, the resemblance was uncanny, notwithstanding the impeccable presentation and the excellently cooked lobster flecked with roasted pineapple that had been compressed with passionfruit.
Finest of all was the roulades of pigeon breast stuffed with muy choy (fermented mustard greens) doused in pigeon jus, strung with Szechuan spices. It compels you to take a big swig of the lush Chateau Puech-Haut, Tête de Belier Blanc. St Drézéry 2015. Heady with summer fruits and a firm backbone of vanilla, you sing praises of the wine pairing, only to find out that Chef Vicky has singlehandedly cherry-picked the wines for each course. Mind-blown.
I would happily sit out desserts, especially after a fine dining marathon in Hong Kong, only to live in regret. The hawthorn hibiscus and plum was actually quite glorious. The yoghurt meringue mound that hid the blueberry sorbet displayed evidence of attention to flavour balanced with an aesthetically pleasing composition. The layer of steamed apples overhead was a halo of miracles, while Yves Cuilleron’s single harvest, botrytised Roussilliere with its viscous palate of tangerine and honey added to the sweet deal. We finish with a submissive nod and smiles all around: Ode to Urban Honey unveils a throng of (you guessed it) honey-themed treats presented in a beehive-inspired vessel. At this point, there is no point pretending. You devour the honey gateau with gusto and chomp on the white chocolate honey crunch with an audible sigh. Let’s not be subtle anymore.
Tate Dining Room & Bar remains to date, one of the most memorable dining experiences in Hong Kong. The restaurant redefines French cuisine, with a feminine touch and is a display of female empowerment. I highly recommend that you book a seat soon.