Sunday, April 25, 2010

Safe, but not always sound - TBLS

Probably one of the hottest private kitchens in Hong Kong right now is TBLS (or Tablespoon), opened by Que Vinh Dang, ex of Duke's Burger. I had to book about a month in advance to nab this Thursday night booking, and I hear its popularity still hasn't quite waned. Is it worth the hype?

Amuse bouche - pork rillette

Lightly floured and fried, the pork was maybe a bit too fatty - the juices were fat rather than those of meat that's cooked just right - and I thought it was a bit too heavy as an amuse, but we were hungry, so in that way, it was kinda good.

Soup and Sandwich - shrimp cake in a mini brioche + celeriac soup with truffle oil

Pretty heavy, but flavours were balanced. The shrimp cake had slight bounce that Asian shrimp cakes have, which was nice (probably influenced by my Asian upbringing, hence a matter of personal taste).

Wagyu pot pie

Most of us thought it was a little underseasoned (we asked for salt), and reminded us of stroganoff.

The beef was very tender, shitake was a decent complement, but the sauce was perhaps a bit too thin, and I would've liked the pastry to be a little thicker and crunchier (it was probably slightly undercooked), like a savoury sablé biscuit. Or maybe some good honest puff pastry would have worked equally well?

Pan-fried hokkaido scallop on cauliflower purée

The chef must have noticed us seasoning our previous course because he was kind of heavy handed with the salt on this dish. I though the scallop was a little overcooked (very slightly rubbery and stringy instead of smooth and creamy). The crust was nicely browned. The purée to be honest was a bit bland and too dense/cakey - when I first saw it I thought it was a bit of oversteamed egg (Canto style). I was told that perhaps he added a roux to it?

Pan roasted chicken (breast) rubbed with Moroccan spices

The Moroccan on our table was not amused (haha). Anyway, I found the chicken a little dry. Spices were fine, combination with carrot purée and onion 'confit' was safe (I hate the 'modern' definition of the term - in my books (or maybe my Larousse?) 'confit' means "in its own fat", so vegetables can't really be confit-ed if you ask me), so in all it was well-balanced, but perhaps overly... safe! That applies to all their dishes actually. While everything was decently executed, there was not one dish that excited me... except the motifs drawn on one of the dessert plates, I suppose (see 2 photos on).

Palate cleanser - blood orange sorbet

Warm strawberries with olive oil chiffon pancake and fromage blanc sorbet

Fine. sorbet was nice; pancake too soft/wet/spongey - soaked sauce up way too quickly. Combo was yawny...

This is the flower motif that excited me. it's not that hard to do, I know, but I liked it. I don't know if my excitement was a reflection of the mediocrity of the meal or if I was geniunely excited. anyway. I liked the presentation.

Macaroon (sic) sandwich, filled with choc ganache and toasted coconut ice cream

Chef said it's inspired by a candy bar he likes called Almond Joy or something like that. (Help, Americans?). I liked the idea of dainty/delicate (almond macaron) + richness (coconut ice cream); or 'posh'/common, but in execution the macaron suffered from HK humidity and was a bit too sweet (yeah I know macarons are just meringues, ie. egg white + sugar etc.) but it doesn't mean it needs to be overly sweet. ganache hardened from the ice cream, but ice cream wasn't hard/cold enough - so, nice idea, but needs a bit more thought. I liked this, I really did, but found it hard to love.

Cinnamon and ground almond petit fours

The fact that they were still warm, and had spices reminded me of Christmas, which begs the question, why serve it in 20-degree Hong Kong spring?

All in all, the combos were safe, dishes were decently, if unadventurously, put together taste/concept-wise. Such simple combos could have worked had execution been closer to perfect. Little (or not so little) faults like undercooked pastry, overcooked scallops and chicken, under/overseasoning, using ganache with something freezing cold seemed almost amateur, especially for a 20-seater (or so?)

It's not bad per se, but Liberty Private Works (my photos here), which is of a similar vein, fares much better when it comes to being adventurous, on both ingredient and flavour fronts, all for around the same price too (LPW costs maybe $100 more, but has more courses, if my memory serves, and charges no corkage, even though they have their own wines). Speaking of wines, TBLS charges $200 corkage if you want to BYO, a bit abnormal for a 'private kitchen', though to be fair they have an alcohol license now - but the wine list is small, which isn't a prob on its own, but it's full of mediocre wines. If you want to charge corkage, you'd better smarten up your wine list.

They do have a smart terrace though, which is a rarity in Hong Kong and would make it a great space for private parties (and if there are smokers among your party).

Not gonna be rushing back, but I hope to hear better things - as well as shorter booking lead-times! - as time goes on.

[note: hours after I posted this, I got a curiously angry message from a Michelle here. Checking my analytics (as all crazy bloggers probably do... or don't they? um...), I found that the person went straight from this post to commenting under another post. Weird hey?]

TBLS Kitchen Studio
7/F 31 Hollywood Rd
Hong Kong
+852 2544 3433


  1. well, rillette is overcooked meat then re-moisturizedwith fat, there shouldn't be any liquid juices

    which is why pan frying it is a bit odd, instead of creamy fat (pleasant) the fat melts and the mouthfeel becomes greasy

  2. Sher - thanks for your (much needed) technical expertise!

  3. From the look of all the photos, I think what a fine food they serve. They make me drools!! But of course, the tongue that get the taste is always right about how the taste really is.

  4. Anonymous3:40 pm

    Hi E*ting, I'm very sorry about your dinner here at TBLS. We've only been open for about three months before you came. It's still a work in progress and i know there's a lot of room for improvement. Hope you understand that i'm not perfect nor do i claim to be. Your comments on the food is definitely noted. Hopefully if you do dine with us again it'll be a different experience. Maybe one of these days we can meet for a beer or a glass of wine and just talk food.

    Best Regards,


  5. Thanks for stopping by my little blog, Que (I hope it's really you!) Hong Kong really needs some solid, consistent non-Chinese dining outside of hotels, and TBLS is one of our beacons of hope!