Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ta Pantry - A Private Kitchen That's Worth It

Petite fours on tableware in Esther Sham's signature pink
After whining continuously about the private kitchen scene in Hong Kong (and how really, people shouldn't get so excited about them - they shouldn't be differentiated from regular restaurants), I figured I should be a good sport and write about a private kitchen that is worth your trouble (and cash).

Ta Pantry was opened by Esther Sham, who, when she first started the private kitchen, was a very good amateur chef. Her old location in Wanchai could only sit one party a night, and it was often full, which also meant she had plenty of chances to perfect her cooking. She also staged at Amber, and took a few months off to stage in France last year. Upon the opening of her new and much larger space in North Point, shared with wine cellar Hip Cellar, we went to check her out again.

We had the L'Indochine menu, the first incarnation of which I had back at the old Wanchai location, probably a couple years ago (or more!).

Amuse bouche - salami taco, quinoa, fresh sweetcorn
The salami hard taco shell was cute, and had a quick pang of salt that was mellowed out quickly by the quinoa and corn. It was just a tiny mouthful.

Hokkaido scallop green mango curry carpaccio
Underneath was an uni creme, which alone would have been heaven, but in combination with everything else, was overpowering, the fresh scallop carpaccio being the most obvious and unfortunate sacrifice. Pomelo was used too, but something for acidic like grapefruit might have worked better. And the curry isn't as weird as it sounds. It was very mild anyway. I didn't notice this at the time, but the temperature was perfect - I'm guessing it would have been about 8 degrees C - not so cold that you couldn't taste anything and things would begin to firm up, but just cold enough to get that soothing, cool sensation associated with freshness.

Citrusy crabmeat ravioli
This single ravioli was choc-full of light, sweet, crabmeat, and sat in a chicken and lemongrass bouillon - chicken soup for the neo-Asian soul, perhaps.

Say Cheek!
These slow-cooked veal cheeks were so, so tender, but the blue cheese sauce and mint and pineapple compote were somewhat wasted. The blue cheese sauce was delicious but overbearing - I must say, it went well with the "burnt" brussel sprouts but completely undermined the beautifully cooked veal. The compote should, in my mind, have provided respite with a little freshness and perhaps acidity, but while it was fresh, its flavours were totally abominated by the cheese sauce.

Coco Balsamic Linguine
This dish was the one that had wowed me most in my earlier experience with the L'Indochine menu. Back then, I remember being absolutely stuffed, yet slurping this down just felt so damn good. This was just as I remembered it - the balsamic mellow, the coconut a surprisingly harmonious match - I've yet to have this combo anywhere else - and the earthy umami of the mushrooms referencing a different part of Asia from the coconut, but it all worked, although I could have done without the cuttlefish.

Red Wine Poached Pear Crumble
The "crumble" was really a smattering of coin-sized shortbread-like biscuits. A playful choice that went well with the tiramisu ice cream. The pears were perfect - a hint of wine, soft but not mushy, subtly sweet. The mint looks like a garnish, but it actually adds to the dish (actually, I would have liked more, and a chiffonade would have worked better flavour-wise, though probably not aesthetically).

A wall of Versace plates - fancy! - and our drink station
I couldn't take any good pics of the room because I didn't have the right lenses for my camera, but it was pretty - a long, heavy timber table, a loungey indoor balcony complete with sea views - it's the perfect place for a private party. There's a small corkage for wine, and you can also buy bottles from the adjoining cellar.

Fake (indoor) balcony loungey-waiting-for-friends area with views
While the food here isn't perfect, what keeps me coming back is the innovation - I love pleasant surprises and dishes like the balsamic and coconut linguine are just genius. It's also not overpriced (at time of writing, our menu was $680 per head), and chef Esther really shows skill and talent.  We need more hardworking, creative young chefs like her in Hong Kong. The popularity of Ta Pantry should be sufficient motivation for people to try!

Ta Pantry
5/F, Block C
Sea View Estate
8 Watson Road
North Point
Hong Kong
+852 2521 8121 (please call between Mon to Fri 11am to 6pm)
Minimum charge applies as all rooms are private, but you can try your luck if they have a last-minute opening


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