Little Kitchen is a “private kitchen” hidden in the eastern suburbs of the Hong Kong island. Adhering to the original concept of a “private kitchen” (unlicensed speakeasies in people’s homes or private spaces), it is a little off the beaten track offering a pre-determined western set menu (4 courses) and BYO.
Nettled in an upstairs unit behind a local Hong Kong market, Little Kitchen only serves 24 diners per night. The décor is simple minimalistic yet it still captures some unique features of the old tenement building it is housed in.
What’s good? We started first with a fried salmon amuse bouche – just a delightful bite to tickle the palate of what is to come. The next came the gazpacho almond soup garnished with tomato sorbet, sliced grapes and roasted almonds. I enjoyed the creamy taste of this cold soup and it surprisingly went well with the sorbet and the crunchy roasted almonds. However, it would have been much more enjoyable if the soup itself was sieved to remove all the lumps and chucks – making it smoother and less heavy on the palate.
Out of the 4 courses, the best was the grilled seafood mixed with the fennel salad. The flavors were crisp, fresh and light, perfectly refreshing and tasty for a hot summer night. It has inspired me to find myself a fresh fennel at the markets and make myself something similar.
What’s not? Food and service makes a marriage. Even with great food, if the service is wanting, there is little left to be desired. When we arrived, there was no menu on the table. The restaurant expects you to have read the menu on their website and know what is on offer that night.
Ok, so it’s a private kitchen, and the menu is up to the chef. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be informed of it when we are dining there. Even if nothing is written down, we expect at the very least for the staff to explain each dish to us as it is presented on the table. None of that. So, for us that didn’t check the website, we didn’t know what we were eating unless we specifically asked.
To add to the frustration, even when asked, we only received one to two word answers: “almond soup”, “salmon” or “lamb”. Short on details about each dish, the wait staff were very skittish, unsure of themselves and often spoke to us in whispers. We even received a scared raised eyebrow when we asked for more bread (we were charged an extra HK$25 (US$3) for a few more slices of baguette). At the end of the evening, we realized that no one offered us coffee or tea to complete our meal! By then, we were full but more importantly, we really couldn’t be bothered.
All of this really reflects badly on the management of the restaurant – the owner/chef, David Forestell, if he doesn’t want bad service to overshadow the quality of his food, has a lot more training to do with his front of house.
Tidbits The main dish was the roasted lamb loins and summer vegetables. Quite tender, the medallions were cooked well with its outer skin crispy. The roasted onions and eggplant were also flavorful but perhaps a bit too generous on the salt.
The dessert was a fruit tart with ice cream garnished with caramelized nuts and drenched in cream. The reason I am so soft on description is that the waiters did not bother explaining to us the dessert. It was only until I looked up its website that I realized it was an upside down caramel fruit cake with caramel sauce and bits of fruit and cream.
Oh, at least I was on the right track!
The lamb saga A friend in our party does not eat lamb but lamb was on the menu that evening. She tried calling ahead a few days before to see if the restaurant can offer another option. After speaking with a very rude abrupt staff, we found out not only that the menu does not offer alternate choices to patrons, any change to the menu incurs a HK$100 (US$13) surcharge.
With a set menu price of HK$500 (US$65), the surcharge being 20% of the entire meal just seemed overly excessive. Needless to say, it showed that this restaurant was not very accommodating either.
So my friend did not make any change and ended up eating some of the garnish on the lamb dish. Didn’t want to waste the food, she explained to the staff that she doesn’t actually eat lamb and would like to see if she can doggy bag the lamb to take home for her family. The response from the waiting staff started with “we don’t have any take away boxes”, to “we cannot wrap it in anything for you”, to “we don’t offer takeaway service” and finally to just plan ignoring us.
Eventually, at the end of the night, we noticed a credit of HK$100 (US$13) off our total bill – apparently, that was to cover the debacle over the lamb. A nice gesture, but by then, the damage was done, and it felt more like damage control as we were clearly not pleased as to how the staff handled that matter.
If they had just offered an alternate option to lamb and done away with the surcharge, this saga may not have happened at all.
Date Night Worthy? Not really. Even if the food was generally good and it was obvious that the chef has experience and passion, the lacking service and arrogant attitude left a bad taste in the mouth and no lasting impression.