Black Sheep Restaurant Group seems deadset on the revival of Soho, an expat stomping ground that was the "shizzle" back in the days when the term was actually considered cool. With eight of its restaurants now in the tightly packed two-street vicinity of Soho, the restaurant group is slowly injecting innovation back into a somewhat tired area overrun by tourists.
We recently visited "neo-Parisian" bistro Belon to see whether this brand new establishment will be a neighbourhood hero, or a one trick pony.
At the helm of the kitchen is Australian chef James Henry, a recent transplant from Paris who was previously the chef at the now closed Bones. With the new Belon, he hopes to step out of the confines of the fine dining kitchen and create good food that is easily accessible to everyone. However, a quick peruse through the menu signals that the price tag somehow tells a different story.
Teething problems started at the door when we were informed that our reservation was unfortunately lost. Given that the restaurant literally opened just a couple of weeks ago, we excused the faux pas, especially since the very welcoming staff were able to arrange a last minute table. The dining room we stepped into was minimalist yet cosy with warm, low lighting, and simple enough to act only as a comfortable backdrop to the main focus - the food. We settled on a bottle of pinot noir to start the weekend.
The menu divides into hor d'oeuvres, entrees, mains, sides and concludes with cheese and desserts. As uni lovers, we had to order the Hokkaido sea urchin and bacon and smoked creme fraiche ($78). The minuscule morsel came balanced on top of a wafer of sweet potato waffle. The composition was delicious. The potato waffle had a warm caramel undertone that beautifully complemented the sweet creaminess of the uni. However, for $78, this one bite was definitely veering on the pricey side.
Shima-aji is one of our favourite fish, and a must-order whenever we are at the sushi counter. Belon's rendition contrasted the light sweetness of the white fish with creamy avocado, zingy yuzu and slightly bitter pomelo dusted with crushed nori for a well-balanced flavour profile. However, paying $198 for four thin slivers of fish rose a few eyebrows.
We loved the succulent sweetness of the Hokkaido scallop, baked in the shell with seaweed butter and adorned with spicy pickled turnip, which added a refreshing crunch. The seaweed, we were informed, come from the same village as the scallop. Yuzukuzhu spice adds a dash of unexpected heat. However, at $138 for ONE scallop, the price was a bit hard to swallow.
The ricotta gnocchi ($218) with spring peas and herbs was pillowy soft and managed to be both heavenly light yet irresistibly creamy. We were told that the herbs are grown in the New Territories by a Japanese hippie using Japanese varietals of seeds...which made us wonder what other "medicinal herbs" he might be cultivating. But again, the steep price tag for five gnocchi meant that we chewed very slowly to try to get more bang for the buck.
We've heard plenty of good things about the roast chicken with pommes Anna ($538) but were swayed to try separate mains by the server, as it was just the two of us. However, after having the chicken wing "farci" ($358), I really wished that we stuck to our initial choice. I know the economics of this meal has been lamented throughout this review, but I don't think I'm crazy to think that $358 is a lot to pay for ONE chicken wing!!!
No really, ONE wing.
To be absolutely fair, the wing was deboned and stuffed with foie gras and sweetbread, but honestly, does that validate the outrageous price tag? The mythical wing is given an Asian twist by using huadiao wine instead of the traditional white wine in the cooking process. True, the fat in the wing made each bite deliciously sticky and gelatinous, but I was still starving after my "main course".
After drowning my frustration in yet another glass of wine, we decided on the lavender and whey granita with miso ice cream and lemon ($108) for dessert. It was a refreshing way to cap off the meal, but to be honest, the whole fancy description just boiled down to one word on my taste buds - Yakult. Maybe I'm just too blue-collared to appreciate the finesse of the composition, but the whole thing just tasted like semi-frozen Yakult. Delicious, but still..Yakult!
Verdict: From my ramblings above, my verdict should be quite obvious. One word - EXPENSIVE. I'm not a penny pincher, and I won't dispute prices if they are truly worth the experience, but charging outrageous sums for "bistro" food with the ethos of stepping away from fine dining is ridiculous. It's ironically contradictory since we ate bistro food at fine dining prices. I have nothing to fault about the quality of the dishes, and the service was very amicable, but the menu is mis-priced for the concept and for the location. We are not dining at a Michelin-starred Caprice, especially since Belon is about informal dining. There is something very wrong if informal bistro dining equates to paying $358 for one chicken wing.
Belon, 41-43 Elgin Street Soho, Hong Kong, +852 2152 2872