The highly anticipated Rhoda swung open its brass doors over a month ago. The newest edition to award-winning restaurateur Yenn Wong's portfolio, the chef behind Rhoda is none other than Nate Green, the much praised former Executive Chef of the buzzy 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry.
Lovingly named after Chef Nate's grandma, Rhoda, the concept is all about comfort and family dining. Set in the quaint Sai Wan neighbourhood, a strong focus of the restaurant is about giving back to the community it is based in. This includes hiring and training local talent from the neighbourhood to work in the kitchen and front-of-house.
With interiors designed by Joyce Wang, the decor is painted in rustic industrial chic. The staff's eclectic playlists blare from the sound system. Although adding vibrancy to the overall ambiance, we found the music a tad too loud. We felt that we were in a club with all that shouting in order to be heard.
But enough about the ambiance, let's talk about the food.
Our dinner began with Nate's famous Suntory dark ale bread with nori butter ($29), baked daily by using dough from the previous day's bread. This way, the yeasty flavours evolve and continue to bloom throughout each new batch. The yeasty aroma whiffing from the fluffy interior of these freshly baked beauties was euphoric, and we almost ordered a second helping before being reminded that we still had an actual dinner to eat.
Moving onwards, we come to a trio of "small bites", starting with lotus root chips with chicken liver cream ($38). The idea behind the dish stems from Chef Nate's childhood habit of eating crisps and pâté. The pulled lamb shoulder bap ($118), made with lamb from Hawke's Bay in New Zealand, was slow braised to tender perfection. The balsamic glaze added a welcomed acidity, which differentiated this bap from the often overly sugary pulled pork sandwiches. Refreshing purple cabbage and mint grenolate added refreshing notes to this hefty sandwich. We are suckers for rillettes, and Rhoda's rendition, made with Mangalica pig's head and shoulder ($128) would get the nod of approval from even the pickiest Frenchman from Le Mans, a city in France celebrated for its rillettes. Coupled with sweet tangy pineapple chutney, made for a winning dish along with good wine.
The cured New Zealand salmon, interwoven with heritage beetroots and rhubarb ($178), came to the table looking like a pretty plate from a fine dining restaurant. The style and flavour didn't quite fit in with the relaxed, easy-going vibe of the restaurant.
From the grill came blistered asparagus topped with a blitz of Parmesan and black truffles ($188). Accompanied by some of the most addictive black truffle potato purée we've had in Hong Kong, this was a simple, straight forward dish that delivered big flavours. In fact, we almost licked the plate clean of the buttery potato purée!
Sweetcorn, clams, and a gooey slow-cooked egg topped with bonito flakes ($128) seemed like an unlikely combo but worked well together. The velvety egg yolk accentuated the umami qualities of the bonito and clams, and the corn added sweet contrast to the briny seafood.
The slow-cooked octopus ($138) was deliciously refreshing, thanks to a summery flourish of cucumber and mint.
A bevy of side plates trumpeted the arrival of the main courses. The heart-warmingly named mom's potato salad ($78) didn't quite live up to expectations, as the rather bland mush lacked any interesting flavours to save it from its monotonous profile. The snap peas, pancetta and quail eggs ($68) offered more contrast in texture and flavour, from the crispy salty pork to the gooey eggs to the sweet succulence of raw peas. Everything tastes a bit better when you dump a truckload of truffles on it, and the maitake mushroom risotto ($158) proved a winner. The meaty maitake paired well with a multi-grained risotto composed of quinoa, pearl barley and spelt, although we wished there was a spice element to uplift the overwhelmingly creamy dish. Our favourite side by far was the gem lettuce, avocado and smoked anchovy salad ($98). Simple crunchy leaves, accented by briny anchovy and Parmesan against the creaminess of avocado - sometimes, you just shouldn't mess with time-tested flavours.
A rather Chinese-inspired dish, the free range chicken with spring onion and ginger ($498) had juicy tender flesh and beautifully caramelised skin. Cooked slightly under to retain enough bounce in the meat, this dish was the highlight of the evening.
The snapper baked in kombu ($398) arrived amongst much fanfare alongside an oregano and lemon dressing. We were told that the chef experimented with many types of wrappings before settling on kombu to accentuate the umami flavours of the snapper. However, the fish was a touch overcooked and tough, and despite the bamboo salt, was rather bland.
The 12-hour slow cooked Hawke's Bay lamb shoulder ($948) arrived in what looked like a bubbling cauldron filled with stock vegetables and a fragrant bouquet of herbs. The dish must be pre-ordered 48 hours in advance due to its slow cooking requirements. The chef suggests that guests tear off pieces of the fresh herbs to accompany each morsel of the stew, although we felt that the gravy alone already packed plenty of flavour. The lamb was incredibly tender and deliciously sticky thanks to the slow cooking process. This would be the perfect winter feast, coupled with a few globes of the dark ale bread to mop up the juices!
For dessert, we moved on to the 'man den', a small alcove near the entrance styled like an exclusive barber shop with textured surfaces and chicken wire patterned concrete walls. Quirky graphic art depicting different styles of beards adorn the walls while subdued lighting gives the space an intimate glow.
The summer berries with cherry granita and lemon crème fraiche ($98) was a light and breezy ode to summer while the ginger biscuit trifle ($78) packed plenty of heaty zing. The chocolate marshmallow with mint ($98) reminded us vaguely of the After Eight thins of our childhood, but more indulgent and creamy. Our favourite of the bunch has to be the vanilla cheesecake with rhubarb and waxberry ($108), which struck a great balance between creaminess and tartness.
Verdict: This restaurant is a labour of love by Chef Nate. We can see a lot of passion in his menu, although some of the items didn't quite fit in with the down-to-earth theme and added confusion to the overall direction of the concept. There were some misses, but also some definite hits. Since the restaurant is in its infancy, we are curious to see what it develops into in six month or a year. There's certainly some good bones to build from.
Rhoda, Ground Floor, 345 Des Voeux Road West, 2177 5050