As a fine character in a novel must have just the right name, a fine restaurant must have just the right location. Elegant hotels can imbue this quality. Malls, rarely, if ever. Fuk Sau Lane in Sai Ying Pun, a cul-de-sac as cosy as a Sunday morning in bed, is bespoke for BlackSalt. Across is a lovely open-fronted restaurant. Dogs and cats loll between. BlackSalt itself is open walled and so its interior and exterior; the street, the dogs and cats and the other restaurant seem to merge as one. Street-party perfect.
It’s your birthday, so your wife goes belt and suspenders, brunch and dinner reservations at BlackSalt. In deference to sanity, she schedules them a week apart.
Brunch. You eye your neighbours’ frothy pints of hazel beer but instead order a bottle of rosé because you see other bottles in champagne buckets, which are your particular weakness. Hong Kong has only the thinnest veneer of wine culture. You have not yet met any local wine server who knows anything about wine except the need for a reverent look and the false panache of holding the bottle from the base in order to pour (as though holding a dog’s snout front on to block its sneeze). Your charming waiter puts your expensive bottle into a bucket of tepid water.
BlackSalt may have fallen in the scrum, but with your order of the BS fry-up and Kata Murga Benedict, it is up and kicking. The BS fry-up contains a one-inch-thick slice of bacon that is, of course, cured pork belly. Wagyu beef is flavourful because of its marbled fat, and pork belly, luscious with fat, is the Wagyu of pigdom. Instead of being frizzled like ordinary bacon, clearly this was cooked in a slow oven until most of the fat melted into the meat, intensifying its flavour. This is bacon to make atheists talk in tongues. It’s conjoined to eggs with jaunty orange yolks. There are tandoori’ed sausages with a needless topping of some sort that you scrape off. Beans. Busy food, maybe too busy. But you and your wife manage the torque.
English muffins, honeycombed and toasted, are the eggs Benedict’s keel. BlackSalt’s bread is soft and absorbent, structurally unsuited to its duty, heretical truth be told. You admire innovation, but there’s value in tradition – and here it belongs. Homemade English muffins are a snap to make. BlackSalt, do so. That aside, it’s a tasty glop, layered with anodyne chicken tikka.
Oddly, though BlackSalt’s lineage is Indian, there is only a mild hint of Indian flavouring to the food itself. You yearn for a condiment of lime pickle or some such.
Dinner. The night is a dusky plum. Candles glow. Your wife brilliantly reserves an outside table. You order a hoppy micro (chilled). Your wife, a white (chilled).
Pop. What is it? Pop, pop. It’s the okra fries. So good, so crisp in their chickpea batter, so hot, so flavourful. It’s your serotonin popping. If only the mayo had more zest. Lime pickle would do it. Pop. Like sharing a blanket, these are fries to test a marriage.
The Rhapsody of Lamb is rush-hour busy: four renditions of lamb and a mess of stuff between. Depleted by earlier superlatives, you can’t adequately describe just how superb the ribs are. These are the ribs you want to eat for the rest of your life. You speculate that they were roasted a long time at low heat, then broiled crisp and glazed. There are slices of lamb, an ideal medium rare. This, more than anything else, shows the chef’s technical command. Then there is lamb in some kind of cylindrical wrapper. The problem here is that lamb’s delicacy is easily lost. Wrapped, you can’t tell if the meat is lamb or Heffalump. Finally, shreds of lamb shank are tasty enough, but you would have preferred the shank whole. Or, even better, you would have preferred it if you could have chosen the iteration of lamb you wanted. It’s clear the chef likes these agglomerations, no doubt deprived of foodplay as a child, but it goes overboard here like an ice cream sundae with too many sauces. But if the ribs were available for takeaway and you lived on the moon, you’d get a fishing rod with an extremely long line and…
The garlic-truffle flatbread has the same texture as the eggs Benedict muffins. It is good in that it comes fresh from the oven. How could it not be? But it’s the renaissance age of bread, and this bread’s crumb is supermarket level. Hire a serious baker and dial it up. And truffle oil, oy. Every arm-tattooed chef on the planet tries to glam up their food with the stuff (almost always synthetic). It’s the new MSG. Skip this tiring hack; it’s hackneyed. Next thing you know, there will be truffled bum fodder. Truffled condoms. Truffled underarm deodorant. You’ll be able to inoculate yourself with truffle spores and grow your own like a Chia Pet, harvesting them by trained Ibérico pig. BlackSalt, be the firewall to this insanity. Instead, make killer nan like they still do in India in clay ovens, wonderfully charred, blistered. Garlic nan undergirding eggs Benedict might be transformational. How about nan with za’atar? Or nan with flashed lamb and dan dan sauce? Or nan with smoked salmon and the works? Or nan with lime-pickle cream and lobster? Or nan banh mi? There’s plenty of possibility here.
At this point you and your wife are tiring. This meal is torquey. The chef must have been a busy child. But it’s your birthday and you’re required to eat dessert. The banana fritters are the mad cousin of bananas Foster, a marshland of banana fritters, caramel, dried banana shards and so on. It’s delicious. A small glass of Tokay, were it available, would go famously with it.
The chef is brilliantly and imperfectly forming his oeuvre. He takes large risks synthesising from many cuisines, sometimes with missteps, but they’re inevitable and well worth it. His culinary destiny is big.
The two of you ascend Fuk Sau Lane past the Buddhistic dogs and cats. You turn to your wife and utter one word: Okrahoma.
Okrahoma? You look into her Danish eyes. She twigs! Okrahoma is a state. The state of loving okra fries and a willingness to share 50/50.
14 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun, 3702 1237