TST can be hard to navigate, even for seasoned foodies like us, with its overabundance of eateries and and winding streets confusing us at every turn. Most of the time when I dare to traverse there, I just end up giving up and shamefully seeking relief for my starved stomach by feeding it some subpar grub because it was the most convenient thing at the time. Shame, shame, shame...
No more. We were recently made privy to Wild Thyme, a sleek and discreet Middle Eastern restaurant tucked away in a nondescript building on a street overflowing with an eclectic mix of dining and drinking options (there is just too much to choose from, so we'll have none of them, thank you very much). Helmed by Chef Tarek Alali, Wild Thyme is the result of this culinary explorer's disappointment in the lack of quality vegetarian Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine available in Hong Kong. When his friends and family would visit our beautiful fragrant harbour, they'd find their leafy eating options to be quite limited. Enter Chef Tarek, who remedies this issue with an exclusive pure vegetarian menu (but fear not, fellow carnivores, he has not forgotten us: Wild Thyme's offerings also cater to meat eaters).
We started things off nice and breezy with salad appetisers. Wild Thyme's fattoush ($85) came with a plethora of veggie goods, from radish and lettuce to tomato and cucumber, topped with perfectly crunchy toasted pitta and a generous sprinkling of sumac. We're big fans of tabbouleh ($80), but we harbour a perpetual fear of the possibility of imbalanced flavours that often accompany the execution of this dish – not so at Wild Thyme. With a solid crunch to attest to its freshness, the Italian parsley salad was wonderfully prepared with a delightfully harmonious ratio of olive oil dressing, mint and lemon juice. We couldn't finish this one fast enough and didn't stop talking about it for the rest of the night; it definitely set the bar for the rest of the courses to come.
Wild Thyme dip
The cold mezze selection was served with warm pitta and consisted of two of Wild Thyme's most popular dips, wildly (ha) different in taste but both packing a punch. Their chunky signature dip ($95) was rich in colour and flavour, made of roasted nuts and smoked chilli, and bore a piquant profile, the fleeting kind of spice that stays on your tongue for only a handful of seconds and doesn't dominate your taste buds for the rest of the night. We were big fans of the creamy truffle hummus ($100), made with chickpeas and – you guessed it – black truffle, bearing that deliciously earthy taste we've been exposed to all summer, with the theme of truffle on everyone's minds.
Straight from the grill and much creamier than your average halloumi, Chef Tarek's rendition of this Mediterranean classic ($100) was a treat for the tongue. Salty and mildly sour, it had a firm, bouncy bite and a smoky, rich profile. Our exploration of the hot mezze dishes continued with a trio of plump falafel ($70). Deep-fried to an even, glistening brown, these crispy cakes of blended beans and fresh herbs were served with yoghurt sauce and proved to be a crumbly and tart treat.
With a tangy flavour profile dominating our dinner, we were looking forward to sampling more unfamiliar dishes, such as the shishbarak ($120), Jordanian-style dumplings stuffed with feta cheese and fresh herbs in thick yoghurt sauce. Scattered with a few pink peppercorns, this was an unusual exploration for our taste buds, with its acidic and lemony overtones and creamy consistency. We walked away knowing that we had never tasted anything like it before, but we were happy that we had kept an open mind. Following that – aww, yes – here came the meat. After seven courses of albeit wonderful veggies and greens, my stomach squealed happily at the sight of meat (no, I'm definitely not made to be a vegetarian). The shish tawook ($150) consisted of two big, meaty skewers of marinated chicken breast served on skinny slivers of pitta along with fragrant and herby roasted potatoes and chilli and garlic dips. Slightly chewy but quite tasty, the chicken was tender and the potatoes were roasted to soft perfection.
Arabic-style fried rice
To round off our mains, Chef Tarek presented us with his Arabic-style fried rice ($100) with toasted almonds, cashews, pine nuts and raisins. Delightfully herby and crunchy, the mixed nuts provided an earthy touch, and the raisins did a sound job of adding that unusual tart sweetness to spice up what would otherwise have been a fairly average dish.
And where would we be without dessert? Another lesson in our foodie education class that evening, we dug into the kanafeh ($95), a soft, sweet deep-fried cheese topped with shredded filo pastry and chunks of pistachio. We discovered the reasons behind the lightness of the previous courses the second we bit into our forkfuls of kanafeh, as it was, hands down, the heaviest dish of the night – but what a treat! Incredibly sweet and crunchy on the outside with a gooey filling, we promised ourselves to just a small sampling but inadvertently ended up finishing the whole thing (which was no easy feat, as it was the size of a mini Frisbee). We washed down the cheese pastry with hot mint tea ($30) and leaned back to bless our good fortunes of having had a truly enjoyable meal.
Our overall impression was that we liked it. We really did. The fare at Wild Thyme was light and fresh, the portions were right, the ingredients were quality, and drawing from the culinary influences of his childhood, it's clear that Chef Tarek sincerely cares about his food and sticking to the flavourful core of what Middle Eastern cuisine is all about. We visited on a weekday evening and it was filled with a comfortable number of diners, so we think it would be a great spot to have a tasty and filling meal away from the bustling and hectic dining world of TST.
401–402, 4/F, Lee Wai Commercial Building, 1–3 Hart Avenue, TST, 2577 3662