What’s the Mattar Paneer? This is the menu item label – probably the only one in the world that’s made me physically laugh out loud (someone should make an acronym for that expression). Mattar is Hindi for peas, and paneer, of course, is the Indian cottage cheese that makes its way most famously into a butter-chicken-like sauce (sans chicken) and is heaven for vegetarians. These two are served entirely differently to their former incarnations, almost like a caprese meets aloo mattar. Basil and balsamic dress a spiced pea base and tomato layer upon which sits what can only be described as patties of paneer (panatties?) that have been grilled and strike the perfect textural balance of soft, pillowy cheese with a crispy, charred exterior. I think this was my favourite dish of the night, but they’re all legitimately brilliant, so it’s hard to say.
What’s the Mattar Paneer?
Chef Taran is Hong Kong born and runs the restaurant with his wife. Formerly an executive chef at Dining Concepts, he’s taken the things that makes Hong Kong such a great eating city – the melange of people and cultures, many of whom come from richly flavoured cuisine cultures (Thailand, Nepal, India) – and subtracted the things that make it annoying as hell: overpriced servings of minute portions, pretentious ingredients and a lack of true customer service that wishes to see the diner delighted.
Taran outside BlackSalt in SYP
BlackSalt is a small neighbourhood eatery in the spot Peggy Chan previously made famous five years ago with Grassroots Pantry and Prune Organic Deli & Workshop. It’s in the sleepy side path of Fuk Sau Lane right opposite ever popular Locofama and has embraced an al fresco dining area with candles and hygge-inducing (if you’ve not yet been smacked over the head with the concept of hygge – the Danish lifestyle philosophy of ongoing contentedness owing to intentional surrounds – read this excellent article and get ready for your social media algorithms to attract Copenhagen and candles, pot plants and hanging lights). Taran and his wife serve a lot of the food themselves, as do the very competent and sweet-natured waitrons, who takes the time to explain each element and grace the tables with genuine smiles.
The chicken is the signature, and while it’s very good (no sous vide here – Taran ensures this bird is confited and then cooked for hours, making the sauce in particular layered and rich and the chicken succulent and astoundingly tender), the chicken meat itself doesn’t quite absorb all the flavours of the sauce. This is really the only negative I could find throughout the whole meal, and it’s barely worth mentioning. This is a hefty meal with all the accompaniments, so order one dish between two and one or two other small plates to avoid overinflation of the gut akin to the economic crises of '07.
The beetroot cutlets are a fun play on a home-cooked favourite that usually comprises meat and potato. Common in Bombay, BlackSalt’s version is sweet and vegetarian friendly and best eaten in conjunction with the homemade chilli sauce to balance the sweetness. The winner for this dish is the duo of Brussels sprouts and smear of spiced spinach porridge, which adds a flavoursome savoury layer.
The okra fries are a must order, accompanied by chilli mayonnaise and slightly pickled red onion. The moniker ‘fries’ is justified by the chickpea batter adorning the lady's fingers, which makes them crispy and filling (order this after the chicken as this is also a hefty portion).
The two drinks I tried were exceptional: a gin and tonic with frozen cucumber and possibly the best non-alcoholic drink I have ever tasted, homemade cashew nut milk. Creamy yet light, fresh and pure, this drink is simply soaked and blended cashew nuts, with a touch of seasoning. It’s not sweet; it’s perfectly frothy and has the richness of milk (so much so I had to question whether they had blended cashews with Japanese milk) without the deep regret that can often occur post-milk chug. I couldn’t recommend this more.
There is so much that looks appealing on this succinct menu that you’ll have to return time and again to get a good grasp of all the must orders. But with the friendly prices and people, this won’t be a chore. BlackSalt has all the makings of a true neighbourhood favourite, and as you sit outside sipping cashew milk and appreciating Sri Lankan, Indian, Nepalese and Bhutanese flavours, you might forget which city you’re in. Or, proudly be reminded of why we love Hong Kong.
14 Fuk Sau Lane, Sai Ying Pun, 3702 1237