Once in a while you have a bad meal and it just saps the life out of you. You lose all enthusiasm for food – not just the plates in front of you but also the plates you will have for the next few days. Then you have a great meal and suddenly everything is right again, almost as if the balance of the world has been restored to normal by a good dining experience. Here at Little Kitchen, I was reassured that the world is good again as soon as I stuck my spoon into my starter of cold buttermilk soup with textures of cucumber and pea purée (described as 'cool buttermilk soup, trust me, sweet pea purée, smoothness, green cucumber, super (re) fresh, bits of herbs, because...' on the menu, because, why not?). And as the meal progressed, I regained my passion for food, which had been lost after a disappointing meal at Kaum by Potato Head.
Little Kitchen is a private dining restaurant located in an old building in Sai Wan Ho. The decor is simple and homey, with lovely white interiors and large wooden tables. It is also extremely small, with only four tables in the entire restaurant. But the restaurant does epitomise the age-old adage 'quality over quantity', as the small amount of covers allows Chef David to perfect each plate of food that is being served (side note: the entire kitchen brigade consists of Chef David and a sous-chef). Little Kitchen does one fixed dinner menu ($500 – no service charge), which is tremendous value for a four-course meal and for the quality of the food being served.
So let's return to the soup, because I have never tasted anything quite like it. Like any proud Asian man, I like my soup scalding hot, where the steam fogs up my glasses and the broth warms the deepest crevasses of my body. But in this sticky, hot September, cold soup actually was a good thing, especially because it was refreshing and sour enough to stimulate one's appetite. The cold buttermilk soup was thick and tingling, almost yoghurt-like, while the beautifully plated assortment of cucumber added a cooling, refreshing element to the dish. The pickled cucumber balls provided some 'oomph' and saltiness and the cucumber sorbet, shaped into a disc, was cooling and delicious. It was good, really good, and perfectly prepared the palate for the next dish.
The starter course consisted of homemade gravlax, carrot ribbons, herbs and toasted grains. This complicated dish looked stunning and tasted as good as it looked. The gravlax was expertly cured; the flesh of the fish was firm and the balance of the seasoning was pitch perfect. The carrot ribbons and carrot gel added sweetness, while the various herbs and dots of herb purée (tarragon? fennel?) provided the dish with another level of complexity. The nutty toasted grains and croutons gave the dish body, and it was rounded up nicely with the cooling crème fraiche.
According to Chef David, the roast chicken main course was the most labour-intensive dish on the entire menu, consisting of 13 steps. The chicken was served three ways: the thigh was rolled up in a ballotine, while the wings and breast were grilled. I normally detest chicken breast, as it is often dry, lifeless and ashy. However, Little Kitchen's was grilled perfectly – the meat was juicy and tender while the skin was crisp. The rolled-up ballotine was well seasoned and tender. The wings were also tasty but were a bit difficult to eat with a knife and fork. The best element of the dish, hands down, was the jus. The amber-coloured roasting juices, thickened with a generous amount of butter, were so intense and deep that it was like tasting the life essence of the animal, and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean. The roasted vegetables were gorgeous and sweet, and the dollops of homemade ketchup-like sauce added a little acidity to nicely balance the dish. So while this main course might have been exhausting to make, it was definitely worth it, at least from this diner's perspective.
Dessert was a fig tart with two different sorbets. The pastry was crisp, flaky and caramelised, and the heat from the oven accentuated the natural sweetness of the figs. However, the inclusion of almond paste, chocolate sorbet and chocolate shards made the entire dessert a bit too heavy. I would have been satisfied with just the tart and the lovely, refreshing berry sorbet. After a chat with Chef David, we were given some freshly baked homemade cookies to take home, rounding off a wonderful meal.
In a commercialised metropolis like Hong Kong, oftentimes you will find restaurants that focus only on making as much money as possible. Their single pursuit for profit is reflected in the flaccid, boring plates of food served to paying customers. Little Kitchen is the exact opposite of this. You can taste the chef's passion in every dish. Everything I ate that evening was perfectly cooked and meticulously plated. Yes, I know Sai Wan Ho is a long way from the city centre, but Little Kitchen does warrant a special trip.
1/F, Cheung Lok Building, 112–114 Sai Wan Ho Street, Sai Wan Ho, 5616 4114, firstname.lastname@example.org