Review: Beet, A Charming Bistro With Nods To Nordic Gastronomy
A beet is a divisive thing, drawing a line between those who appreciate its sweet earthiness and the naysayers who prefer to use the word ‘muddy’ (to put it kindly) to describe its flavour—all a matter of preference. When it comes to this cosy restaurant, however, the overwhelming opinion seems to be that chef Barry Quek’s cooking is very palatable indeed.
It’s a relief, considering my knee-jerk reaction to the images that poured out from early tastings—light and airy, VSCO-ed shots of beautifully plated food—was a little ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Another restaurant with highly Instagrammable food, I thought to myself (perhaps a little unfairly). Prying a bit more, I found that Quek has built a considerable CV over the years, working in the kitchens of Joël Robuchon and Les Amis in Singapore; De Wulf in Belgium and Attica in Melbourne. The ‘less is more’ approach to the food at Beet is also mirrored in the dishes at Portland and Clipstone in London, where Quek worked prior to moving to Hong Kong. Time-tested methods and coaxing flavours out of local and seasonal ingredients seems to be the mantra here; behind the bar and in front of the kitchen window are large jars of housemade preserves and pickles, from fermented carrots to pickled dill and blackberries, bringing to mind the traditions of the Nordic kitchen.
In the same fashion, the menu here is restrained and tightly crafted, with just four starters and four mains, plus a smattering of snacks and two desserts; a five-course tasting menu is available for HK$690, which is how we decide to see what Quek’s cooking is all about.
The dish descriptions are reassuring in their brevity, with an average of three ingredients to sum up each creation: wild mushrooms, walnut emulsion, chestnuts; brussels sprouts, black garlic puree, flaked almonds; and so on. A deeply umami ceviche of snapper kickstarts the meal, followed by a small dome of ethereally light chicken liver parfait atop a surprisingly short biscuit base.
If you have ever looked up @beetrestaurant on Instagram, then you’ll know that the hamachi crudo with kefir cream and caviar is the restaurant’s defining dish—it’s a striking, artfully presented plate that relies upon its attractively mottled sauce of intensely green dill oil and kefir cream (its tartness coming from the fermentation process). Precision-cut circles of slightly underripe Taiwanese peaches are layered atop the salt-and-sugar cured oily fish, and the combination is undoubtedly alluring—but while the whole package commands our attention, we just didn’t feel it. Perhaps, it would benefit from a touch more acidity and salt to bring the whole dish into sharper relief—it needed a bolder flavour to befit its striking façade.
Rather, the stars of the meal are less fussy in presentation: a humble disc of salt-baked celeriac nesting in a light mead sauce and topped with a flurry of truffle, and the Te Mana lamb, which packs incredible levels of flavour (from the smoky, caramelised fat to the almost nutty pink flesh) that is offset by the freshness of plump, grassy pea shoots. Dessert of an impossibly smooth hay-scented ice cream paired with lightly macerated strawberries and puffed rice is like a highly sophisticated take on comforting porridge.
If interesting tipples are your thing, then trust in the staff, who are youthful and highly professional, with one waitress demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural wine menu. A recommended glass of 2012 Initials BB chenin blanc from Domaine Mosse (a stalwart on the natural wine scene), with curious hints of dried mango on the nose, was a good match for the lighter starters.You can expect quality cocktails and highballs too, as former Yardbird general manager Raphael Holzer is on the scene, presenting creations such as the Hunter High (made with his own label spirit, Fernet Hunter, with soda and lime) and the Marigold Margarita (Cimarron tequila, Just Yuzu and lime).
Overall, the experience is fun—from the soundtrack (a very Baby Driver-esque mix of retro tunes, pop and instrumentals) to the attuned service. It’s an enjoyable mix of ambitious cooking that doesn’t stray too far from solid technique, served in a venue that is down to earth—just like its namesake ingredient.
A meal for two with wine and service: around HK$1,500
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.