Yenn Wong and David Lai’s new venture, Fish School, is led from the open kitchen by executive Chef Chris Ma. Chris carries a hugely impressive resume on modest shoulders and his cuisine at a recent Test Kitchen pop-up was generally excellent. Here in Sai Ying Pun, his latest venue is an absolute bugger to find. Once you do – look for the pillars – it’s a cool and sleek haven on a street which is rapidly becoming the next go-to dining spot.
It’s no surprise in a fish-themed restaurant that blue is the preferred colour, complimenting smart design and some quirky touches. Two seats on bar stools provide the chance to watch Chris and his equally young team at work. The plates put-up are some of the most visually-striking seen in a long time. Sai Ying Pun, home to a dried seafood market, is the perfect home base when many dishes feature fish as the hero.
The bar creates Hong Kong-inspired cocktails including the Malted Milk, a combination of Diplomatico Reserva Rum, Cacao Blanc, fresh milk and Ovaltine served in that iconic Kowloon Dairy glass. At $100, it’s one of the most fairly priced and nicely boozy cocktails around.
From the food menu, a starter of monkfish liver foie gras with aged tangerine peel and roselle (a West African hibiscus) is nothing short of sensational. I’d return just for this. It has the texture, consistency and mouthfeel of foie gras, minus the guilt. The brioche to accompany is also from the top drawer and together they make an excellent start, creamy and decadent alongside sweet and sharp. ($160)
It was then both ballsy and impressive to see that one of global gastronomy’s standout dishes, “Gargouillou” by Michel Bras, is the inspiration here in Hong Kong. Ma brings together more than 20 different kinds of herbs and heirloom vegetables. I’ve yet to enjoy the original, but the story here is more about artful presentation than the palate as the dressing didn’t really finish the dish. (HKD145)
Sea cucumber is one of those ingredients I have never understood. It looks like a prop from Alien vs Predator and has never convinced me it would taste otherwise – until now. It’s served with a frankly ridiculous combination of oxtail and porcini mushrooms – and is nothing short of a triumph. The oxtail has seemingly been bubbling away for weeks in a brilliant sauce, but the sea cucumber’s texture fits it perfectly. A weird but beguiling combination of bite and soft, rubber and velvet. If that sounds weird, it’s because it is – but in a good way.
Three types of freshly caught fish are offered daily and the catch of the day is pan-fried with brown butter. It’s a beautiful specimen and perfectly cooked, but there’s also a whole sea of butter that it is its new home. Less would definitely have allowed the dish to stand out as expected for such a showpiece.
Unexpected ingredients surprised again at dessert: a Pumpkin ice cream complemented by persimmon and melon; Mango, burnt coconut ice cream and coffee, before strawberry, crème fraiche, ice cream and rose, along with more of the roselles which were seen with the monkfish starter. (All $75). If that sounds greedy, they’re as light as their delicate and beautiful plating suggests.
All told, Chris Ma’s stock continues to rise with Fish School. Kinks in some of the dishes and the brown butter fish notithstanding, this was a genuinely innovative, creative and beautifully-presented dinner from a young chef with a bright future.