It was a sad day a few weeks ago seeing the passing of Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear. He came to mind recently in dinner at Gough’s on Gough, a spanking new British restaurant under chef Arron Rhodes and owner, the renowned designer Timothy Oulton. And why Paddington? Because he embodies both England and Peru – as does Rhodes’ cooking.
You’re welcomed by what is undoubtedly a first in the city: an antique Diver in a tank of water, surrounded by swarms of Amazon basin red-bellied and gold-flecked live piranhas. Café de Coral this ain’t. Once inside, the immediate welcome is very warm, before you negotiate the spiral bronze staircase to the bar and main dining area. (For now it’s open upstairs for dinner and drinks, lunch and brunch will come in time)
The design is a mix of beautiful, quirky and nutty, in good ways. So there’s an entire wall of feathers – which reverses to reveal an entire wall of oyster shells.
There are tree trunk chairs, a shelf of trophies, a ridiculously photogenic bar made from moonstone and crystal:
as well as some of the most enviable flooring I can recall anywhere:
All this is clear given owner Oulton’s background as a design maestro with 40 global stores, including one a couple of doors down where you can stock up on vintage LV trunks. That’s suitcases, not swimwear.
Anyway design is all well and good, but it counts for little if the plates don’t match. They do – and then some. A cocktail to start, the Mayfair, brings vanilla-infused vodka, Luxardo apricot brandy, pimento dram (nope, no idea either, it’s this) and orange juice. Tasty and refreshing after another Betty Swollox Hong Kong summer’s day. The table is a delight and a throwback to my childhood, with blue and white plates, mismatched crockery and cutlery on strikingly-solid white marble tables:
Over the years Chef Rhodes has taken his knives on a global tour, from Restaurant Andre in Singapore, to the UK’s Vineyard at Stockcross, Hof Van Cleve in Belgium, the world’s first underwater restaurant in the Maldives and most recently in Peru in the world’s 4th best restaurant (according to the world’s 50 best), Central. They all, in their way, show influences across a very accomplished 8-Course Summer Tasting Menu, running HK$988 per person without pairings.
To start, three amuses, standout of which is a sensational tiny version of beef tartare condensed into one bite. How the flavours still ring through with such clarity is a thing to behold, but the beef, shallots, dijon mustard and gherkins all do in a pancake biscuit, held together with ponzu and egg yolk and topped with beef heart shavings. A great start.
Next a purple potato – Peru in action, of course, home to a mind-bending 4,000 varieties of spud – in the form of on a take on the childhood favourite of beans, potato and cheese. There’s homemade tomato sauce and mature English cheddar. Gone in 0.60 seconds.
Incidentally, the crispy squid ink rice on which it sits would make one of the world’s great beer snacks. Finally ‘A taste of the seaside’ brings pickled cockles under a Cornish brown crab mousse. Have a baaaaannnaaaana.
Next the most obviously Paddington of the dishes, a warm avocado salad with Peruvian corn, a micro version of quinoa (as if it could get smaller) a leche de tigre emulsion and cilantro. Just a lovely dish, perfect for the summer, light but deep and a textural joy.
Next came a good take on a sort of chawamushi made with a cracking underlying stock. Even if the clarity of the uni was lost, normally the star of the show, the trout ikura popped perfectly to make up for it.
Onwards with another dainty little cracker of a dish, Australian short rib on potato puree, surrounded by knockout porcini jus and deep fried onion rings that tasted brilliantly – in a Proustian Madeleine moment – like old school Ringos crisps. The little plate was a bonus course to match the vegetarian menu opposite, which was nothing short of exemplary.
Then on to the main beef and spuds, a picture-perfect and beautifully-constructed boulangère potato with New Zealand sirloin, shallot puree and proper British gravy. Few things have tasted this good, this year, in Hong Kong.
Next a lovely comment from the manager who reminds throughout the evening why hospitality is an art form. Funny and engaging, gracious and knowledgable, he explains that my final dish of Scottish wild salmon may seem incongruous coming after beef, but “Chef wants to build you up, but bring you down gently.” He couldn’t have put it better, and the two-bite taste of salmon with mussels in another brilliant sauce reinforced the wisdom.
In fact dinner was a masterclass in brilliant portion control over nine courses. That may seem a lot of dishes, but nothing was heavy in flavour or texture. That finished with the two desserts, the first a strawberry sorbet with marinated fresh strawberries, honeycomb, vanilla cream, all dusted with dehydrated strawberry powder.
The last hurrah, lychee sorbet with passionfruit, mascarpone and gingerbread crumbs.
But of course with this being a tasting menu it didn’t end there, as what British dinner could finish without another retro nod, here in the form of a strawberry juice served in an original antique Babycham glass, along with petits fours.
Overall impressions on Gough’s on Gough? So good, they named it twice.