Plate Culture, Hong Kong: Havana to Tai Tam


  17.12.17    Hong Kong


The only other time I reviewed a Plate Culture evening, it was a fun night, but safe to say that the food wouldn’t have given the World’s 50 Best judges sleepless nights. Another recent foray, however, proved that the variety, standard and hospitality offered now matches – or even surpasses – some restaurants, all at a price point that makes you wonder how you could have just paid $225 in a restaurant for half an eggplant. (That’s no exaggeration, incidentally)

Dinner was in the elegant enclave of Tai Tam, on the south side with views overlooking the water over to Shek O. The home chef in question, Amelia Marcopoto, is herself a food writer, traveller and fan of true immersion in culinary cultures. So when she learnt about Cuban Food in Havana, it didn’t involve a half hour market tour before a hotel’s 90 minute cooking class. Hell no. She spent weeks living with a family in a neighbourhood that would otherwise never feature on any Havana visitor’s itinerary, shopping, cooking and sharing with them in the most authentic experience imaginable. Likewise in northern Thailand, another destination she dove deep to hone her knowledge and skills, it was local people with local recipes who helped provide the culinary ammunition to launch herself on the Plate Culture platform.

In Tai Tam, dinner was Cuban and done in real style with some true standouts. A trip to Havana last Christmas – leading to my piece for the South China Morning Post on Havana eats – proved how difficult it was to eat really well there, given the blockades and chronic rationing. But in Hong Kong, Amelia melds authentic ingredients that are much easier to come by, to brilliant effect.

Even if my photos don’t do her dishes justice, each was absolutely authentic in flavour, texture and preparation. The photo quality could partly be explained thanks to an absolute real-deal Margarita, one of a number of stonking specialties curated by in-house mixologist Steve, someone who also doubled as the crafter of exquisite name plates at each seat.

’50 Shades of Grains’n’Greens’ bought genuine Peruvian quinoa – so rarely seen these days –  in a delicious sharp and tangy dressing, while dips were a dynamic duo of more big, genuine flavours in a green tomatilla and then a salsa borracha, or ‘drunken salsa’ as it’s infused with tequila.

 

Soup bought more first class ingredients, impeccably prepared with more full-on flavouring. Mussels, clams, whitefish and more all battling for supremacy in a brilliant, deep stock, almost redolent of a bisque, the whole bowl lifted with the Central American culinary calling card of fresh lime, topped with cilantro and avocado.
Tetela bought a sensational, subtle and creamy bean paste served in crispy triangles – again all home made, of course. The real show-stealer however were the homemade Oaxacan tortillas made from yellow and blue corn. These bad boys were worth the price of admission alone, a million miles from the sad white floury discs of doom you see almost everywhere else in Hong Kong.
A Central American classic rounded things off,  a knockout pineapple and passion fruit upside-down cake made with flagons of rum. As guests headed happy and replete into the Tai Tam night, memories of  a cracking evening served as another reminder how Plate Culture is thriving – and often beating restaurants at their own game.