Tri review date: September 6, 2015
60 second review so no score
For a country of 250 million people over 17,000 islands, it’s dangerous to generalise about Indonesian food. One thing is clear, though: It’s a cuisine that is criminally underrated by global diners. Who can blame us? Indonesian restaurants hardly line the streets, while beyond a satay or nasi goreng, not many dishes jump out. In common with their northern neighbours in The Philippines, however, an Indonesian food renaissance is overdue. That time may be now.
This particular Sunday turned out to be a day of Indonesian food, albeit in two very different surroundings. The morning saw me wandering Victoria Park, approaching domestic helpers – or domestic workers, as they should be known – for my forthcoming article for Roads and Kingdoms on what the 300,000 women who keep Hong Kong running eat on a Sunday, when they are shamefully left to sit outside and contend with the city’s elements.
The evening was an altogether different experience, in the swish and cool confines of Tri, another new opening down in Repulse Bay. It bills itself as the city’s first Balinese restaurant. It’s smart marketing. Indonesian food just isn’t that sexy, but somehow Balinese conjures up jaw-dropping sunsets and the island’s horizontally relaxed vibe.
As you leave the elevator, the air is heavy with scent – in a good way – while the design is genuinely special. Past the small bar, an extraordinary single piece of wood acts as a communal table. I’m told – and can well believe – that it weighs 5 tonnes and took a team of 30 people to move it in. You’ll be glad to know that the trunk was felled a century ago – and not to make the table.Thereafter, there are more dining options in cabana style seating. A huge stone slab acts as a table around sunken seats, while bamboo surround and water flows underneath. It’s difficult to explain, but the effect is beautiful. As you look out over the beach, this is serious date night material.Which is all great, as long as the food matches the surroundings. In the hands of the two chefs, the American Conor Beach and Balinese Wayan Mustika, it does – and then some.
First a couple cocktails, suitably tropical but not especially memorable. The plastic straws seems out of sync given the attention to detail elsewhere. Taro chips and a sweet and spicy dipping sauce while we look over the menu.
It’s pretty concise and also means that the chefs will mix things up with new dishes from their extensive repertoire. Across the starters, Potato Perkedel are potato cakes with chilli, grilled eggplant, lime leaf and a coconut and potato purée. They’re a cracking little bite, but pale next to the Sambal Tempeh. Order this. You will not regret it. It’s made from fermented soybeans, chili sambal, crispy cauliflower served with thin peyek crackers from Java. It’s all about the funk of the fermented soybeans, lifted by spice, tempered by crunch. Top drawer eating, even if it may not look it at first sight:A taste of the tuna tartare is then sent out, excellent quality fish cut through with sweet and crispy fried onions. A little watermelon stack on the side is suitably refreshing.From the world of mains, beef short rib for the carnivore and vegetable curry for the vegetarian. Beef short rib is probably the city’s most popular ingredient of the last 12 months, with good reason. Here it’s ‘Iga Sapi’, ie Angus’ finest cooked at 60 degrees for 48 hours. Just looking at it makes it fall apart. A green chili sambal on the side, along with a dinky, cooling cucumber parcel called ‘lalapan salad’ that maybe needs citrus or similar to lift it. But overall, a cracking dish. The curry is very good too, a complex base of spices leading to an ochre coloured creamy finish.
Normally Indonesian desserts wouldn’t rock my world, either in theory or practice, but here the fusion of chefs in the kitchen delivers a great selection. ‘Dadar Gulung’ are cute little Balinese pancakes with a riot of coconut and mango. The patisserie chef is from Bibo and the classic French traditions are visible again in a coffee cocoa shortbread number with chocolate, a cocoa tuile and stracciatella.
All told, Tri does a great job of flying for the flag for a country – and an island’s – underrated cuisine. They may not be the Indonesian classics you see elsewhere, but the innovative, contemporary twists work. And even if Repulse can’t quite match the sunsets of Jimbaran Bay, there are few better places in Hong Kong to take you there.
With two drinks each and a very comprehensive look around the menu (ie all 4 desserts), we came in south of $900 per person. The check was taken care of by a PR agency.
Shop 302, 3/F, Lobby C The Pulse, Repulse Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2515 0577 http://www.tri.hk/