By: Claire Locking
“Curioser and curioser” said Alice as she stepped through the Looking Glass, and that’s exactly how I felt on a recent wet and grey Wednesday when I paid a visit to latest Wyndham Street opening, Sal Curioso.
From the hidden sliding panel doors to the surrealist mechanical drawings adorning the walls and the water jugs created from tea pots, everything is just that little bit out of the ordinary at 32 Wyndham Street.
Sal Curioso is the latest venture for husband-and-wife team Chris Woodyard and Bronwyn Cheung of Madame Sixty Ate fame. The idea was not to replicate their Wanchai success in Central, but to offer something totally new to the almost saturated Wyndham Street dining scene. The concept is based on social eating; sharing plates and sharing tastes.
Our evening started with a master class in cocktail making from fresh-off-the-plane bar manager Richard Bates. Richard is a former runner-up in the Australian Bartender of the Year competition and is a walking, talking encyclopaedia of all things drink-related. Our requests for something “strong and short” and “long and refreshing” were translated into some truly amazing cocktails; aside from his years of experience in one of Sydney’s best bars, Hugo’s, Richard is also creates his own syrups and garnishes, including truly amazing Bourbon-infused cherries.
Suitably refreshed, we moved to the dining room, which although rather sparse in colour and lacking a wow factor, is pleasant enough, with a terrace overlooking the junction of Wyndham and Glenealy. The menu is extensive, brave and complicated. We took the advice of our knowledgeable waitress and started with a selection from the Tapas, Ceviche and Seafood sections.
The red gazpacho with prawn cracker tartare ($42) was sublime and a real assault on the taste buds. My personal favourite was the albondigas (lamb meatballs) with braised chickpeas ($55). The lamb is sourced from rural New South Wales and is packed full of flavour; the dish is then finished with walnuts and shavings of rich foie gras – a decadent and delicious garnish.
Seared tuna with chorizo ($90) was not quite such a triumph. The chorizo is homemade which is no mean feat and should be applauded, but the texture was unusual and the usual peppery bite wasn’t quite there. Chris likes to mix textures, flavours and hot and cold, so the sausage was served warm and accompanied by cold, seared tuna. Not quite my cup of tea.
We accompanied our starters with a white Château Bouscassé recommended by our French sommelier. The wine list is extensive but it’s refreshing in a town that tends to overinflate drink prices to be able to buy wine by the glass, the small and large carafe, and the bottle.
The concept of sharing is meant to continue to the mains but my advice would be to order your own. These are complex dishes and quite fiddly and I’m not certain they lend themselves to being eaten tapas style. The molasses suckling pig ($130 per 100g) is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes; it’s succulent and flavoursome, working well with the pear and mustard fruit compote in a sweet and sour sort of way, but slightly fatty and missing in something. Our other choice, the roast monkfish and cockles ($255), was light and delicious.
Desserts were a mixed bag. Chris’s take on the key lime pie ($80) comes potted, meaning the component parts are separated enabling them to be savoured individually; the best bit was the lime marmalade garnish. We also sampled the truffled vanilla rice pudding with white chocolate ice cream, chocolate snow and caramel puffed corn ($85). Sounds delicious and it certainly had an authentic rice flavour but it was served cold which, to us Brits used to rice pudding as comfort food, was an unwelcome surprise.
Chris and Bronwyn deserve to do well. They are driven, passionate and adventurous – all qualities that should be rewarded. If you’re a foodie with a zest for culinary adventures then you will love this place and will admire the chef’s attempts to create something totally new. If you like things a little bit more conventional, then this won’t be the one for you. There are moments of genius in the menu and moments of madness, but all in all, for food lovers, Sal Curioso is a dining experience not to be missed.
Must Try Dish: Albondigas with braised chickpeas
2/F, 32 Wyndham Street (entrance on Glenealy Street), Central
2537 7555 | curioso.com.hk