By: Claire Locking
In markets across Europe you can find stalls trading in trotters and tails, tongues and tripe. Closer to home, the Chinese way of cooking advocates a similar “no wastage” approach – cooking and eating almost every part of an animal. A long history indeed, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that “nose to tail” eating joined the trendy set when Fergus Henderson published his world-renowned recipe book, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and his London eatery St John’s opened its doors.
Today, restaurants which take you on something of an anatomical journey have sprung up everywhere from New York to Melbourne, serving the brave gourmand with everything from roasted bone marrow to stewed ox tongue.
Sadly, I don’t rank myself in the “brave” category, so it was with some trepidation that I climbed the stairs of Wild Grass, after the press release claimed this was Hong Kong’s latest nod to “nose to tail”.
Wild Grass follows a long line of restaurant successes for long-term expat and old hand of Hong Kong’s restaurant scene, Jean-Paul Gauci. With everything from Szechuan Bistro Manchu to Vietnamese Café au Lac under his belt, Jean-Paul is using Wild Grass to showcase his classic culinary skills honed everywhere from Michelin-starred Le Petit Nice in Marseilles to Claridges in London.
Jean-Paul has a knack of bagging some of the best locations in the city, whether it’s beachfront Coco Thai in Deep Water Bay or his private kitchen Maison 1882 in a former pumping station in Tai Tam. This latest venture is no exception: Wild Grass is an enormous open space with expansive windows overlooking the back of the Central Police Station.
So, what about the food? I was expecting rustic, hearty, comfort food. What I got was something of a surprise, distinctly French in atmosphere; less than fine dining but oh, so much more than bistro fare.
We kicked things off with the homemade liver parfait with crusty country bread and piccalilli ($118). Subtle flavour, smooth consistency and perfect with the tang of the pickled cauliflower: almost faultless. All the bread is made in-house; when Jean-Paul was a child growing up in London, his family owned one of the city’s most renowned boulangeries.
Our second starter baked goat’s cheese on bacon puff pastry with beetroot ($128) is enormous and would certainly work as a sharing plate for two, but the flavour combinations are sublime. Jean-Paul has his own herb garden on site and uses them masterfully on almost every dish whether it’s the rosemary in the homemade lemonade or the thyme in the herb butter.
If the goat’s cheese was a girlie choice then our next starter was one for the meat lovers: oxtail dumpling with herbs, sour cheese, pickled roots, carrots, parsnips and swedes ($138). The filling was encased in a perfect delicate dumpling and inside was a hearty stew, an interesting combination of traditional British and Asian flavours.
With a name like Wild Grass and a reputation for game and offal, you would assume that this was a restaurant purely for meat lovers but fish is well represented with everything from Piri Piri prawns to butter-basted plaice fillet. We sampled Jean-Paul’s answer to the classic bouillabaisse, a perfectly cooked fillet of seabass with a saffron broth and rouille toast ($138). It was slightly heavy on the saffron and perhaps lacking in seasoning, but still one of the most authentic fish soups I’ve sampled out of Europe.
Our main was whole pot-roasted partridge with truffle sauce ($360) and something of a disappointment. Everyone knows that game can be tough, but this was dry and lacking in flavour. Still, the accompanying mash and rich truffle sauce more than made up for it.
Dessert was an iced almond blancmange with warm cherries jubilee ($98), an amazing morsel of intense marzipan flavour with sweet cherries. Perfect!
Wild Grass is a restaurant that deserves to do well, though I left feeling slightly confused as to what it is trying to be. The branding mentions “nose to tail” but apart from a couple of daring tongue and tripe dishes on the menu, there isn’t a pig’s trotter in sight. Congratulations should really be given for the quality of the ingredients and the importance Jean-Paul places on using mostly organic and seasonal produce. The standard of the food is certainly that of fine dining but the atmosphere and service are relaxed and laid back.
Must try dish: Baked goat’s cheese on bacon puff pastry with beetroot
1/F, 4-8 Arbuthnot Road, Central
2810 1189 | wildgrass.hk