A Side / B Side: A Hidden Culinary Gem in Sheung Wan Led by New Executive Chef, Jon Irwin
Not often is there a restaurant that delivers on almost every front to my personal taste; from the interior, service, and cosy ambiance to the impressive food and drinks, A Side/ B Side was a positive experience all the way through. It's Sheung Wan's best-kept secret...for now.
New Chef, New Menu
I'd heard of A Side / B Side before, but it never really piqued my interest until I found out that a new chef, Jon Irwin, had taken the helm just over a month ago. If there's one chef whose food I distinctly remember from a tasting, it was Jon (previously Figaro, Restaurant Akrame Hong Kong & Paris, Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire, and Le Taillevant to name a few) and the incredible level of technical skill showcased in his dishes at Figaro. Now, together with his Spanish sous chef, the eccentric and talented El Palanca (@chefelpalanca) whose cooking I also had the pleasure of enjoying at his pop-up at La Paloma last year, he's completely transformed A Side B Side to the point that it's almost unrecognisable to past patrons - and in the best way possible.
Location & Design
A Side B Side is hidden away in Sheung Wan's Sai Street, but is easy enough to distinguish as the only buzzing spot among the quiet stretch of shops. There aren't any signs outside, which IMO adds to the rustic glamour of the place, but has floor to ceiling windows so you can't miss it. It's a small space, but brilliantly designed to incorporate a single chef's table that takes up the entire restaurant. Blackboards on all sides displaying seasonal menus and artwork, and a small kitchen in the back. Loved the modern yet cosy design, and my dinner date Rose even commented on how it felt like she was dining in SF, not Hong Kong.
Experience & Verdict
While the name gives no indication to the type of cuisine served here, I'm gonna peg it as an innovative modern European tapas style. What we were most impressed about in all the dishes? Pure, unbridled creativity & really impressive technical skills. With only 2 people in the kitchen and a full house of guests, we were astounded by the quality of each dish and even the pace at which they were brought out. This is modern European gastronomy at its finest, in a comfortable and totally unpretentious setting, and a price tag that won't break the bank.
Read below for details on each of the dishes we tried:
One shared bar table that exudes an intimacy not too common in Hong Kong restaurants. We imagine it would be comfortable to dine alone here, and chat with the chefs or even the people sitting next to you!
The "Turbot Graffiti" (HK$160), so called for the splashes of sauces across the fish. The fish is surprisingly great cold, and was previously cooked at a perfect temperature in lemongrass and coconut broth. For its European presentation, the flavours were more like reinterpreted Thai cuisine. The splashes are basil & squid ink sauces and on the left side is a mound of wild wood sorrel, crispy fish skin and skirt in liver sauce. On the right is a nicely contrasting (and addicting!) sweet mango chutney, house-made by Chef Jon. Everything was spot on individually and tasted delicious together.
This one's off-menu and a work in progress by the chef, but I'm including it because I loved it so much. Such a sucker for potato, and this dish had some awesome flavours going through it. The potato had a pudding-like consistency, and tasted great with the layer of broth on top. Caviar and chives to add extra texture and brininess, and a dehydrated potato crisp.
The Japanese "Hokkaido Scallop" (HK$120) was massive, plump and juicy, and cooked so perfectly it melted in my mouth with all the flavours intact. Beneath is a "calemar" squid salad with savoury warm shiitake (that I could eat for days) and pickled egg yolk sauce. Crispy kale on top. One of our favourite dishes of the night.
The "Kuruma Ebi" (HK$200) was another mouthwatering dish with premium ingredients that intrigued the taste buds. The Japanese kuruma ebi was done justice in a non-sushi form - still raw and melting - accompanied by hazelnut crumble and jamon iberico. The foam is created with the prawn heads, then chicken fat is added to emulsify. And celtuce. A vegetable I didn't even know existed up until this night...a hybrid of celery and lettuce?
This is a dish I was looking forward to trying after scrolling the menu prior to coming, and it certainly delivered! The "Courgette Flower" (HK$180) will surely be a signature dish, with its eye-catching presentation and unique use of rare, imported courgette. The bulb is stuffed with the most delicious, slightly creamy truffle farce (stuffing) and sits on a bed of mushroom beurre blanc.
The "US Striploin" (HK$220) was like a super fun playground of different flavours, colours and textures on the plate. First, there's the medium-rare and tender striploin that takes centre stage. The sauce is a beautiful friccasée of snails and roquefort, a sheep's milk blue cheese from the south of France. The green foam is a parsley emulsion, and the tentacle-esque things are actually sago balls dehydrated overnight, then fried and popped into crunchy chips.
To my delight, the juicy "Canadian Lobster" (HK$240) came with this Japanese spinach called "komatsuna" - an ingredient I rarely ever see served in Hong Kong restaurants, and which I always eat at home! Accompanying this dish is another veg I love and also don't see enough, artichoke. The delicate foam is created from the artichoke cooking liquid as well as lobster tomalley for that extra boost of flavour.
The "Iberico Lamb Presa" (HK$200) is crusted in a black garlic rub, with a lovely pink centre. Bit fatty for my liking, but flavours were spot on. And of course, no dish at A Side B Side is complete without some never-before-seen culinary sorcery, so on the side is a dehydrated eggplant glazed with miso, which is then topped with Chef Jon's HOMEMADE FURIKAKE! So good.
Desserts! There are currently two desserts on the menu - and this is the "Tonka Mascarpone" (HK$60). I was a fan of Jon's sublime peach dessert at Figaro, and I am a big fan of this refreshing grapefruit one at A Side B Side! Love the uses of fragrant spices in both desserts, and this one shone with the unique use of tonka bean. The bottom is made up of grapefruit compote, earl grey jelly, and thyme syrup, and the crisps are dehydrated grapefruit sugar shards.
If you thought this was your average chocolate dessert, ya thought wrong! True to the surprise twists and turns found all over A Side B Side's new menu, this "Dark Chocolate" (HK$60) is actually a decadent truffle-infused dessert, with a beautifully rich dark chocolate truffle mousse.
Happy, heartily stuffed customers with our sparkling rosé that went with everything! Thanks to Chef Jon & team for a wonderful dining experience!
Restaurant Information - A Side B Side
Tel - +852 2857 5055
Address - 53 Sai St, Tai Ping Shan
Website - http://www.a-side-b-side.com/
Instagram - @a_side_b_side