Saturday, 15 August 2015

Fofo by el Willy: Not just a funny name

For a restaurant with a funny name, FoFo by el Willy takes itself pretty seriously.  Taking on the moniker of it's namesake in Shanghai, Fofo Hong Kong is the latest in a burgeoning chain of restaurants from chef Willy Trullas Moreno.  Originally from Barcelona Spain, Willy started with the original Fofo in Shanghai but has taken his concept of authentic Spanish cuisine and made as accessible to as many people as possible.

I first visited Fofo by el Willy a few months ago, thinking that the name sounded cool, but mostly because of a rad looking tasting menu that was available for a short time.  I'm not going to say much about that initial experience, except to say that the service was poor and left me unimpressed.  What did impress me was the way the team at Fofo reacted to my issues and had me back for a second visit.

The head chef of Fofo by el Willy in Hong Kong is talented chef Alex Martinez Fargas, also from Barcelona, a man that takes his food very seriously indeed.  With a slew of awards, which includes a recommendation from the Michelin Guide and a Best Restaurant 2105 award from the HK Tatler, Alex had done a top job of bringing the fun concept of Fofo and turning it into a serious contemporary Spanish diner.

Assembly - gastropub in TST

As big as Hong Kong is, it's still amazing how small it can feel at times!  I talk of coincidences mainly, as in how likely is it that you will find yourself in a situation that has a sense of deja vu or serendipity.  I'm slowly getting to know my new city by the only way you can, getting out and exploring and just wandering the streets.  A little while ago, wandering around with the girl, we randomly walked around the streets of Kowloon and came across a little street, actually, more of a laneway called Knutsford Terrace.  Now, Knutsford Terrace is like a little party strip with restaurants and bars for as far as the eye can see and looked a little like a mini Lan Kwai Fong.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I found myself at the very same Knutsford Terrace for a little blogger get together.  We were there to check out the latest menu and offering from Assembly, part of the Prive Group's stable of restaurants, that included Michelin Starred NUR (a restaurant on my must visit list).

I was the first of our little group to arrive (surprise, surprise), but it wasn't too long before I was joined by our host for the evening JC and fellow Hong Kong food bloggers SupertasterMel and Silverthoughts.  It was the first time I'd met either blogger, so I was a little nervous to begin with, but it wasn't long before we were chatting like old friends!  Ahh, the beauty of food is that it's so inclusive and a great way to share passions.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Mrs Pound - Secret entrance was the highlight

What happens when you come across a place that promises so much, but delivers so little? Somewhere that should be memorable but is almost instantly forgettable?  Well, I for one get pretty disappointed and tell a few of my friends.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. There has been a movement in many cities around the world to the speakeasy style of restaurant and bar.  I've written about a few before and usually they are pretty cool and mysterious.  The concept of the speakeasy was spawned in the early 1920's as a reaction to the completely ridiculous prohibition on alcohol, which to be honest also created the modern concept of organised crime - bootleggers anyone?  Anyway, before I get too political, the speakeasy also went when prohibition ended, but they are back, and in a big way.

A speakeasy is essentially a secret bar, now often a secret restaurant but the irony is that they are often the most popular of places and hardly secret!

One speakeasy that's been garnering a lot of attention, both here and overseas is a little spot called Mrs Pound.  Located in Sheung Wan, Mrs Pound has an interesting back story (found here in full), which includes a sordid but illustrious career of a burlesque dancer who was rumoured to have many lovers but eventually ran away with a conservative and reserved Hong Kong gentleman called Mr Ming.  So enamoured with Mrs Pound was Mr Ming that he gave her his favourite stamp shop, which she promptly turned in to her personal playground, resplendent with secret entrance!

Catalunya - a slice of El Bulli in HK?

There are restaurants that are so famous that they transcend the industry and fundamentally change it.  Current paradigm changer is Copenhagen's Noma but Heston Blumenthal's the Fat Duck is probably better known for changing things up.  The grandaddy of them all though has to be El Bulli, Ferron Adria's Spanish game changer, a restaurant that has closed but its legend lives on.  I was never lucky enough to visit El Bulli, but then, very few were.

It was with great excitement that I realised that some of the team behind El Bulli had established a restaurant right here in Hong Kong, and that I'd be able to experience some of the brilliance of the famed restaurant, albeit a tenuous link.  Catalunya is located in a quiet side street in Morrison Hill (the back of WanChai), hardly the setting for one of Hong Kong's hottest restaurants, but in a way it's oddly poetic that a such a Spanish beauty can be hidden so well.  My excitement remained at insane levels for a few days while I maintained a fantasy that I'd be dining at a spot helmed by Alain Devahive Tolosa and Pol Perello, the El Bulli trained chefs that ran the kitchen......  at one time!

My bubble was burst by a well known and connected chef out of Singapore, who sent me a quiet FB message to inform me that the dynamic duo had moved on from Catalunya.  C'est la vie I guess, but it did help settle my expectations for our meal, with were rapidly reaching unrealistic proportions!


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