Sometimes, the best meals are the most surprising… and my recent meal at St Betty, the revamped Betty’s Kitschen (Wagamama founder Alan Yau’s restaurant in the IFC), was the loveliest kind of surprise imaginable.
‘Mixed reviews’ is probably the kindest way to describe St Betty in its former oddly-spelled incarnation, but now with a new innovative menu, a new internationally-renowned Michelin-starred head chef (Shane Osbourn) and a whole new philosophy too (local ingredients all the way… and a recently-bought half-acre of farmland in the New Territories to back that up!), St Betty has been given a whole new lease of life.
I was given the chance to try out the new menu thanks to our That Girl and Island East Markets co-founder Janice, who was so impressed with St Betty’s new direction that she’s been helping with their PR! Given it was just the two of us for dinner, Shane very kindly prepared smaller versions of our dishes (so look at my pics knowing that they’d be at least double the size normally!), so I could sample as many of St Betty’s new tastes as possible and report back on what dishes are unmissable. However, the answer may well be… all of them!
The space is the same as ever, with a light and airy outdoorsy feel, complete with rows of plants and the cutest staff uniforms ever (tartan!). We started with the 21st century egg with chargrilled asparagus, lemon mayonnaise, black truffle and hazel nut dressing, Shane’s modern spin on the Chinese thousand-year old egg favourite. Janice assured me this was less pungent and scary than the traditional version (I still have nightmares of the smell from my class of kindergarten children tucking into those black eggs en masse) and she was right – this was an absolute delight. A perfectly-cooked egg encased in crispy breadcrumb with beautiful creamy yolk spilling out, all on top of a bed of diced thousand year egg, black truffle and crunchy hazelnut, with a final fresh twist from the light lemon mayonnaise. The combination of textures and tastes was incredible.
I also loved the Spanner and soft shell crab with a salad of raw butternut squash, water chestnuts and yuzu. This looked and tasted like summer on a plate and I loved the contrast between the crispy soft shell crab and the sweet tender pieces of Spanner crab meat, all complemented by the light delicate vegetables. Again, the twist of homemade lemon mayonnaise added a perfect final touch of finesse.
We made it three for three with a beautiful beef carpaccio. The beef fillet was paper-thin but still packed with flavour, whilst there was just the right amount of Stilton cheese to augment the dish without becoming overpowering. Once again, it was the tiny touches that impressed, and the unexpected crunch of pumpkin seeds somehow made the whole thing even more delicious.
Onto the mains… and WOW. The pan-fried prawns with pork belly were just out of this world; this may be one of my favourite dishes that I’ve tasted this year! The pork belly – words just don’t do it justice (and to be honest, it meant the prawns barely got a look in!). The pork was absolute melt-in-mouth caramelised deliciousness, complete with moreish crackling that was the perfect amount of crispy. Add to this a dangerously addictive sweet garlic puree (can I have a jar of this to smear onto everything I eat please?!), lovely pine nuts and an amazing balsamic dressing, and it was just utter food heaven. I was practically singing hymns about how wonderful it was!
After that utter sensation, our other main of slow-braised neck of saltbush lamb, choi sum, red pepper and black olive just couldn’t compete. Although there was no denying how perfectly the lamb was cooked, the flavours of the sauce combined with the already strong flavours of the meat were just too intense for me and I felt more choi sum was needed to balance the dish.
Finally, time for some full-sized desserts… and you must save room for them, because they are stellar. The roasted pineapple with tapioca, dragonfruit and coconut ice cream reminded me of a posh pina colada! The pineapple is cooked first in a Josper grill to give it a slight smokiness, then sous-vide (I know… madness!) to keep it super juicy. The different flavours and textures again married together to make a tropical treat and even in the darkest winter months, this would still make you taste summer.
However, chocoholics (like me!) MUST order the dark chocolate mousse with cherry, chocolate crumbs and salted peanut ice cream. I was already won over by the double mention of chocolate… and the idea of salted peanut ice cream practically had me whooping from the rooftops! Rich indulgent and just about everything I could wish for.
Given the relatively low expectations I had from its old Betty’s Kitschen days, I was really wow-ed by St Betty’s revamp. The presentation, flavours and textures had all been thoughtfully considered to produce innovative interesting dishes that on the whole, tasted incredible. Given the more casual feel of the interior, the a la carte menu initially seems a little pricey (starters are around $200, mains are around $300; the weekend brunch and afternoon tea sets are more reasonable) but the quality of ingredients and sheer deliciousness of the food makes it worth it. Fine dining done with a lightness of touch in an unstuffy atmosphere, St Betty’s really does deserve its newfound sainthood!
St Betty Shop 2075, 2/F, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central
2979 2100 www.stbetty.com