The new neighbourhood spot, full of Middle Eastern flair
District: Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
How much: Meze plates range between $50 and $140; meat dishes range between $160 and $210
The Best For: Date night, or a relaxed and intimate dinner with friends
Must Order: A Stormy Date cocktail and the Sweet Potato with Paprika, Israeli Cous Cous and Feta
Sassy Tip: Opt for the tasting menu (available from early Feb) and let the pros do the choosing for you, priced at $380 per person
Just opened on Wan Chai’s St. Francis Street, FRANCIS is a breath of fresh air. In our city that has a tendency to get a little carried away, this new restaurant isn’t pretentious or stuffy, but the perfect mix of familiar, yet refined. From walking through the door, this neighbourhood spot feels like it’s been a local for years. On the chilly Tuesday night that we visited, the relaxed space was bustling, and our seats at the bar gave us the perfect vantage point to watch the bartender make up drinks, and also spy on the chef in the kitchen next door.
First impressions went a long way here, with the welcoming environment and attentive (yet not overbearing) staff making us feel instantly at home. The menu is also a winner. With Israeli-born chef Asher Goldstein taking inspiration from his upbringing in Tel Aviv, the result is a vibrant mix of dishes, using fresh and seasonal produce. What we loved about FRANCIS is that everything is kept simple, and the great food and drinks do all the talking. With just one page on the menu for the food, a short list of cocktails and aperitifs and a wine list to choose from, the menu is in no way daunting, and the simplistic approach conveys a certain kind of confidence. Even the wine list is easily digested; you can order by the glass, or half bottle, and if you’re going for a full bottle, the menu is split by price – either $350 or $600. If you do happen to be in need of some help deciding, sommelier Simone Sammuri, who carefully curated the restaurant’s wine selection, will be happy to help. Along with the selection of old and new wines available, if you’re looking for something special, there is the “Black Book”, that features premium wines from the world’s best private cellars and wineries, which promises to be rotated regularly.
Although the cocktail list is short (just three to choose from, along with four aperitifs), the consistent theme at FRANCIS is quality, not quantity. I tried out the A Stormy Date ($100), which consists of dimplimatico rum, date and ginger, and I have to say that it was one of the best cocktails I’ve tasted. With its subtle sweetness, it was the perfect start to the evening and a great tipple to sip on as we chose our food. I would happily go back just for this and sit at the bar people watching (whilst munching on some hummus) on any given evening.
Now for the food. We chose to keep it traditional to start, opting to try a classic selection from the Meze menu. We went for the Hummus, topped with a chickpea and lamb neck ragu ($80), the Falafel, with fava beans and tahini ($50), and the Baked Halloumi, with pomegranate molasses and wild oregano ($120). The hummus was some of the creamiest I’ve ever tasted, topped with a generous glug of olive oil and the chickpea and lamb ragu added an extra layer of flavour and texture (the lamb was just falling apart). Paired with the still warm pita bread, it was delicious. I also loved the Halloumi. Served piping hot in a cast iron pan, the aroma of the oregano hit you straight away, followed by the deep stickiness of the molasses, which was nicely off set by the fresh pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.
After our meze starters, we chose a couple of the vegetable dishes to taste, along with one meat dish to share. With a selection of fish, steak, chicken and lamb to choose from, we opted for the Chicken Schnitzel with za’atar and aioli ($170). Inspired by what Chef Asher was cooked as a child, the meat was juicy, with the crisp coating making for an indulgent treat. Vegetarian diners don’t need to be feel left out though, as there are plenty of veggie dishes to taste, which are so much more than sides. We sampled the Sweet Potato with paprika, Israeli cous cous and feta ($90), along with the Broccoli with preserved lemon chili and garlic ($80). One of our favourite dishes of the night was definitely the sweet potato. Served roasted and paired with a delicious full flavoured paprika and cous cous sauce and topped with a crumble of mild feta, it was the perfect dish for the cold January evening: contemporary and comforting, with a Middle Eastern flair.
To round out our feast, we enjoyed the Knafeh with mozzarella, orange blossom and pistachio ($80). A traditional cheese pastry, the knafeh was crisp on the outside, with a creamy soft centre, with hints of sweetness coming through from the orange blossom syrup. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the perfect bite had to include the crisp pastry, oozy centre and sweet ice cream for the ideal combination of flavours and textures. The taste may not be for everyone’s palette, but for us, it was a great ending to an utterly delicious meal – washed down by a glass of sweet dessert wine. For two people, we found that sharing five to six dishes was the ideal amount, we just can’t wait to go back and try the other half of the menu!
FRANCIS, 4 – 6 St. Francis Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, www.francis.com.hk
Image #2 courtesy of FRANCIS. All other images courtesy of Beatrice Hug.