An eclectic mix of comfort food in a super cool setting
I had eagerly been awaiting the chance to try out Rhoda, the latest restaurant from JIA group (responsible for some of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong – we’re talking Chachawan, 22 Ships, Fish School and Duddell’s, to name but a few). The baby of Chef Nate Green, formerly of Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships, is a true reflection of his style and values.
Named after his grandmother, Rhoda is a warm and welcoming yet contemporary space that serves Western-style comfort food using only the best Asian ingredients and a mean charcoal grill. The menu changes daily and Chef Nate uses his butchery skills to make the most out of the meat, using different cuts to create unique dishes. With a great chef, restauranteur and designer behind it, I couldn’t wait to see if Rhoda would live up to the hype…
Situated in Sai Ying Pun on Des Vouex Road West, Rhoda would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking out for it. It sits next to a busy road away from the trendy restaurants and bars of High Street, but once you step inside the industrial looking doors you feel like you’ve entered a different world. The space is huge with high ceilings (a rare find in Hong Kong!) and an original, rustic interior designed by the fantastic Joyce Wang.
An open kitchen allows diners to see their food being cooked on the charcoal grill and adds a sense of excitement and energy to the space. Small details like a connecting ‘rose’ pattern etched on different tables, light fittings made out of washing machine steel drums and beautiful crockery give the large open space an intimate and almost homely feel. And that’s the whole point of Rhoda – to make you feel at home and to bring back that concept of family-style sharing and conversation, which is even more evident in the food.
After a welcome from Chef Nate and the Rhoda team, the food started to roll out. Our table of ten began with some homemade beer bread made with Suntory Dark Ale and seaweed butter ($29). The sourdough-style bread had a distinctive smokey quality that may be a bit overpowering for some, but it certainly whetted my appetite with the salty butter. We also tried a few chewy bites of the homemade beef jerky ($38), which would be great with a cold beer as a snack.
Next came a selection of starters to share, including the Lotus Root Chips with Chicken Liver Cream ($38). The chips were perfectly crisp and light, requiring only a tiny scoop of the strongly flavoured, rich liver cream.
The Pulled Hawke’s Bay Lamb Shoulder with Pickled Red Cabbage Bap ($118) was a totally satisfying bite of meaty goodness; the pulled lamb melted in the mouth, the bread of the bap had the perfect balance of softness to crust and the red cabbage added a sweet yet tart vinegar flavour to cut through the richness of the lamb.
Yet more nibbles arrived, including the Rillette of Mangalica Pig’s Head and Shoulder with pineapple chutney and pickles ($128). I was a little skeptical about the whole ‘pig’s head’ part, but the rillette was packed with flavour and tasted even better with a bit of the sweet pineapple chutney.
We also sampled the Cured New Zealand Salmon with heritage beetroots and rhubarb ($178), a light, refreshing dish ideal for summer.
Already suitably stuffed with items from the ‘Snacks’ and ‘Cold’ sections of the menu, we moved on to the hotly anticipated ‘Grill’ section. You can tell how important this charcoal grill is to the essence of the restaurant by how well made and thought out the dishes are, and my absolute favourite had to be the Agria Potato Puree with Asparagus and New Season Truffle ($188). Decadent truffle and parmesan liberally sprinkled atop charcoal grilled, fresh asparagus and a silky smooth potato puree… this is a definite must-try!
The Slow-cooked Octopus with cucumber, mint and pickled shallot ($138) had a beautiful chargrilled flavour without the rubbery texture that you so often find in octopus. Rhoda is all about comfort food with a refined twist and serving dishes that bring back memories, and Chef Nate’s memories of holidays in Thailand with fresh seafood and herbs is evident in this dish.
Another standout dish was the unusual Sweetcorn, Clams and Slow-Cooked Egg with Kasuobushi ($128). The different ingredients worked surprisingly well together and I enjoyed the contrast of textures… who doesn’t love a slow cooked egg? Bring on that #eggporn.
We finally reached the mains, or the ‘Bigger’ sharing dishes. The 12-Hour Slow-Cooked Hawke’s Bay Lamb Shoulder with stock vegetables ($948) is designed for 4-6 people, and is certainly enough for a large group. The lamb is oh-so tender, melting off the bone and in the mouth with a deliciously rich and savoury sauce. The huge bunch of herbs can be ripped off and scattered on to your serving of lamb depending on your taste, adding a bit of lightness to this heavy dish which would be so satisfying on a cold winter day.
Other ‘Bigger’ sharing dishes included the Snapper baked in Kombu, Oregano and Lemon Dressing ($398 for 2-4 people) and the Brink’s Farm Free Range Chicken with spring onion ($498 for 2-4 people). A brilliant combination of a salt-baked fish and Asian steaming techniques, the snapper was so soft and delicate, whilst the chicken was tender yet perfectly crispy on the outside.
To go with all the meat, we sampled a selection of sides. This Maitake Mushroom Risotto with New Season Australian Truffle ($158) was decadently creamy and indulgent with the earthy truffle. The Gem Lettuce with Avocado and Smoked Anchovy ($98) was almost like a rich Caesar salad, whilst the humble Mom’s Potato Salad ($78) was surprisingly flavoursome! I’ve never had such a good potato salad and would definitely order this again.
The Snap Peas with Pancetta and Quail’s Eggs ($68) was another delightful side offering crispness from the peas and a bit of richness from the cute little quail’s eggs.
We’d had more than enough food by this point, but I’m glad I saved a small space in my stomach for the desserts. I’m not a huge trifle fan thanks to memories of wobbly bright red jam, slimy custard and floppy ladies fingers But this Ginger Biscuit Trifle ($78) has converted me completely! Each element was exquisitely executed, creating the perfect contrast of textures.
Next up was the Vanilla Cheesecake with Rhubarb and Yamamomo ($108), one of the silkiest, smoothest cheesecakes I have ever tasted. Almost like a creme pate with an moreish base.
For something a bit lighter, you can’t go wrong with the Summer Berries with Cherry Granita and Lemon Creme Fraiche ($98). Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries with cold cherry granita and a dollop of fresh cream, what could be better?
This heavenly combination of Chocolate, Mint and Marshmallow ($98). That’s what. This gorgeous dessert is the ultimate after dinner sweet treat for chocolate lovers, using a variety of textures and bursts of zingy mint and creamy smore-like marshmallows. Do NOT forget to order this bad boy.
What can I say? Rhoda was hands down the best new restaurant I’ve tried this year. No joke. The food here is utterly divine. Comforting and ideal for sharing, yet inventive with a touch of refinement, I’m already planning a trip back with some friends. The decor is seriously cool, but the vibe of the restaurant is relaxed and easy going, focused on sharing and a family-style concept. This is the top of my list for a delicious food, good times and great vibes with a big group!
Rhoda, G/F, Upton, 345 Des Vouex Road West, Sai Ying Pung, Hong Kong, 2177 5050, www.facebook.com/rhodahongkong