Ever been to Madam Sixty-Ate in Wan Chai and wondered what on earth was going on behind their highly creative but rather bizarre menu? Well, Sal Curioso will leave you in the same state of mind! Wanting to keep their two restaurants connected but far from identical, husband and wife team Chris Woodyard and Bronwyn Cheung, the eccentric brains behind Madam Sixty-Ate, created Sal (apparently, he’s Madam’s fictional secret lover). Curious yet? We definitely were!
The space, located just round the corner from Wyndham Street is expansive, elegant and dimly lit. Just as in Madam, there is a bar area, lounge area, and of course the restaurant itself, adorned with similarly peculiar drawings by the same artist as those in Madam.
Having been to the pre-opening Sassy dinner party at Sal back in October without being overly wowed, my expectations were neutral, which in my mind, is always a good way to start a meal. So we sat back, ordered some mocktails from the gigantic menu (we were trying to behave – it was only Monday!) and let the Latin-inspired sharing menu (again gigantic) do the talking.
According to one of the many quirky, yet remarkably true quotations on the menu, we must “remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster” – and Sal’s sardine salad can certainly testify to this. Each mouthful, filled with gorgeously fresh fish, sweet red peppers, salty smoked bacon and curiously moreish croutons, was like taking a bite of the Mediterranean. The medley of flavours melted in the mouth and set the bar high for an excellent meal.
The Brandada croquettes, three crispy balls stuffed with creamy salt cod, were spot on. However, although the small black olives were pleasant, the giant green olives were far too strong and completely hijacked the flavour of the croquettes.
I probably wouldn’t describe the Wagyu beef ceviche as ceviche; it was more of a carpaccio. But was it delicious? Abso-freaking-lutely. The paper-thin slices of lemon-cured beef were incredible, particularly smothered in the little dollops of burnt lemon cream and horseradish yoghurt. The battered shallots added some crunch and sweetness to the mix, even if the ‘parrilla mushrooms’ added nothing.
Although I was surprised to see jambalaya (as opposed to paella) on a Latin-inspired menu, this was one of my favourite dishes. Made with bomba rice, which absorbs three times more liquid than regular rice, each grain had the perfect texture. Add to this mussels, clams, squid, fish and prawns, as well as suckling pig and chorizo, and you have yourself an amazingly delicious jambalaya.
The coral trout was the first disappointment of the evening. Compared to the other dishes, there wasn’t a lot of excitement going on in this dish, which for $275, would definitely be expected. Another disappointment came in the form of the molasses suckling pig. Having been slow-cooked for six hours and paired with a pear and mustard fruit compote, what little meat we found did have a delicious flavour, but alas, there was hardly any – it was mostly just skin, fat and bone.
However, forget these dishes and go for the buttermilk fried chicken instead. A gorgeously crispy coating gave way to wonderfully tender and still juicy chicken, creating the perfect comfort food. The soft grits, corn ragout and corn fritters gave it a sweet contrast that more than impressed.
To accompany our many main courses, we tried sides of roasted beets with feta and walnuts, and sherry-marinated tomatoes. Both were surprisingly tasty and kept our taste buds alert, as there were so many textures and flavours going on at once.
Moving onto desserts, the Rocky Road, true to the nature of the rest of the menu, offered an array of textures to excite the palate. Chunks of crunchy chocolate biscuit cake were served alongside creamy marshmallow mousse, crumbs of chocolate biscuit, almond brittle and last but not least, raspberry sorbet. I loved the light tart sorbet and the marshmallow mousse, but found the main component of the dessert, the chocolate biscuit cake, a little too sweet.
The name “Peanut butter is the pâté of my childhood” proved too irresistible not to order! Aside from the coffee crumble, which was too bitter for my liking, I loved this dish. The ‘pâté’ was created by stacking alternate layers of smoked peanut butter and meringue, absolutely giving it the texture of pâté (but in a good way!). The rum bananas and banana ice cream complemented it perfectly, as did the peanut tuile. Instead of the coffee, I personally think the cherry on top would have been some form of chocolate.
It’s difficult to comment on Sal Curioso’s service in general, as on a Monday night the restaurant was very quiet. For us, however, service was very efficient, and through their no service charge policy, I would expect it to be so for others. For a ridiculously large feast such as ours, expect to pay around $400 a head (although there were only three of us!).
To sum up our meal, I will use another of the menu’s remarkably fitting quotes, this one by Emma Bombeck: “I’m not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.” Quite right!
Sal Curioso, 2/F 32 Wyndham Street (entrance on Glenealy Street), Central, Hong Kong, 2537 7555
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!