The limelight down this dank alleyway in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong may have been taken away from Fa Zu Jie by the recent arrival of the bustling Brickhouse downstairs but up that small staircase, the chefs at Fa Zu Jie (Putonghua for “French Concession”) are still representing some of the most innovative Chinese-French cuisine in the city. The interior is soft and intimate, with white walls and a low white ceiling occasionally contrasted by tables of boisterous diners raising the ambiance to rather alarming levels. A handful of tables and an open marble-topped kitchen flank the walls, while an intimate dining room seats eight to 10 diners in a private setting next to the outdoor terrace at the back. Upon being seated, it quickly becomes clear that although the food takes its cues from Shanghainese cuisine, the presentation and techniques are French down to a tee.
The menu normally consists of six courses, with each course simply labelled with a play on words or with its protein. The first course is usually something light and refreshing. We start with a rather delightful bean vermicelli in watermelon broth topped with pickled vegetables - a pleasant beginning, and one that does just enough to titillate the taste buds. We also enjoyed the hairy crab “Napoleon”, but even with its crispy black vinegar “tuile” showing the chef’s delicate touch with flavour and technique, the dish unfortunately still lacked a little acidity. Diners new to Fa Zu Jie will be delighted with the playfully-named “Miss Quail, Mr. Sanuki, Wax Apple. All are half drunk.”, a signature dish featuring Australian organic quail cooked in Chinese wine with Japanese Sanuki noodles, rose apple and a quail broth. Flavours are bright and punchy for a cold dish and its best eaten with just chopsticks, the soup tending to overpower the other components when using a spoon. We were less impressed with the Chinese red prawn with rice cakes and thick prawn broth. The overcooked prawn, heavy rice cake and awkward use of a bowl for a dish clearly requiring a knife and fork to eat properly meant it was the weak point of our meal. Our main dish of soft pluma, a special cut of Iberico pork located just behind the shoulder blade was incredibly tender and flavourful but again, just lacked a touch of acidity; a quick drizzle of Zhejiang vinegar would have lifted the dish considerably. We end with a pleasant dessert of osmanthus ice cream and fermented glutinous rice, a modern twist on a classic Shanghainese dessert.
There is no wine list due to Fa Zu Jie not holding a liquor licence, and in a rare surprise, there is no corkage charged. While this means diners are free to bring whatever bottles of Burgundy and chardonnay they wish, it also means Fa Zu Jie can attract rather convivial tables of wine-quaffing parties, occasionally ruining what is meant as a rather serene experience.
The service at Fa Zu Jie is generally of a fairly high standard. Dishes are clearly explained in detail, which is necessary with such curious and at times ambiguous menu descriptions. We do feel as if the restaurant could do with having another chef in the open kitchen, as there can be a significant time lapse between dishes.
The set dinner is priced at HK$578 per person, a relative bargain considering the standard of innovation on offer. Well-executed on the whole with bold flavour profiles and only occasionally suffering from some hiccups, this is still very good value for this part of town.