6:30pm until late
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Quietly seated in the depth of Tai Hang’s alleys and laneways, The Socialhouse is not difficult to locate, thanks to its spotlighted orange signage and wooden façade occupying the corner of Shepherd Street and Warren Street. The wood theme is continued throughout the dimly-lit interior, from the walls to the stiff, square dining tables. A bar counter takes the centre stage of the dining room, with shelves displaying empty wine bottles and glasses to emulate the bistro look. Despite the proper amount of space between tables, the wooden panels mean sound reverberates loudly around the room, and we had trouble holding conversation over the background noise.
At first glance, the menu reveals classic Continental fare, such as carpaccio, onion soup, salads and some meat and seafood main courses, but a deeper look into the dish descriptions reveals Japanese influences, such as miso dressings and wasabi mash. Canadian-born Chinese chef Ken Fung’s experience of French and Japanese cooking in Canada has shaped this unique menu. We decided to opt for the more unusual-sounding dishes, such as the French bean salad with fermented beancurd dressing to start. Chinese fermented products are known for their intense flavour, so we expect the dish to be on the pungent side. Yet the saltiness of the beancurd and mayonnaise dressing was beyond acceptable, and the acidity of citrus did little to help balance the dish out. After a few bites of the otherwise crisp French beans and lettuce, we desperately needed to wash away the extreme saltiness with gulps of water. Our next course, steamed mussels, continued the salt-heavy theme in its tomato-based broth, which had little taste of the advertised saffron. The focaccia served alongside is already drizzled with pesto and olive oil; combining it with the broth only resulted in another over-seasoned mouthful. Moving onto our mains, the kitchen demonstrates a better grasp on meat dishes. The “miso-crusted” rack of lamb lollipops is tender and boasts a delicate texture, although the miso appears instead as a sauce on the side. The meaty quail leg on lemon cream risotto is nicely roasted and succulent, but still over-seasoned with visible salt crystals. The lemon cream risotto is the one saving grace, the nicely al dente grains releasing a fragrant citrus scent. At this point, we were apprehensive about having ordered the wasabi cheesecake. Fortunately, it's the mellow flavour of matcha that shines through the two tiny cubes of green-topped mousse cake, while the wasabi is mild and subtle. We also order a dessert of the day, a slice of tarte aux pommes with vanilla ice cream, a non-descript version of what should be a fine dessert. Before checking the bill, we reflected our comments on the food to the manager, and we were told that the kitchen has been using a different type of salt for two days, which might have explained the over-seasoned meal.
There is no wine list, as The Socialhouse did not hold a liquor licence at the time of our visit. But we are told that the licence will be approved “within a week” and we can still purchase a bottle or even wine by the glass from their “cellar”.
Unfortunately, we experienced extremely slow service and inattentive staff. After a 20-minute wait for the first course, the main course took 40 minutes to arrive. We had to ask the waiters again and again, and also spoke to the manager, but there was no explanation for the delays; it also took a long time for staff to ring up our bill. Moreover, our table was never cleaned between courses – waiters simply placed cutlery and plates over the table that had spilled soup. No one refilled our water glasses unless we asked.
Dinner for two comes to around HK$800 without wines. With starters priced from HK$68 and main course starting from HK$98, the menu seems to be quite reasonably priced, but considering the quality of the food and service and location of the restaurant, there are better options around the neighbourhood.