Bettys Kitschen: Good at the kitsch, not so good in the kitchen
The Hong Kong-born, London-based restaurateur, is known for bringing Asian cuisine to Western palates.
After being appointed an OBE in 2006 for services to the restaurant industry, the guy could have complacently hung up his toque. Instead, he decided to challenge himself and do the very opposite of what he's known to be good at.
Rather than open an Asian restaurant in a Western city, Yau has opened a European restaurant in Hong Kong.
And the project, Bettys Kitschen, seems to indicate he hasn't quite hit his stride yet.
On our visit to Bettys Kitschen, we found the entrance decked in floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with basil and multi-colored fruit and vegetables, giving a sense of wholesome, market-fresh goodness.
But instead of a casual market café, what we found in the dining room were classy dining tables with pristine white tablecloths and whimsical bare bulbs for lighting.
The yellow marble floors were an unexpected bass note that pulled together designer Andre Fu's casual, quirky elegance.
Then we noticed the service staff dressed in tartan and waistcoats.
So Bettys Kitschen is like wet market meets grown-up hipsterdom meets retro Scottish gastropub? It didn't quite come together, but we admired the originality.
The restaurant was also exceptional noisy, like a dim sum restaurant in full swing on a Sunday afternoon. It may have been due to the lack of noise-absorbing material on the floor and walls. Definitely not a first-date restaurant.
One of our starters was the mackerel gravlax, a variation on the salmon standard. It was served with pea shoots and alfafa salad, potato and purple sweet potato medallions, and pickled onions with mustard.
The onions were really tart and there was a lot of them, overpowering the mild mackerel. But if we forked a bit of everything into our mouths and chewed, the flavors became well-balanced. The forking took some effort.
The Kintoa ham was lean and briny. It definitely needed to be paired with the bruschetta soaked in fragrant olive oil to bring out its porky, nutty goodness. The tomato flavor was a bit subdued though. May as well have been zucchini.
This duck confit hit all the right notes. It arrived with the fat still sizzling on the skin. The meat was tender, flavorful; the skin, crisp and fat free. The potatoes were roasted to an impossible creaminess and the nub of roast garlic pushed the entire thing over the edge. We could go for some right now.
Chargrilled chicken was bitter at the charred skin and seemed to be unseasoned everywhere else. The lack of a sauce or salt and pepper on table made it feel a bit like diet food. The texture though was though to a T -- even the breast was perfectly tender.
The chicken was served with slightly spicy fries. Unlike many of the previous negative reviews of Bettys' fries, these were an improved version and were everything a fry should be: piping hot, crisp and tender, fat-flavored but not greasy, spiced and not too salty, .
The mayonnaise seems to be housemade, with a strong olive oil aroma and lemon yellow hue. Its good if you like yellow olive oil-ish mayo.
All in all, the self-conscious, rustic food (simple plating, homey and familiar flavors) jarred with the over-thought decor and waitstaff uniforms.
For a restaurant that greets guests with walls of fresh colorful produce and happy-happy staff, its hit-and-miss dishes just don't have the zest to match expectations.
Bettys Kitschen, shop 2075, 2/F, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St., Central, +852 2979 2100; www.bettys.com.hk