As with numerous local industries, the top of Hong Kong’s dining scene is exceptionally narrow. Several key players dominate, each characterised by a different underlying creative philosophy. There’s Black Sheep (the “experiential” restaurateurs behind Carbone), Maximal Concepts (proponents of “more is more” cuisine and interiors) and Pirata – a hospitality group focusing on competitively priced, value driven, anti-wanker offerings. Its newest opening, MEATS – located astride the flaming corpse of ossified expat pub Jaspa’s – falls deftly into the aforementioned wheelhouse: offering up hefty portions of bird and beast at a price unconscionable to most restaurants in the immediate vicinity.
The team at MEATS are led by Chef Paddy McDermott, formerly of Glasgow-based gastrodive Tabac. McDermott has extensive experience cooking animal proteins; and his love for all things meaty is immediately discernible from the restaurant’s semi-open kitchen. The space is set up to facilitate the team’s primary cooking techniques – grilling, smoking and roasting – with serious hardware to match. Swine and fowl twirl hypnotically upon the custom-made rotisserie while a multilayered robotayaki scents the air with charcoal in the foreground. These impressive cooking mediums are often directed at “difficult” cuts – teasing out the potential of neglected ingredients, like tongue or flank, which require skill and patience to prepare.
Early on, MEATS declared its intention to feed patrons (to bursting) with the Chicken Liver Pâté. A preserve jar full of the blush coloured stuff arrives, topped with cacao nibs and pearled Pedro Ximenez vinegar. Hardly a continental pâté, MEAT’s take resembles a parfait/schmear hybrid – approaching the deliciously spreadable consistency of clotted cream. The bitter intrusion of cacao nibs is welcome, softening the concentrated flavour of the chicken livers. A side of brioche vies for attention, but suffers a little for its sponge-like softness. After all, pâté is plenty soft on its own; and a crispier delivery platform would have added interesting textural juxtaposition. Next up, the Bone Marrow – covered in a torrential snowfall of tarragon breadcrumbs. MEATS’ version opts for substance over style. The deep trenches of marrow hold together just long enough to reach the plate; and paired with the accompanying anchovy butter make for an umami rich mouth filling morsel. But it is Chef Paddy’s aforementioned Beef Tongue that proves the most interesting. Portioned into thoughtfully sized cubes, the dish is cooked in stages: first in a sous vide and then on the robatayaki. Glazed with oyster sauce and unceremoniously garnished with chilli and coriander, it is one of a handful of dishes (in recent memory) that honours the often disingenuous trope of “cooking with Asian influences”.
At the epicentre of the MEATS’ menu are numerous carved specialities. Ripe for sharing, these include staples like the Hanger Steak (150 grams). Blissfully, Chef Paddy lets this classic cut – the tenderest section of the cow’s lower belly – do the heavy lifting, embellishing proceedings only with a relish of gochujang (Korean chilli paste) and Jalapeno peppers. It’s a decent warmup for the main event – the Iberian Porchetta. In recent years, fatty pork roast has become an inescapable fact of restaurant life; whilst somehow remaining mystifyingly hard to execute. Frequent pitfalls include dry crackling, undercooked fat or unimaginative seasoning. MEATS head these perils off at the pass by doing things the grand old-fashioned way. A whole pig is gutted, deboned, slathered in “green salsa” and mounted on the rotisserie for slow roasting; thus avoiding the uneven moisture of supermarket sized porchetta. If you’re still hungry, the Slightly Spicy Fried Rice, enriched with egg and siracha, makes for an effective bookend. More than the sum of its parts, this dish employs various animal proteins that change weekly.
Diners would do well not to neglect the dessert menu either, which is short on choice but big on flavour. Within the confines of a traditionally layered pud, the Caffe Mocha turns out to possess a few hidden surprises. Comparisons to tiramisu seem inevitable but the flavours here are significantly more unctuous and concentrated. A spoonful of honeycomb accompanies the dish for those craving more treacle sweetness.
MEATS follows in the burgeoning tradition of all Pirata restaurant openings – focused menu, generous portions, friendly pricing. With the addition of its enviable location, MEATS is primed to become an ideal spot for a wide assortment of diners. It is essentially more of the same from Hong Kong’s favourite populist restaurateurs. But in a dining scene as notoriously fickle as it is cyclic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With a dining concept that has ample space for riffing – from nose-to-tail and region specific bbq – there’s still plenty of unpicked creative meat on this here restaurant’s bones.
GF, No. 28 – 30 Staunton Street, Soho, Central, HK
Accessible via Mid-Levels Escalator
Tel: (+852) 2711 1812
Photos courtesy of Sinclair Communications
Check out our other Hong Kong dining reviews:
Felix Restaurant Hong Kong – Chef Kaji’s Theatre of Dreams
An Afternoon Fiasco at Carbone Hong Kong
Sushi Taki Hong Kong – Keepin’ It Simple