The latest addition to Duddell Street is a private dining club serving up varied “contemporary Continental” fare.
Text by Tiffany Chan, photos by Samantha Sin
As names go, The First Floor by Lifestyle Federation is a mouthful. Designed as a private dining club, The First Floor is primarily a restaurant, but also serves as a multi-purpose venue
for private events hosted by Lifestyle Federation, its parent company, an “edutainment” lifestyle club that merges education and entertainment. Think whisky tastings, macaron-making workshops and cheese nights.
The meal starts off with a bit of education. Intent on bringing artisanal products to Hong Kong, Eden Ho, general manager of business and development at Lifestyle Federation, encourages us to sample the Jamones Martínez 30 months Ibérico cebo ham, which he sourced himself.
“The Martínez family has been making ham for four generations,” he explains. “This is a compound-fed Iberian ham, made using animals from Badajoz and the pigs are fed mainly on cereals and leguminous feeds.”
Helming the kitchen is chef de cuisine Kit Cheung, who has experience at fine-dining destinations such as Caprice and Spoon by Alain Ducasse. At The First Floor, he conjures up“contemporary Continental” cuisine, which Cheung says is not restricted to any cuisine or style.
“At establishments like Spoon and Caprice, it’s difficult to express yourself, so I’ve been searching for a place where I have the freedom to show what I do, and what I can do,” Cheung says. “Much of my background and culinary training is embedded in French cooking, but I don’t want to be labelled as a chef who is committed exclusively to French cuisine. As a Chinese chef, for instance, I’ve had cheong fun [rice paper rolls] all my life, so I’ll have an idea to modernise it, make it more interesting.”
But he is quick to add that it is absolutely not fusion. “Fusion. I hate that word. I always think you eat with your eyes first and then the aroma hits the nose, and then the taste. So it’s the whole experience that interests and satisfies. That’s what I want to do: make things interesting.”
Octopus Carpaccio with Black Tomato and Asparagus
Sometimes simple is best, like this Mediterranean-inspired octopus carpaccio. Slices of tender octopus lie amid Italian black tomato quarters, pomegranate seeds and a simple salad dressed with yuzu. Octopus is a beautiful ingredient but difficult to perfect. Here, we were happy to find it tender, but not overly so, with a bit of bite in its texture. Sweetness from the juicy tomatoes and fresh acidity from the yuzu lifted the flavours in this fresh, balanced starter.
Cep and Morel Rice Vermicelli with Black Truffle Paste
Inspired by Cantonese cheong fun, Cheung’s Western version has ceps and morels sandwiched between translucent sheets of rice paper, lightly brushed with black truffle paste. In place of sweet soy sauce, sweetened foam is made with chicken stock. While we liked the idea, the rice paper was quite heavy as it was stuck together rather than rolled and lacked the pillowy-lightness of the traditional version. The classic flavour combinations worked, of course, and the sweetened foam was a delightful alternative to sweet soy sauce.
Spanish Red Prawn Consommé
Lobster stock is simmered with Spanish red prawn heads to make a consommé in a process that takes three days. At first glance, the consommé was less refined than we’d hoped and rather dark, but the rich crustacean umami came through strongly. The star, however, was the unassuming red prawn, a larger species than most as it has few predators off the Spanish coast. Sitting on an oval egg white, the raw prawn is just cooked by spooning the hot consommé over it. Utter perfection.
One of the few vegetarian dishes, the beetroot risotto looked spectacular with myriad vegetables – braised baby onion and carrot, and lightly fried Brussels sprout and mushrooms – planted in beetroot risotto soil. Cooked in vegetable stock, with olive oil and beetroot juice added at the end, the risotto was cooked well and not overly mushy. The diced beetroot added texture. The parmesan cheese wasn’t too heavy, although we’d hoped for more of a surprise, and the earthy beetroot flavour could have been more pronounced.
M8 Australian Wagyu Sirloin with Seasonal Vegetables
We avoid ordering sirloin at restaurants, unless it’s an amazing, tried-and-tested steakhouse. But we were pleasantly surprised with this version; lightly seared and well seasoned, it was just crispy on the outside, blushed rosy-red with great marbling on the inside, and was juicy and tender. Wafts of aromatic morel cream sauce made our mouths water across the table. The accompanying tiny spinach ricotta ravioli was rather good, but we found it unnecessary.
The First Floor by Lifestyle Federation
1/F Baskerville House, 13 Duddell Street, Central
Tel: 2840 0032
*Featured in Crave’s November 2015 issue