Ta Pantry’s Esther Sham brings sophisticated, feminine French flair to her new casual-dining restaurant.
Text by Mandy Li
*Featured in Crave’s June 2015 issue
In Hong Kong, when one concept succeeds, others follow and identikit restaurants pop up like mushrooms after rain. Fortunately, there is another breed of restaurateurs that prefer to innovate rather than simply adopt the latest trend. Esther Sham, aka chef Tata, is one of those who like to forge their own path.
“I always tell myself not to follow trends, but stay on top of it,” Sham says. She opened private kitchen Ta Pantry in 2008, serving inventive dishes arranged on menus with conceptual names such as L’Indochine and Le Vieux Hong Kong. “I guess I was the first to do these in a private kitchen – it’s very important for me to do things that are not done before and I genuinely like.”
She’s breaking more new ground with her new restaurant maison es, which translates to Esther’s home. “I model the space after a French flower shop,” she says. “Floral arrangement has always been one of my passions and I’d like it to be one of the rare spaces in the city that is feminine, sophisticated, but not girly and definitely not cute.”
Sham has come up with a clever design for the 2,300 sq ft space. Rose-patterned Royal Albert bone china, floral-printed napkins and a creamy botanical motif imbue a softness that is balanced by shiny silverware, a cast-iron cocotte casserole and a big, curvy bar. An al fresco area adds a laid-back vibe. And then there’s the food.
“It’s meaningless to do food that everyone’s doing. On my menu you are not going to see clichés like spaghetti Bolognese, but my interpretation of French comfort food.”
Sham has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and reckons the key to comfort is to tone down the presentation, with unfussy plates that allow people to dig in wholeheartedly. “If the dish is plated too delicately, it creates a distance and is unable to touch people’s hearts,” she argues.
Ta Pantry has been relocated next to maison es with a separate entrance, enabling Sham to nip back and forth easily.
“People come to Ta Pantry for special occasions, they plan, book and look forward to the meal. At maison es, people can come daily and spontaneously. Whenever they want a good glass of wine, a casual dinner, they can just pop by,” Sham says. “I hope they enjoy the timeless environment and the food that’s not available elsewhere.”
mes Coddled Egg on Black Truffled Mash
In Sham’s interpretation of the traditional French breakfast item, the coddled egg rests elegantly on a bed of black truffle potato mash in a mason jar. Eat a little of everything in each spoonful – we loved the texture of the runny egg and mash. We also enjoyed the marriage of egg yolk and black truffle – rich, aromatic and truly comforting.
Instead of placing the snail in an empty shell, Sham sat it on a white button mushroom – a small tweak that she deliberately employs to take up all the herb butter. The result is satisfying – while the escargot is chewy and not at all fishy, the mushroom plays a great supporting role in enhancing the mouth feel. The dish arrived piping hot with butter still bubbling from the heat, which we enjoyed.
Crispy Foie Gras & Fig Wontons
Sham dreamed up this fusion dish with a blend of foie gras and figs wrapped in wonton skin, deep-fried to beautiful golden brown then seasoned with sweet balsamic. The sweetness of fig slightly overpowers the taste of foie gras, but we liked the side of shimeji mushroom and lily bulb that offered a pleasant chewiness.
Seared Hokkaido Scallops on Crispy Rice
Sham takes this common dish in a new direction by pairing it with crispy rice and prawn fried with nuoc cham and prawn paste. While we would have preferred the scallops to be moister, we loved the size of the prawn dice and the rice – just right to enjoy first the springiness then the crispiness, letting you experience a journey of different textures.
Sticky Lemon Cake
The cake mould is lined with lemon slices cooked in maple syrup before the batter is added, then the baked cake is served upside down with the caramelised lemon slices on top. It’s moist and sticky with a sweet and sour flavour, bringing the meal a perfect end. It comes with a side of must-try ginger sorbet that was so refreshing we couldn’t stop eating it.
1 Electric Street, Wan Chai
Tel: 2521 8011