In his first restaurant, British chef Nathan Green serves modern comfort food inspired by nostalgic flavours and age-old techniques.
*Featured in Crave’s August 2016 issue
Text by Tiffany Chan
For chef Nathan Green, Rhoda is many things. It was the name of his late grandmother, who instilled in him a passion for food and respect for nose-to-tail cooking, as well as that of his soon-to-be-born daughter, Lily Rhoda, and his new venture with JIA Group.
Green’s last memory of his grandmother Rhoda is at a sunny family picnic in the garden, eating pork pies and sandwiches among the roses. “I remember holidays in France where I made my first beef bourguignon with her,” he recalls. “There was always cooking at home, we had a vegetable garden and picked blackberries. The pork dish we have marinated with soy and ginger is one of her recipes, but she used the marinade with spare ribs.”
At Rhoda the restaurant, Green uses his experience to elevate the nostalgic flavours and comfort food he grew up with. Inspired by his childhood favourite of chips dunked in pâté, for example, are moreish golden lotus root chips used as a vessel for rich and silky chicken liver cream. Mum’s potato salad is surprisingly smoky, freckled with herbs and bacon bits. While the homemade beer bread, which he tends to personally everyday (“I make bread everywhere I go, it’s very therapeutic”), is intended to be ripped apart and slathered in nori butter.
“When I talk about comfort food, I’m not talking about heavy braises, sticky winter food; I’m talking about comfort food that evokes memories,” he says.
The food is personal and so are his preferred cooking techniques. In his small kitchen, Green rejects modern equipment in favour of “what cooking is supposed to be about” – namely a charcoal grill and wood oven. Lamb shoulder, for instance, is slow-cooked for 12 hours until the meat is pull-apart tender.
“I grew up cooking with charcoal. For me, it’s the best way to get flavour. I wanted to make my chefs cook without modern equipment and fancy gadgets, I wanted to push myself too,” he says. “The food we cook here is the sort of food I would cook if you came round to my house for dinner.”
While the concept is simple, Green says that few people understand it.
“It’s food you enjoy; you shouldn’t need to think about it. When we try to describe this to people, they can’t understand that we’re not French or Italian. We’re just cooking my food. People need a label for everything. But why can’t you just love food?”
1. Asparagus with Agria Potato Purée and Truffle
Showcasing a classic combination of three ingredients – asparagus, potato and truffle – this dish is simple but brave. Thick stalks of French asparagus are served with mashed potatoes laced with truffle and garnished with wisps of shaved truffle and parmesan. Its simplicity allows the quality of the ingredients to shine. The mashed potato was especially memorable – velvety smooth and not starchy. The secret, he says, is its ratio of 50 per cent butter, 50 per cent potato, which he calls “the Robuchon mash”.
2. Slow-cooked Octopus with Thai Dressing
Green slow-cooks the octopus at a low temperature for several hours and lets it chill it in its own liquid before grilling until the exterior is smoky and crisp, and the interior is succulent and gelatinous. There was much to love about this dish: the burned edges around the nooks and crannies of the tentacles; the brightly flavoured Thai dressing, which was at once tart, sweet and salty; the freshness of the mint and coriander; and the crunchy shallots. Green intended for the flavours to pop, and they certainly did.
3. Sweetcorn and Clams
Kernels of grilled sweetcorn tossed with plump clams cradle a quivering slow-cooked egg, peppered with bacon crumbs and ribbons of katsuobushi (dried, fermented and smoked tuna). The creamy yolk running through the corn and clams serves as a beautiful sauce. Each spoonful offers a plethora of flavours and textures: charred, creamy corn, fleshy clams that taste like the ocean, meaty bacon and umami from the katsuobushi. It tastes like a clam chowder, but loaded with flavour and without the heaviness.
4. Salt-baked Snapper
With this whole snapper cooked in a wood oven, Green proves wrong all the naysayers who claim Westerners do not know how to cook fish. To impart maximum flavour and preserve moisture, Green wraps the snapper in kombu sheets and coats it in a salt crust to ensure no moisture escapes. The kombu, he says, also protects the fish from the salt. The skin is lifted off to reveal pearly white flesh that is silky smooth, succulent and just melts in the mouth. Dipped in lemon and oregano dressing for acidity, it is close to perfect.
5. Vanilla Cheesecake with Rhubarb and Yamamomo
Not all cheesecakes are made equal. Green’s dessert has a bright vanilla flavour with a texture resembling pudding or custard. Rather than rich and butter-heavy, it is wonderfully light and gelatinous. What we look forward to in a cheesecake is the cookie base, and this one didn’t disappoint. The base is buttery and loose, adding richness to the light cheesecake. Rhubarb and yamamomo berries add a nice seasonal touch to the dessert, and were just tart enough to provide some relief.
345 Des Voeux Road West, Sai Ying Pun
Tel: 2177 5050