Lunar New Year
As a travel blogger and occasional food critic, I receive lots of press releases every day. That includes press releases for restaurant openings, special food promotions, and set menus to be served during holiday periods.
Most of the press releases I receive for Chinese New Year set menus offer something similar to the menu served at wedding banquets, birthday parties, and other festive occasions.
They start with three appetizers. Roast suckling pig follows. Then there is something made with bird’s nest, some kind of steamed fish, some kind of vegetables ...
Fried rice? Absolutely! Noodles? Positively!
Each chef tries to tweak this or that, adding one of two special courses. But essentially it is the same basic menu.
Multiple Course Chicken Dinner
So it was refreshing to receive a press release for a set menu that varied substantially from the time-honoured theme.
But not completely surprising …
Because it was for a Western restaurant serving American style comfort food. So I wouldn’t expect such a restaurant to serve a traditional Chinese style banquet even if it was at Chinese New Year.
What I liked was that they were aspiring to serve a typical Westerns style meal with a Chinese New Year theme.
What was on offer was a multi-course dinner in which chicken would be the star attraction in tribute to the upcoming Year of the Rooster.
Now this is what I call original, and I don’t understand why nobody ever thought of it before.
12 Signs of the Chinese Zodiac
Not that you could do this for all 12 of the signs of the Chinese Zodiac.
At least one year wouldn’t work: dragons don’t exist.
A few years would provoke outrage among animal rights activists. I doubt if an endangered species such as tigers would go over very well.
Dogs and horses are treasured pets. Surely no restaurant in Hong Kong would consider featuring a menu featuring dog or horse meat.
Monkeys would raise ethical concerns. They are a bit high on the evolutionary chain to be considered.
Rats might provoke disgust.
But what about pigs, oxen, goats, rabbits, and snakes?
My buddies and I got a chance to preview the set menu before it was offered to the public. The menu - with my comment and analysis - follows.
Year of the Rooster Beast Feast
The Chop House in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula will serve a five course Year of the Rooster Beast Feast with four – or should I say seven? – chicken based dishes.
I guess it depends on how you count the courses (or should I say dishes?).
Some of the courses have more than one dish.
You will start with a chicken three ways starter, which will consist of marinated chicken skewers, creamy chicken Cuban rolls, and chicken pate (does that count as one course or three dishes?).
Next up will be a chicken and rice salad, which will feature freshly pulled, rotisserie roast chicken with crisp greens, wild rice, and a homemade Asian-style dressing.
This will be followed by a slow-cooked chicken and barley soup, which is reminiscent of a mildly spiced minestrone.
The main course will be a chicken beast feast with two chicken dishes – slow roasted French chicken and chicken meat balls in truffle cream – as well as pancetta wrapped scallop skewers on the platter.
Only the dessert course – chocolate nuomici – doesn’t feature chicken. It will be served with ginger ice cream.
I arranged a tasting dinner for myself and a couple of other dedicated foodies so that we could preview it in our respective blogs before it was offered to the public.
Comment and Analysis
The starter was a hit. The marinated chicken skewers were yummy, but it’s hard to get those wrong.
The creamy chicken Cuban rolls resembled the way lots of Chinese restaurants are serving spring rolls these days – long and slender rather than short and fat.
So it was a pleasant surprise (unless you read the menu carefully) to bite in and discover something totally unexpected inside: a mouth-wateringly creamy substance that defies description!
Let me just say, “It was delicious!”
I knew that the chicken liver pate would be good. Not sure why, because I’m not a big fan of chicken liver, but I AM a big fan of pate.
Was it good? No! It was FANTASTIC!!! It totally exceeded my expectations!!!
It was rich, but not too rich. It was creamy, but not too creamy. It totally hit all the right notes!
I asked what it consisted of and was told that in addition to chicken liver, there was a bit of minced chicken meat and cream.
I KNEW there was a secret ingredient! OMG!!!
If asked to describe it with just one adjective, it would have to say, “Sublime”!
I thought the salad was excellent, but I’m not sure if my dining companions agreed. I was the only one that went back for seconds – followed by thirds.
The soup was far more exciting than the description on the menu suggested, and it aroused a spirited discussion.
One of my dining companions said it was a typical Chinese style soup, but I said it was more typically American – or Italian to be precise.
Not to worry … We all thought it was delicious.
The medley of main courses was served in a baking pan – fresh, it would seem, out of the oven. The most exciting component – what appeared to be potato rosti – was not even mentioned on the menu!
Dessert was the only course – except for the soup – that was individually served. There were raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and a scoop of ginger ice cream.
I washed mine down with a cup of espresso and Bailey’s Irish Cream. One of my dining companions followed suit.
Inspiration for the Menu
I asked about the inspiration for the menu, and got the following response from Max Rhodes, General Manager, the Wooloomooloo Group:
“The Chop House is all about classic grill favorites and comfort food, and chicken is one of our major ingredients.
“We have a rotisserie in the restaurant, and we roast French chicken daily for our ala-carte menu items such as salads with pulled chicken and roast spring chicken.
“And with the Year of the Rooster coming up, we thought it was the perfect timing to create a chicken-based menu that’s both delicious and suitable for the festival.
“Chicken is a very versatile ingredient, and we use it in the menu with East Meets West flavors. For instance, for the chicken and rice salad, we use an Asian style dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar.”
I also asked for Maxi’s recommendations pairing wines with the set menu.
He said the restaurant was featuring two wines in January, and he thought they would both go well with the meal.
“The wines are from St. Hallett Winery, Barossa and Eden Valleys in South Australia,” Max says.
“They use the very best products and do as little as possible to them so as to highlight their quality.”
Poacher’s 2014 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (with a dash of Riesling)
“It is beautifully crisp and refreshing, it’s a great blend of tropical fruit, herbaceous notes and rounded citrus,” Max says.
“It goes particularly well with the first two courses of our CNY beast feast menu.”. HKJ$80 a glass, HK$400 a bottle.
Gamekeeper’s 2013 Shiraz Grenache Touriga
“It’s an easy drinking red, amazingly well balanced with soft spice, juicy red fruit and floral flavors with soft tannins.,” Max says. “It pairs well with the main course and even the dessert.” HK $90 a glass glass, HK$450 a bottle.
The two wines will be available for the whole month of January and possibly February, as well.
I also asked Max if any of the dishes would remain on the menu as ala carte dishes after the promotion.
“Probably not as we like to create special items for different occasions but some of the dishes in the menu are actually a twist of what we offer ala-carte,” he says.
“For example, we have the chicken and rice salad on the menu, but we serve it with a mild chili lemon dressing instead of the Asian style dressing. We also have Cuban rolls in our bar snack section, but we usually use pork and ham for that instead of chicken.”
The Rooster Beast Feast will be served from 28 to 31 January.
Priced at HK$298 (plus service charge), this set dinner represents excellent value. There is a two-person minimum.
The Chop House is open for lunch and dinner. It features an indoor space seating 70 people and a massive outdoor space seating 160 people.
The Chop House, Shop 3013C, 3rd Floor, Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 2295-3200.
The Chop House is located within a short walk of the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It is across the street from The Mira.