Thu, Jan 22, 2015 - Page 12 News List

A world of menus

Delectable dim sum options aside, Hong Kong’s dining scene ranges from earthy Greek casseroles to oversized satays inspired by street food in Northern Thailand

By Frank Bruni  /  NY Times News Service

There’s more to Hong Kong’s cuisine than dim sum.

Photo: Bloomberg/ Andrey Rudakov

I go to Rome and I know that there will be prosciutto in my days, bucatini in my nights. I go to Lisbon with an uncontestable agenda of the shellfish and the sausage that the Portuguese cook so enviably.

I go to Hong Kong with no foregone conclusions, just a blank menu to be filled any number of ways. That’s what I love about it.

Technically, Hong Kong’s cuisine is Cantonese, and you should fit some dim sum into your dining. But what really distinguishes this electrifying city is its almost unrivaled culinary internationalism. It’s not just a global crossroads for business. It’s a global crossroads for food, one of a handful of commercial capitals, like New York and London, that have no particular concentration of ambitious, accomplished restaurants in any one genre. The most appealing and important places cut across all traditions. Suffice it to say that in this one polyglot city across one hungry week, I ate the whole wide world.

NUR

The main dining room opens to a terrace several stories above the streets of central Hong Kong, and on the night when I dined here, a gentle breeze blew in.

But that wasn’t all that the terrace provided. Time and again, regarding dish after dish, our server noted that some leaf, shoot or blossom had come from the greenery out there, mere strides away. Forget farm-to-table, this was patio-to-table — and a vivid illustration of Nur’s stated commitment to local products.

I had sat down to my dinner here with some doubts. The restaurant’s name recognizes the first syllable of the chef’s (Nurdin Topham) as well as the Arabic word for “light.” Its website lays out both Topham’s belief in a restrained, healthful discipline he calls “nourishing gastronomy” and his past involvement in “a somewhat unorthodox project —the deliciousness of insects.” I braced for preciousness and strange critters. I needn’t have.

Nur doesn’t give you any choices. It serves just one tasting menu of nine courses including dessert, and they came in rapid enough succession and sensible enough measure that I never felt impatient or overwhelmed (although, by the end, I felt amply filled).

There were orbs of heirloom tomato with a texture almost like sorbet and a pool of tomato water around them. A subsequent dish combined salmon eggs with walnuts and horseradish yogurt. Squid, paired with charred onions and lemon basil, was exquisitely supple and sweet, and dessert was a fitting, fetching cap to a meal with such a vegetal, herbaceous bent: ice cream that tasted like French onion soup.

Although that terrace accommodates a few diners, I sat at a spacious and relatively quiet table just inside, within view of an open kitchen more fully and pleasantly integrated into the dining room than such stages often are. And I had a glass of white Burgundy, followed by a glass of Barolo, from a wine list that covered many of Europe’s highlights.

SOUVLA

The white granite tables are rimmed in bright red. The booths and benches are upholstered in deep purple. There’s a long, long bar that rests atop a long, long rectangle of pale stones held together by a mesh cage. As visually arresting as all of this is, I’m not sure what it has to do with Greece, which is the country whose cooking Souvla pays tribute to.

But the menu would be instantly recognizable to any Athenian. The food would pass muster as well. Greeks like to think that they have some special secret for octopus that’s tenderer than anywhere else, but they’d be hard-pressed to outdo the kitchen here, which sculpted and arranged the thin columns of pale pink flesh into a sort of pyramid. It was octopus Legos.

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