I had not planned to write this week’s column on Tate Dining Room & Bar, but after eating there for the first time last week as part of my own birthday festivities I felt compelled to do so. Tate unassumingly sits on the quieter part of Elgin Street near where it exits onto Caine Road. To a casual observer, it seems to possess neither the established buzz of old SoHo favourites nor the hype of newer venues. Looking in more closely, one may notice the soft lighting and furniture and modernist décor that conjures the feeling of an elegant but not ostentatious home. The feeling is reinforced upon entering and being seated by the polite staff onto the plush couches and comfortable chairs.
Tate Dining Room & Bar does indeed appear to be something of a labour of love. The brain-child of Hong Kong chef Vicky Lau, it opened in 2012 with a menu that consists only of two fixed price courses which Vicky calls her “Edible Stories”. I ordered the “Sensualist Menu” (HKD980) and the courses unfolded one by one with the whole of the meal exceeding the sum of its individual parts.
After two dainty amuse-bouches, the first course of Shima Aji, or horse mackerel, appeared. Three pieces of the marinated fish were served raw, sashimi style, each wrapped around a small portion of tart green papaya and mango salad and topped with colourful edible flowers. Little dollops of basil lime curd dotted the plate, at the centre of which was a scoop of wasabi ice cream, restrained in its heat, topped with a basil leaf. When it comes to sashimi-grade fish, I tend to prefer it in more unadulterated glory rather than with a lot of additional ingredients. Thus, while the fish was fresh and the flavours were interesting, the overall effect was more visually arresting than truly delicious.
The second course of Scallop consisted of a thinly sliced Hokkaido scallop ceviche arrayed in a circle on the plate topped with an artfully decorated mixture of miso gel, sliced black garlic daikon radish, a small serving of caviar and more edible leaves and flower petals. This course was better balanced allowing the flavour of the cured scallop to come through without being masked by something as strong as the papaya salad in the first course. Nonetheless, at this point, I was still more impressed with the lovely presentation than the food itself.
It was on the third course of Duck Foie Gras Terrine that the food started to outshine its presentation. The terrine itself consists of soy sauce-marinated duck foie gras cut into an amply sized and beautifully marbled triangle, accompanied on the plate by little rolls of duck breast, sliced quail egg, toasted pine nuts, a chewy baguette and raspberry gel. The terrine was rich, creamy and delicious and there was clearly something about the “lo sui” (master sauce) soy sauce marinate used that enhanced the flavour of the duck liver without adding saltiness.
Duck foie gras terrine
The fourth course and last of the “starters” was the Langoustine, which was served whole but for the head, and perfectly cooked just tender on top of a robust, sweet and sour mixture of mandarin apple rice, curry oil, basil pine nut mascarpone and kumquat confit. The quality of all of these ingredients was superb but I would have preferred a more savoury accompaniment to the subtle flavour and perfect texture of the langoustine, rather than the bold and somewhat too sweet accompaniment that was served.
The fifth course was a main of Iberico Pork, which included four thick slices of pork organised in the shape of a trapezoid accompanied by fennel and flavoured with red date port wine, tamarind pineapple jalapeño paste and pork jus. In contrast to the langoustine, here the flavours blended well as the rich wine sauce was perfectly balanced with a touch of fruit and a hint of spiciness from the jalapeño, none of which masked the natural richness and woody flavour of the pork.
At this point in the meal, I came to better appreciate those first two light and delicate courses that stimulated the senses but didn’t overwhelm the palate. I was thankful for the room that remained in my belly as the sixth course, a dessert of Whisky Chocolate Banana, was the highlight along with the terrine. The dessert consisted of whisky ice cream, smoked chocolate mousse, dacquoise, whisky-infused banana and warm chocolate sauce, stuffed in a glass tumbler and placed on a black slate, next to a test tube filled with more chocolate. It was a fabulously sinful concoction.
Whisky chocolate banana
This dessert was followed by a zen garden of petit fours – truly an edible rock garden in miniature – and Tate’s own take on matcha tea. By the end of the meal, I was thoroughly impressed with the creativity that was demonstrated throughout. Light flavours balancing rich ones and great care shown to both taste and presentation. As noted above, not everything worked to absolute perfection but the aggregate of the effort and the result made for an amazing meal. Who knew that one could eat so well and feel so relaxed in the heart of SoHo?
Tate Dining Room and Bar: 59 Elgin Street, SoHo (Google Maps)
Got a tip? Send it to us at email@example.com