There are restaurants that succeed because they serve some of the best food you’ve ever tasted. Then there are those that make it because they’ve managed to milk a certain niche. Alan Yau’s restaurants hum the latter tune. The Hong Kong-born, British-raised restaurateur has rarely tried to force haute cuisine into his portfolio (his Japanese joint Sake No Hana being the one exception). Rather, his outlets, including Wagamama and Hakkasan in London, all became famous because they created mass-friendly Asian fare that had been tweaked and re-tweaked to suit Western palates. While Yau has swapped sweet and sour pork and mapo tofu for a pan-western menu at his latest restaurant, Bettys Kitschen (yes, we did spell the name correctly) essentially follows the same business strategy – this time, targeting the lucrative market of young and affluent patrons who want high-end fare without the stuffy implications of traditional fine dining.
With a little help from his designer-prodigy friend Andre Fu, Yau has transformed the former Harlan’s space into a gorgeously whimsical venue, adorned with rough stone walls, trays of fresh produce, potted herbs, Edison lights and waitresses who flit around the dining room in tartan circle skirts. It’s an expensive restaurant that has been carefully packaged to be inoffensively fun and casual (cue deliberate decision not to change cutlery in between courses). On looks and concept alone, Bettys needs almost no improvement. On the food front though, the kitchen still seems to be experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.
Starters are generally good. The picturesque, compressed watermelon salad ($88), prepared sous-vide, is served as a dense, juice-swelled block topped with figs, tomatoes, raspberries, avocados and a light shower of balsamic. The result is a simple composition of summery flavours – thoroughly refreshing given the humble ingredients. Another attractive salad combines six varieties of fresh heirloom tomatoes on one large plate, beautifully arranged around a generous scoop of burrata cheese ($158), delicately seasoned with flecks of salt and freshly torn herbs. It’s delicious for the first few bites, with the different tomatoes – some sweet, some tart – adding varying flavours to the dish. It’s almost unfortunate that the creamy blob of burrata becomes overkill after a few more forkfuls, proving against all odds that there can be such a thing as too much cheese.
Other parts of the menu require some careful fine tuning. Skip the sides entirely – the brie and truffle gratin ($88) is watery and bland while the duck fat fries ($48) are despairingly limp. Mains fare better, though not without their own pros and cons. The grilled sea scallops ($298) suffer from a seasoning deficiency but the accompanying slices of black pudding are delectably gamey and deep-flavoured. Calamari tubes stuffed with a Basque-influenced mix of finely diced garlic, onions and peppers ($188) could use more spice to coax out the optimum flavours, but the bed of Venere black rice is near ethereal, sopped with lobster sauce and mixed with bits of chorizo and purple perilla leaves that add beautiful floral nuances.
Bettys may not serve the best food you’ll ever stomach but the restaurant has a look, concept and business formula that’s designed for success. After all, if Wagamama worked, then why shouldn’t this? Dorothy So
Shop 2075, 2/F, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central, 2979 2100; www.bettys.com.hk. Mon-Fri 8am-10pm & Sat-Sun 10am-10pm.
Compressed watermelon salad $88
Heirloom tomato salad with burrata $158
Grilled sea scallops with black pudding and apple marmalade $298
Stuffed calamari with chorizo Venere black rice and lobster sauce $188
Duck fat fries $48
Brie and truffle gratin $88
Harlequin soufflé $98
Ten per cent service charge $96.60
Total (for two) $1,062.60
*Photography by Janice Leung