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Jun 4, 2011 08:26 PM

Bettys [Hong Kong]

Located in the IFC Bettys is Alan Yau's first restaurant in HK. Alan made his name by founding Wagamama in London before selling and moving on to open other restaurant like the Michelin starred modern cantonese restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha. So it is interesting that his first venture in the city he was born in should be European.

We headed there for a late brunch a few Sundays ago and really enjoyed the meal. It is a very light modern space with a harbour view, lots of whimsical design touches, and crates of fresh fruit and veg as decorations. It was quite full at lunchtime with lots of families, and whilst service stared off well it fell apart as the meal wore on. We had a couple of largish starters (I think they are meant to be mains) including a low temperature cooked egg with ham, and a good tomato and Burrata salad with wonderful fresh cheese (although the heirloom tomatoes could have been a bit better). We followed with pretty good steaks and then some good cheese - all in all very satisfying.

We followed up with a Saturday dinner, the menu is different but still stays in the modern French/Spanish vein. The dishes in the evening are more complex and very well presented. A pea soup poured over lobster and garnishes at the table, a cheese souffle served alongside a pool side of cheese sauce with ham, mushroom and asparagus garnishes. For mains a whole roast chicken served in a cast iron casserole, cannelloni with sweetbreads and carabineros (large Spanish red prawns) and some very well presented lamb. All the dishes were excellent and again really challenge the standards of most of the mid tier European restaurants in HK (we ate at Isola earlier in the week and were very underwhelmed), but sensible to watch the bill as we racked up $2,100 for lunch (we explored the wine list) then $1,600 for dinner.

The wine list is good and well priced. It is nice to get away from endless Bordeaux and Burgundy so good to see some interesting selections - I am sorry to say they have run out of the Albarino at $340 (I think we drank it all). Service was better in the evening although the restaurant wasn't packed, irritatingly they seem to fill the tables closest to the door first. I can see why they do it as the sight of a busy room will attract the punters. But with the large open door space looking into a mall it does reinforce the fact you are eating in a shopping centre which jars a bit with the atmosphere they are trying to create.

good place - useful to have on the list for some good food in central

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  1. "So it is interesting that his first venture in the city he was born in should be European."

    That's because anything like Wagamama, Hakkasan and Yauatcha would never survive in Hong Kong. The food is just that bad and people in Hong Kong would be able to tell in a second.

    22 Replies
    1. re: hong_kong_foodie

      Agree about Wagamama, although I never ventured in when Alan owned it - however HK has its fair share of chains that are not culinary hotspots that do good business. However, I think both Hakkasan and Yauatcha would stack up quite well with the mid market here in HK (when did you last try them?). After all we love a bit of glamour here and Aqua Group seems to pull in the cash but maybe that's why Yau chose a European theme as that segment is well served already.

      Yauatcha's dim sum in particular are pretty good and have the finesse that you would expect in HK. That said their price point may not go down well. IMO a lot of London foodies don't like them because they are too up-market and thus not perceived as "real". Why Chinese (and Thai, Indian etc) food is viewed with suspicion in Europe if it is up-market does puzzle me. I do think Yau deserves credit for being pioneering not going down the standard "Chinatown stereotype" path in the UK.

      As to his choice of a European theme I think it is really on trend as its niche is produce driven quite simple food with some eclectic and interesting choices. Lots of stuff on the menu is more London/Sydney French and Spanish than traditional Paris/Barcelona.

      1. re: PhilD

        I've been to Wagamama many times over the years and always hated the food. It's quite an abomination (in this case, to Japanese food) and the only reason I have gone multiple times is because (1) I was desperate for something Asian in London and (2) my co-workers (Westerners who don't know better) insist on going there.

        I also went to Hakkasan for dinner a few years ago with a friend originally from Hong Kong and we both thought the food was awful and extremely overpriced. The food was very much in line with what Westerners think is good Chinese food (e.g. very sweet flavors with heavy use of sauces) but it is absolutely appalling to the Chinese palate.

        Yau is clearly a smart and savvy businessman, so he knows his "Cantonese food" won't survive here. If he thought it was remotely good by local standards he would have brought those places over, not something European.

        1. re: hong_kong_foodie

          Totally agree about Wagamama, I only went once, and once was one time too many. However, I still maintain Yauatcha would stack up with many reasonable mid level Dim Sum places in HK and would be better than many others, their venison pastries were excellent. I only went to Hakkasan once but thought it was pretty good. Although as I said up-thread their price points would probably kill them.

          It is an interesting to debate what HK people want; from observation, they appear to like very well packaged restaurant concepts, given the prevalence of and popularity of the myriad of chains with high quality, expensive, fit-outs in all the shopping malls. If this niche wasn't already so full my guess is Yau could have done quite well here. Equally, I would argue that the food quality at very popular places like Cafe de Coral and Maxims, whilst great for a quick lunch, isn't going to win awards, but they have big lines at lunchtimes. So I would say HK diners like a wide range of things for many different reasons - convenience, image, fashion, price, and/or food quality.

          I find HK is quite an amazing dining scene with amazing breadth and depth. To me one thing is certain: local diners do like variety and enjoy a vast range of styles and types of food. Like any international city the population that lives here likes to try different foods (you don't need to be vain to do so). I don't really see where Charles' criticism of HK'ers liking foreign food comes from; are they meant to only like their indigenous food so that tourists can get an authentic experience?

          Bettys, IMO seems to fit into a new niche in the HK dining scene. That is a fresh produce driven menu. A few others are in the same space Posto Publico and Simplylife Bread & Wine spring to mind, but I think Bettys is in a higher league. It is definitely a lot better than many of the mid-market or even up-market western places that are very popular.

          Is Bettys good? Yes. Do Yau's other restaurants in London have any relevance to Bettys? No.

          1. re: hong_kong_foodie

            You've got to remember that Wagamama first opened something like 12 years ago in London. Back then it really was cutting edge and in the context of London's food scene then - excellent.

            The world moves on though.

            1. re: TomEatsHK

              More like 20 years, the first one opened in '92 and then Yau sold his share in '97 so slightly odd to criticise him for something he sold 14 years ago.

              1. re: PhilD

                Wow that is a long time. I actually remember queuing for hours for the first one as a young kid (I would have been 12 I guess) with my dad.

                It was the absolute coolest thing to do!

        2. re: hong_kong_foodie

          Agree with you, Wagamama, Hakkasan and Yauatcha would never survive in Hong Kong. It is a pretty obvious point. Anyone who has a little understanding of what HK local people eat can see that.

          1. re: skylineR33

            Well the guys behind Posto Pubblico seem to think they can make a fair go of it with Cantopop... :P

            1. re: harryrodgers

              A lot of Hong Kongers are pretty vain and love anything ' foreign/western'. Now, with the influx of equally vain if not more so mainland visitors, any outfit with a foreign name serving foreign food located in IFC should survive with no problem, IMO!!!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Charles - do PRC visitors make it to the IFC? Are they not herded into restaurants and shops in Kowloon by their tour guides (can't lose those commissions)?

                1. re: PhilD

                  There are tons of 'free to roam around', non tour group visitors nowadays! Not only do they visit IFC or Pacific Mall, some even venture as far as Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong!! You'll be amazed by the number of them having afternoon tea at the Peninsula or dinner at L'Atelier??!! No my friend, their tastes extend from shopping at Louis Vitton and Chanel to eating at Michelin star restaurants like Amber and Caprice! Whether some of them still order 7-Up to pour into their glass of 1982 Lafite, this I do not know!! Ha!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    Not forgetting those making the baby milk powder run via Lo Wu. :)

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      "7-Up to pour into their glass of 1982 Lafite"

                      umm... I wonder if anyone has actually see this with their own eyes, if yes, may be an isolated incident, or maybe it is a cooked bottle ? It helps to make it more drinkable if this is the case. Who knows, there are many faked Lafite out there, an empty Lafite bottle can sell for good money on ebay. I cannot blame people mixed it with coke in this case.

                      Anyway, back to food. If indeed those 'visitors' are looking for top of the line things, Alan Yau in the culinary world is never Lafite in the wine world. He is more like Le Petit Mouton, has anyone ever seen those 'visitors' drink Le Petit Mouton ? ha.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        My brother-in-laws have seen this happened quite a few times in China whilst having dinner with clients and gov., officials. That was a few years back. May be they have grown to know better?! They said the Coke or 7-Ups made the wine less 'tannic'!! Ha!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          I heard stories from my family who used to do business in China during the 1980s, that some party cadre members and high ranking military officials, during lavish banquet dinners, would splurge on XO, and some going as far as having it as a breakfast drink with cigarettes.

                          nd on the subject of HK people and food/drink culture (or in some cases lack thereof), there was a period in time during the 1990s when many HK and Chinese and Taiwanese expats (the ones born into wealth) would hit up karaoke clubs and the in-drink at the time was not whiskey + coke mix, but whiskey + green tea (and sent sales of bottled green tea through the roof). Maybe those living in Toronto/Richmond Hill now who were college aged students at the time who like to go out and party 蒲, can attest...

                          Of course one cannot forget the term for nouveau riche in the 1970s/1980s when there was a major stock market boom, "shark fin over rice" where it was taken literally in some cases.

                          1. re: K K

                            Whiskey + green tea doesn't sound bad, actually ;-)

                      2. re: Charles Yu

                        Charles - I will keep an eye open this lunchtime as I work at the IFC. Clearly there are some PRC visitors (mainly on business?) who venture over to Central but the influx is nothing like the volume in Ocean Centre and the rest of Canton Road. Unlike Kowloon there are no queues to get into LV, Prada, Hermes etc in Central.

                  2. re: harryrodgers

                    Speaking of Posto Pubblico, has anyone tried their bucatini all'amatriciana? I really enjoyed the one at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and am wondering if I should give the one at Posto Pubblico a try.

                    1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                      Posto Pubblico is pretty dire. If you are competent enough to open a can of tomatoes and reduce it/ add basic spices you can probably do better.

                      That said I end up there once a month with expat friends. I do like the "vibe"/ drinks.

                      1. re: TomEatsHK

                        I went there for lunch and had their "grandma" pizza slice. Nothing special. Fair play to them for trying to incorporate local produce but their "house made" mozzarella (made from curd not scratch) was pretty rubbery.

                        Can't comment on their dinner service but the menu looks a little dull.

                        1. re: TomEatsHK

                          Much the same as you Tom, we stop by for a glass of wine and snacks with friends - that said, choose carefully and some of the menu is OK, but not a destination for food more for the atmosphere.

                          1. re: TomEatsHK

                            Agreed. Pretty lame, even with their "no service charge" policy. On the other hand, great place to hunt if you are into bored expat tai tais with absentee husbands and nothing to do.