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Brick House [Hong Kong]

  • PhilD Jun 2, 2012 03:41 AM

Lots of new openings in HK, in-fact so many it is tricky to keep up. Looks like South American/Mexican is on trend at the moment with a few new places slated to open, and a guest Mexican chef at the Four Seasons lounge restaurant.

Last night we popped into Brick House, which is sort of in soft opening mode (although at full price). Its tucked down a lane near LKF and so is a bit tricky to find (behind the handbag stand) and not well signposted yet. We had intended to just check it out and grab an early Friday drink, but we thought we should try a few snacks, we liked the a lot and ended up cancelling our dinner reservation to try more of the menu.

We nearly left after the second drink because the Argentinian Malbec was so grim: really industrial tastes. We had left most of the glass and asked for the bill. One of the owners (Howard – I think) asked us if anything was wrong, on hearing we thought the wine was bad he replaced our unfinished glasses with another choice and asked us to stay and give it another go. It turned out to be a very drinkable red from South Africa (and we bought a bottle). Top marks for great service!

First off was fried beetroot with a chili mayonnaise. I love beetroot but have never had it fried like a chip; but it works. The chili mayo was a bit underpowered but still good. We then headed for Guacamole with four salsa and pickled vegetables. They seem to serve homemade chips, the guacamole was good and chunky and each salsa had its own personality, which made it a pretty good dish.

We then tried a few tacos, a nice battered fish version and then pulled pork, both very good individually but a little too similar in flavor as they had very similar garnishes, maybe an idea to differentiate them a little more. We finished with a tuna tostada which was OK but not as good as the preceding dishes.

Service is still finding its feet, and they clearly still have the training wheels on. But that said it is good and friendly and they are having a lot of fun, which is infectious. Is it true Mexican? I am not expert so best to wait until Uncle Yabai passes judgment to assess its authenticity. However to me it is pretty good and deserves a return trip – it is nothing at all like the gloopy Tex Mex found in many places.

My prediction is that it is going to be as hip and popular as Yardbird.

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  1. Phil,

    Tricky to keep up? So true, as Brick House wasn't on my radar until I saw this thread just now. I can always forgive problems during a restaurants early days as long as the staff handle it well. That makes all the difference. I doubt I'll make it to Friday without heading to Brick House to check it out.

    Years ago, HK seemed so caught up in French food then came the wave (finally) of good Italian ... then a recent wave of Spanish and suddenly, right off the back of that, it's Mexican.

    Let's keep this to Brick House. Will start another thread for general Mexican as I went to Taco Chaca on Saturday and Four Seasons lunch today.

    1. Tried to go to Brick House for lunch on Friday, and here are a few things I learned:

      1) It's really hard to find this place unless someone tells you. I walked around and around and only after rereading Phil's behind-the-handbag-stand comment did I find it. It's up the back of the very narrow laneway next to 20 D'Aguilar St. In fact the guy selling handbags has to move out of the way so you can squeeze into the laneway. Actually, it's next to Fa Zu Jie (if you know it) which is supposed to be a truly great place -- my foodie friends raving about it.

      2) It's not open for lunch. They plan to open around 5-6pm and close 2am.

      3) Although they wouldn't serve me lunch, the staff were eating and it looked really good.

      4) They have one long table for a group booking but all other tables are on first-come-first-served basis.

      5) Nice simple/rustic/cool looking decor. I can imagine this place pumping busy at midnight.

      6) Their one-page website (http://www.brickhouse.com.hk/) just links to their fb page (http://www.facebook.com/brickhousehk) but worth checking out as it has lots of pics of their food & drinks.

      7) I'm going Tues night so will add more after that.

      4 Replies
      1. re: p0lst3r

        Went last night. No longer in soft opening and it was absolutely packed, which says something for a Tuesday night.

        This place is very rock n roll. Nothing subtle about the staff, the music or the menu. Was a lot of fun.

        The staff seemed a little overrun at times but they were really friendly, knowledgeable and trying hard. As one friend pointed out, they were actually using their peripheral vision which is often lacking in local service.

        I'd say Phil's prediction that "it is going to be as hip and popular as Yardbird" is well on its way to fulfillment.

        1. re: p0lst3r

          And the food.....?

          1. re: PhilD

            I didn't want to order the "Mexican-style street corn" as, to me, it looked ridiculous - completely caked in chili mayo and cheese flakes. Do they really eat this on the streets in Mexico? I guess it's just a rock n roll name they've given it. Others at my table ordered and insisted I try. It was pretty over the top (ie. the flavour of corn largely drowned out) but not as bad as I thought it would be.

            The taco platter provided a selection and I agree they weren't distinctly different enough for any to stand out. The first taco I tried I actually thought was fish but turned out to be chicken -- the flesh was soft like fish and not distinctly tasting like chicken - odd. The beef looked like American BBQ style but something in the flavouring was almost middle eastern. One thing I loved was the tortillas themselves - obviously hand made on the premises and quite rustic in appearance and texture.

            I tried the shrimp ceviche and it was unusual. The shrimp were curled up and firm, almost like they were cooked, but I didn't mind that. What disappointed me was the rich tomato-based sauce they swimming in. I'm sure it's an intentional style of theirs to turn up the volume (rock n roll ceviche) but I much prefer a lighter and fresher dressing.

            Had a couple of their house margaritas which includes pineapple juice. The first one I had was very restrained on the pineapple so really good. The second one had too much pineapple which made it sweet -- not so good.

            I know I don't sound too positive on the food but it is good and the over-the-top style suits the place. Difference is I could only eat at Brick House occasionally but Yardbird's cleaner/lighter style is something I could eat often.

            1. re: PhilD

              Dear Foodie PhilD and P0lst3r,
              I stopped by Brick House yesterday (Friday night) and loved it. I had an out of office meeting in Central so I was able to make it there around 5pm, before their kitchen opened, so (friend and i) started off with some drinks, pretty good and after an hour (when the kitchen opened) I order a taco platter and ate it all (my friend ate the veggie one)

              I really like the vibe here and how it's tucked behind the handbag stall. I would definitely be back!

              Please recommend more hip and happening places, cause I really dig your tastebuds!

               
        2. Did you see Food & Wine section of SCMP today? There's a Q&A with the creator/chef of BrickHouse.

          What a nob!! Seriously, this guy is so cocky! You'd think he'd have learned that being humble and respectful generally goes a long way in Asia. Instead he's come in talking like a US Top Chef contestant (everybody is crap, I'm the best). People in this town loathe such attitude.

          It starts with "This is what I know. This is what I do. Take it or leave it."

          Tells his version of the story of how he got to HK. He's in Cambodia and says to his travel agent: "I need the cheapest plane ticket to a metropolitan city in Asia". Four days later he's in HK. Ok, so he's telling us he didn't particularly want HK, we were merely a random choice for him.

          Needed to make some money, was staying in Chungking Mansions: "I got a job cooking barbecue at Blue Smoke. I didn't stay long." Nice one -- he's saying the place is not good enough for him. Oh, and probably just outed them for hiring him without a work permit.

          Later gives some rhetoric about supporting local people as it's his duty. Hm, both times I went to BH the waiter was certainly not from HK.

          What is his favourite thing to eat in HK?

          "It's taken me a long time to find good places. My girlfriend is Cantonese, so she helps me out." Again, most of what HK has to offer is not good enough for him and, really, he couldn't be bothered looking himself as, well, you know, HK wasn't really a conscious choice for him in the first place. Actually the chef was there at BH with his girlfriend when I checked it out before opening. He let her do all the talking. My guess is that she was involved in bankrolling or getting backers for this too.

          "I have yet to have a good Vietnamese meal here. I'm thinking I could open up a Vietnamese restaurant right now and do better than anybody else. It's ridiculous". I'd like to hear where he's eating. Tried Chom Chom around the corner from BrickHouse? I doubt he knows it exists. Food is beautiful, crafted by a Cordon Bleu-trained Vietnamese chef, and cheap to boot.

          This BH chef kind of turns me off the place. I guess he's too Rock n Roll for me :-|

          10 Replies
          1. re: p0lst3r

            Meant to try it but it has a private party the night I was there. Sounds like another idiot from out of town. Oh well. Let me see if I can find the article and take a look

            Blue Smoke is pretty bad though. Been there 3 times and mediocre at best.

            Does it say where he learnt his cooking? Mexican, Vietnamese, ... seems like a pretty mixed bag.

            1. re: HKTraveler

              Seems his last venture, La Condesa in Dallas, was his first experience with Mexican food, was funded by someone else, had mixed reviews and folded after 15 months (back in May 2009). According to SCMP article, he soon sold all his belongings, moved to Cambodia for a while and then turned up in HK 14 months ago.

              http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2009/...

              Look, I'm all for someone reinventing themselves and creating a funky restaurant/bar. Fantastic - I really admire that. Just don't be a jerk about it.

              1. re: p0lst3r

                First rule in the business is to never trash your competitors publicly. And from what you write, this guy is doing the complete different thing. When a guest asks me about another restaurant close to me I will tell him that he cant go wrong if I know it is good or I will just say I haven't been there, if I know it is not good.

                1. re: NilesCable

                  I haven't been to Brickhouse yet but Jen has who is also more familiar with Mexican food. She described it as "Yardbird without the food for 20 year olds".

                  Apparently her and the group she was with didn't bother finishing most of their food. It was apparently heaving so not sure whether it was just an off day or not...

                  I get the feeling that this may be the best Mexican in town but that isn't saying much.

                  1. re: TomEatsHK

                    We headed back there last Saturday and again had some good enjoyable food. We do tend to eat at 7:00ish and snack whilst we have some drink so we miss the rush and I wonder if this is the difference between ours and Jen's experience. I know little of Mexican food but it hits the spot for us. We then headed to Chica for Peruvian which I need to write up.

                    I though the owner was local, and the interview is with "Austin" the Chef? I think they do have a FOH service problem, the bar staff are especially slow. How long does it take three underemployed barmen to pour a glass of wine at 7:00 in an empty bar - 15 minutes isn't the answer. When the diner next to us was asked if he ordered a drink his reply "yes, I ordered it yesterday and it still isn't here" went over the head of the waitress. Time to swop out the "friends" and employ some professionals?

                    1. re: PhilD

                      Yeah, I hate the place so much I've been three times ;-) and I still say the food is good and appropriate for the type of venue. It's a bar with surprisingly nice food, for a bar. However I can't stop going to Mr Taco Truck around the corner for more traditional/simple mexican. But it's not a place you want to linger a moment after your last bight.

                      Had same problem with drinks at BH. Can put up with a wait for a cocktail but my marg turned up before my friends' beer which was ordered at the same time. You can't make a person who ordered a beer or wine wait too long.

                      Had to giggle at the "swapping out the friends for professionals" comment - too true!!

                  2. re: NilesCable

                    I also read the interview in the SCMPY. This guy is not a "chef", he's a line cook. I give them 6 months before their HK moneybags backer gets tired and moves on to the next big thing.

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      Wow Mexican is trending? LOL I'd think with the experience I have I could open my own place and make better food than him but I'll stay in the United States for now. Every time I go back to HK I don't bother with Mexican food since Los Angeles has so much but what do HK natives like about this type or cuisine or are they just very willing to try new things?

                      1. re: Johnny L

                        Johnny - what do the natives like. First, I would say variety, its a big city and can absorb all sorts of cuisine. Second, they do like quality across all types - hence if you don't deliver the crowd moves on. And third, they like the new and fashionable. So yes some Mexican/South American coming through, but Italian and French Bistro openings are probably outnumbering them three or four to one. And then there are the new Chinese places including cantonese and regional. Much happening.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          That's why I love Hong Kong it changes so fast in comparison to where I'm from.

            2. I own a restaurant in Austin, Texas called La Condesa (www.lacondesa.com/austin). We are a James Beard Award nominated restaurant (highest food honor for a restaurant in the States) helmed by Executive Chef Rene Ortiz. Chef Austin Fry of Brickhouse used to work for me. Most of the items on the menu at Brickhouse (both food & cocktails) are lifted directly from our menu at La Condesa in both Austin and our other location in Napa Valley. I realize that chefs all over the world get inspiration from each other, but the Brickhouse menu, food and drinks are carbon copies of most of our menu items. Even menu items that have appeared on our menus since Chef Austin left the States. Now, it doesn't even bother me that much that Chef Austin has created a copy of La Condesa, but give credit where credit is due. In the restaurant information and bio, Chef Austin has claimed that he came up with this menu in tandem with Chef Rene Ortiz while doing extensive research in Mexico City. This is flat out not true. Chef Austin did not 'create' anything with Chef Rene. The story about 'extensive' research in Mexico City is a pure fabrication. He was present on a trip to Mexico City with Chef Rene, but Chef Rene and Chef Rene alone created the menu at La Condesa. Chef Austin worked under him and had no input on the menu. You know what they say... imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Chef Austin should at least have the integrity to be honest about the 'conception' of the Brickhouse concept and menu. It's bad enough to take what he learned and copy those items verbatim at Brickhouse and make up some story about how he developed them, but to lift items from our menu that we developed after he left La Condesa and pass them off as his own is disappointing. Just look at our menus on our website and Google us to see pictures of the food. Chef Rene Ortiz of La Condesa in Austin, Texas deserves that credit. Stop by La Condesa in Austin, Napa Valley and Los Angeles (Feb. 2013) for the real thing. Xie xie HK!!!

              9 Replies
              1. re: jesseherman

                Like I said, this guy Austin is not a Chef, he's a line cook.

                1. re: jesseherman

                  Interesting, thanks for the insight.

                  1. re: jesseherman

                    Well, but this is what you have to live with if you are in the Restaurant business. I can't count on how many times a cook has taken recipes from me to another Restaurant. And most times to Restaurants located close to mine. If they take it all the way to HK I wouldn't really mind, bless them if they are happy with telling fairy tales of how they came to the recipes as long as they don't hurt my business with it.

                    1. re: jesseherman

                      Wow that’s really interesting... However I don’t see many items that are the same on your website as stated, other than a few Tacos and most dishes seem to be different. I don’t know many chefs that could work at a place and not get inspiration from it though. In addition when we sat at the chef’s table, Austin even told that he used to work at La Condesa and to check it out if we were in the US… Looks like they had a bad run with a few of the restaurants going bust and closing down around the US though... :-| I have also had similar dishes in my local Mexican restaurant in London, Taqueria which I love to and recommend anyone in London to try and I am so happy to find a place that serves very similar food in Hong Kong. I have to say in their defence, Brickhouse is one of my favourite places to hang out right now in Central and I am not sure why people in this post thinks Austin is a jerk. The last few times we have sat in front of him on the chefs table and he really takes his time to look after the guests and really interact with us and is a lovely person indeed. The food has gotten better since they got their licence and bar seems to be doing a better job in turning over drinks. Last time I went they started using Japanese ice which made a huge difference in how quickly the drinks got watery as it gets very hot outside in the ally! Service can be swamped at times and they did have a rough patch at the start it seems… In any case I love the atmosphere here and nowhere in Hong Kong has a place like this that feels so much like Brick lane in London! It’s a shame to see people really try hard to dissect every little detail and really try to find as much flaw as possible to try to ruin someone’s’ hard work. I am just happy to enjoy it and don’t really care about the derivation as PhilD said!

                      1. re: globalfoodie1981

                        Globalfoodie1981, are you somehow related to the establishment? I've been to Brickhouse twice, and the food is mediocre at the very best. I could care less what stories the chef made up, but I will never go there for their grub. I would say that it's a cool place to have drinks. It's got the whole "back alley secret joint" going for it, and that is quite appealing for Hong Kong. However, there are so many other Mexican/South American joints to choose from now! Chicha is so much prettier (also on a quiet small street).Taco Truck has better tacos. Plus the brand new Socialito on Wyndham that looks super promising. (must try soon!) Brickhouse beware!

                        1. re: JustEatYourFood

                          Must disagree about Taco Truck I was really underwhelmed by the food there including the tacos. Very cheap but also very small portions and lacking in flavour. I do like Chica but it is Peruvian so a little different and plan to try Socialito soon (although don't like that clubby part of Wyndam St). Given how busy Brick House is I doubt they are too concerned about rivals....but I do want to try the food again soon to see if it has matured.

                          1. re: JustEatYourFood

                            Tried Brick House again on Friday and it is now really popular. It opens at 6:00 with no reservations so there is a queue to get in! Tables are now limited to 90 mins in order to keep them turning, but service is now quick so that's not an issue. If you get there later in the evening expect to wait 2 plus hours but the take your phone number so you can head out for a drink if the bar is too packed for you.

                            It is definitely a place to be seen, a very mixed crowd with hipsters mixing with a few older expat Americans looking for the taste of home (not certain it is). The soundtrack is pretty good, the bar now a lot more efficient, and the atmosphere is really good - as I thought when they opened it would be a LKF Yardbird and it feels like it now is.

                            What about the food: IMO it is getting a lot better, the guacamole salsa's used to be interesting but have improved - a black one with kidney bean and corn kernels was very moreish - although the chips are now far too salty - they seem to have changed and I suspect they are now bought in. The beetroot chips are still good, the tacos are excellent (a good fish and good pork with lots of cabbage) and a stringy cheese dish that came with scissors was great. We were less impressed with the corn but it seems popular.

                            They seem to have cycled a lot of the staff with mainly locals working FOH and the food, service is much improved and good fun. I didn't see Austin (the chef) behind the bar so he may now be flat out in the kitchen. I still don't know if it is real Mexican but it stands above nearly all the other Mexican style food I have tried (apart from the guest spot at the Four Seasons) so it stays firmly on my restaurant rotation.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Went back to Brick House last night, first time in a long time.

                              Turned up 10:10pm for dinner, was really busy. Flaky girl playing with mobile phone at front door took my name and said it'd be 15mins wait for table, even though to me it looked like list was all crossed out, so she said to have drink at bar. Fine -- once I found a spot to stand I went back to her and pointed and said "will be right there so grab me when table is free".

                              After few minutes I noticed tables emptying ... waited ... had another drink .. she's still playing with mobile phone ... waited. Thought maybe people before me or something (what's going on?) so waited. More tables emptied up. Nearly 30mins had gone by so I go back to her -- still playing with her mobile phone -- omg so sorry!!! Seat you immediately!

                              So get seated at one of the many now-empty tables. But they'd just closed the main menu so only few tacos on offer. I had watched them serving all the usual stuff while I was waiting, must have missed it by minutes.

                              I appealed to waitress that we'd been waiting for long time and they'd forgotten to seat us. She said "oh we couldn't find you, thought you had gone" which is utter rubbish as I was standing exactly where I'd explicitly shown her I'd be standing and the door girl had already acknowledged her lapse.

                              Food was fine but four tacos and corn chips is all that was on offer. Lame. Service was stupid and run by young bimbos who don't know what they're doing.

                              Feel like it'll be a long time, if ever, before I go back. They should have ditched the funky friends for functional staff long ago.

                              1. re: p0lst3r

                                I was there last night and it was fine - agree it has the usual fashionistas on the front desk but I found the service fine with a great waitress really looking after us even though it was a packed Friday. It will be interesting how they go at Clockenfest this weekend - a music festival that seems to be trying with the food.