Stephanie Wong's Roots Impresses With Cantonese-Inspired French Fare
In March 2018, chef Stephanie Wong debuted her Roots Eatery concept at PMQ’s Taste Kitchen, the restaurant incubator by local gastronomes Twins Kitchen. The trial brought Wong’s pop-up to the public, serving dishes such as heirloom tomatoes a la nage, and homage to grandma's lobster. Ten months later, the French cuisine-trained chef has opened her first independent restaurant.
Located within the Star Street precinct and neighboring popular establishments such as Artemis & Apollo and Francis, Wong’s restaurant is hard to miss. A deep-blue exterior with an eye-catching Roots logo hangs from the top corner. A large window opens up from the front, offering guests an inviting view into the long dining room, which is equipped with an open kitchen. The pale grey high ceiling of the room is inviting with industrial-inspired furniture neatly arranged across the space.
Wong stays true to her dedication to homely and wholesome cooking through the menu at Roots, featuring dishes that are French in execution, often with flavours familiar to the Cantonese palate; such combinations complement each other, all the while creating a new breed of reinvented classics. We began with shrimp toast with house-pickled onions and salmon roe. Inspired by the classic Cantonese dish, the shrimp toasts were impeccable, as the shrimp-topped bread base stays crispy, while the heat brings an almost-melting texture to the salmon roe topping. Comte cheese gougeres with kale chips and Iberico ham were dainty, filled with a warm cheese filling and unctuous Iberico ham as topping.
The foie gras terrine a la Peking Duck is a true fusion of French and Chinese, where a well-executed foie gras terrine is served alongside Chinese fritters—the type often served at breakfast with congee. Unfortunately, the fritters quickly turned soft and imparted the taste of oil they were deep-fried in. The terrine, however, was great with moderately sweet cherry compote and a handful of seasonal black cherries.
Spicy creamy local clams with black bean chive oil is Wong’s rendition of the supper classic ‘stir-fried clams with fermented black beans and hot chillies’. Roots’ version is a brothy revamp, with tender, just-opened clams enhanced by mildly hot broth dotted with fermented black beans and a hit of grapefruit juice.
Rib-eye steak with salted egg yolk crumble is a surprise among the selection of mains. USDA prime rib eye is seared on both sides, yielding a succulent texture and richness served with its jus, as well as a melting crumble of salted egg yolks. The braised endives brought bitterness which cuts through the richness from the egg yolk and steak. Maitake mushroom risotto with haricot verts and black truffle sauce is a great alternative to meaty mains. However, we would recommend a lighter hand in the black truffle sauce, as that could overwhelm the lightness of maitake mushrooms and fresh haricot verts.
Desserts are relatively simple at Roots. We ordered the pistachio cardamom financier with black sesame ice cream to share. Inspired by Wong’s travels to Turkey, the chef recreated the financier with chopped pistachios and a touch of green cardamom, while pairing the popular French treat with a black sesame ice cream, which was on the icy side but rich in nuttiness.
French and Italian bottles dominate the wine list at Roots, with four each of whites and reds available by-the-glass. There is a Chinese chardonnay on the by-the-bottle selection but on our visit was yet to be available. While wines are served at the right temperature, it would benefit if the staff can offer suggestions for pairing with food.
Service is keen at Roots, as the small front of house team share their duties in explaining of the restaurant’s concept and dish offerings to the guests. Some need to be more familiar with the food and drinks, but most are friendly and attentive enough to assist throughout the meal.
With a strong following, the restaurant has been full-house on weeknights since its opening. Roots is a good example for aspiring chefs to polish their craft and have a go at chasing their dream on opening a restaurant in Hong Kong. It shows a marvelous effort on the chef’s part and hopefully, an audience that appreciates hard work with such tasty returns.
A dinner for two including wines and service amounts to HK$1,400.
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