Date of review: August 18, 2016 | Reviewed by: Wilson Fok
The Hong Kong branch of lifestyle club Potato Head is located in Sai Ying Pun. The space comprises of a lifestyle shop, a cafe, a music room and an Indonesian restaurant named Kaum. Guests must pass through the cafe and souvenir shop before entering Kaum through the curtain, revealing an elongated dining area, with an open kitchen and high bar stools along one side and a sharing butcher’s table by the window. Aside from the main dining space, guests can also settle at the quieter dining room adjacent to the main area. The side room may not be the best place for the live view of food preparation but it is more spacious than the main room. The tribal prints on the ceiling and along the walls are more visible during the day, while soft lighting warms up the dining space at night.
The communal tables pose a challenge to guests, who are forced to share seating along small unmoveable benches, which are difficult to settle on or get off from elegantly (wearing short skirts to Kaum are not recommended). Ventilation is yet another issue, as open-fire cooking and charcoal grilling generates a lot of smoke and while seats by the open kitchen gets you a live view of the food preparation, but also a heavy hit of smoke and smell of grease.
The word ‘Kaum’ means tribe in the Indonesian language. Its menu offerings cover a collective array of dishes that represent different groups scattered across the country of islands. The kitchen team attempts to replicate traditional means of cooking, with the extensive use of spice blends and sambals incorporated in the dishes. The result may vary depending on what you order.
We began with signature salad of gado gado Kaum, where blanched cabbage, green beans and potato chunks are dressed with a pale, nut-rich dressing. The fried shallots and prawn crackers bring crunch while a hidden surge of heat rises to the palate at the end of each bite. The charcoal-grilled braised ox tongue is skewered and tender, smoky notes from the grilling and especially good with the sweet turmeric sauce.
Mains are meant for sharing, but the signatures are not necessarily the best among the offerings. Rendang daging sapi, or beef rendang, is a popular Indonesian dish. The purple potato chips add crispiness to stand up against the coconut rich sauce, yet the chunks of beef were tough and stringy. Bamboo cooking is reinvented at Kaum; the timbungan babi, or bamboo-cooked pork belly, is spicy with a Balinese spice paste mixed in. Despite being wrapped with bamboo leaves and roasted in bamboo, the pork belly was also too dry. Vegetables make a popular side dish. The nasi goreng with prawns was bland, as if the described smoked chili paste, lemon basil and shrimp paste all were missing from the fried rice. It was, however, great with house made fresh sambals such as the lemongrass-laden sambal rica rica.
Four out of five desserts contain coconut. The klappetart sees pandan-infused rice custard served with chocolate meringue and glutinous chunks of tapioca, which could use longer cooking time to yield a truly soft and chewy texture. The bubur sumsum, or coconut bread pudding served with coconut ice cream and palm sugar syrup, is rich throughout, if not too dense in the bread pudding for our taste. The coconut ice cream, however, is sweet, creamy and refreshing.
Between a humble list of bottles and creative cocktails, the latter won at Kaum, with an impressive list of mixologists’ creations recommended by the staff. Cocktails such as the PTT Mojito takes the traditional cocktail to the next level with the addition of sugarcane juice, with lots of ice to keep the drink cool throughout the meal. Mocktails and juice blends are equally good. The Jamu is mildly sweet and tangy with tamarind, and great paired with the spice-rich dishes from the menu.
Service is a hit-and-miss at Kaum. On the positive side, the service team bears full knowledge of the menu offerings, and are well-versed from cocktails to dishes to sambals. However, service at peak hours seems rushed and messy, as the team spent a great deal of time waiting for food to be delivered. It took more than half an hour for our main courses to be delivered, while guests seated later than us finished their meals and departed before we did. Portion control, however, was on point with sound suggestions on menu dishes.
A sharing dinner for two including one beverage each amounts to just short of HK$1,300. Kaum’s strength in presenting the flavour ranges that merits return visits, once the dining experience is no longer overshadowed by inconsistency in food quality and service.