Stone Nullah Tavern
Date of review: April 3, 2013 | Reviewed by: Lynn Fung
Located across from the distinctive Blue House in this historic part of Wan Chai, Stone Nullah Tavern is the newest offering from IHM, the group behind Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini. The décor is standard hipster-chic, with plastered ceiling contrasting with dark gray stucco walls, wooden floors and framed old maps. Floor to ceiling sliding glass panels front the restaurant, giving it more airiness than the space suggests. There are two private rooms which might be preferable when dining in large groups, as the main dining room is tightly packed and the acoustics (low ceilings, wood everywhere) serves to amplify the noise of the excitable diners.
Stone Nullah Tavern describes its menu as “New American Tavern”, but a lot of people may describe it as largely unintelligible. Even we, dedicated food reviewers, had the urge to Google what a number of words meant, such as “cincalok:, “membrillo” and “kecap manis”. Luckily, there was no need, as the staff is adept at translating the menu. Split into seven sections, and starting healthily with “vegetation, fungi and tubers”, we tried the fennel with cincalok (which turned out to be a shrimp sauce from Malaysia); and the highly recommended hot fries. We found the fennel salad overwhelmingly salty, with the double-whammy of anchovy-laden bagna cauda and the cincalok. Some acid and fresh herbs would have made it much more palatable. The hot fries, very crispy, but also a touch bitter, were also a disappointment. From the legumes section, the quinoa Thanksgiving stuffing sounded delicious with the naughty addition of sausage and foie gras gravy, but in reality the dish was one-note and there was no hint of umami goodness from the gravy. Speaking of foie gras, the foie burger with caramelised onion marmalade was also strenuously recommended, but we found the proportion of meat to bun wrong, resulting in a dry burger that could have done with both more foie gras and onion marmalade. The waiter suggested we order five to six dishes for two people, but we go over the top by also ordering the mac and cheese; which does not in fact uses macaroni. Rather, the conchiglie pasta comes in a thick cheddar sauce and is topped with an egg yolk, which is a touch gloopy for our tastes. It would have been better au gratin, as there would at least be some variety in texture, but it is undoubtedly comforting. For dessert, we had our doubts about the fat kid cake, which is four cakes mixed into one. A base layer of red velvet is followed by cheesecake and then chocolate mousse, before finishing with a top layer of crème brulee. Perhaps it was because the chocolate mousse was so decadent and rich that it covered the taste of everything else, but the strange combination worked surprisingly well. Desserts are definitely a highlight at Stone Nullah Tavern, as the ovaltine ice cream with caramelised bananas were also successful, with the mild and not-too-sweet ice cream allowing the bananas to take centre stage.
While Stone Nullah Tavern calls itself as a liquor bar and has a very attractive bar area out front, when we visited, the restaurant had not obtained its liquor license yet and guests were encouraged to bring their own bottles at no extra charge. When it does get its license, the restaurant will offer American craft beers on tap, as well as boutique whiskies, rums and bourbons.
Stone Nullah Tavern does not charge the automatic ten-percent service charge and the staff work hard for their tips. They are knowledgeable about the menu and assertive with their recommendations. They are also attentive, changing plates between courses. Our only gripe is that sometimes the wait between courses were a tad long, but we are willing to let it slide, as the restaurant was still very new when we visited and it was already a full house.
A meal for two, without alcohol, comes to just under HK$800. Some dishes, such as the foie gras burger (HK$160 for two sizeable portions), or the large plate of mac & cheese (HK$80), are good value. Others, however, such as the fries (HK$70) or the side of pickled vegetables (HK$50) are absurdly small for the price.