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Restaurant The Helenia

The Helenia

Restaurant, $$$, European, Tai Hang
  • ReservationYes
  • Accept Credit CardNo
  • Dress CodeCasual
  • Bring Your Own BottleNo
  • BuffetYes
  • Car ValetNo

Review

The Helenia is located in the epicurean-friendly neighbourhood of Tai Hang. It is a charming area, hosting a mix of ramen shops, Thai hole-in-the-walls and unabashedly old-fashioned Chinese dai pai dongs. It is also on the rise, with Bonnie Gokson’s cakeshop C’est La B and a Classified cheese shop and café bringing a more modern and fashionable clientele into this traditional district. Therefore, it makes sense that The Helenia, one of Hong Kong’s first independent restaurants to focus on the art of sous vide cooking, has chosen to position itself here. The Helenia seats just under 20 guests and the small open kitchen visible at the back of the restaurant lends to the cosy homey ambience. The decor is simple, with wine bottles lining one wall and two large mirrors decking the other.Sous vide cooking has been the rage for a couple of years now: meaning literally “under vacuum” in French, proteins are placed into airtight plastic bags and cooked in a warm, circulating water bath for an extended period of time. The theory is that meats will retain the juices that are usually leached out, therefore also retaining more flavour. When making reservations at The Helenia, guests are required to order a set menu (salad, meat, pasta and dessert) and to also pre-choose their meat course (Norwegian salmon, New Zealand lamb rack, US prime grass-fed rib-eye or US chicken) so that it can be cooked for 24 hours prior to the guests’ arrival. To start, the salad is disappointing: what looks like the usual grocery bag of greens are unceremoniously served in a bowl with an equally perfunctory lemon vinaigrette, with not even a tomato to enliven the dish. We had expected our pasta course to be next, but instead we were served our proteins immediately. The Norwegian salmon is faultless: one of the most succulent pieces of fish we have ever tasted, it is well-cooked, juicy and just impeccable. When we ordered the rib-eye, we were not asked how we would like it to be cooked: instead, we were informed that it would be served medium-rare. A chef with a point of view is all well and good, except when he doesn’t deliver: the steak was much closer to well-done. Thin, tough and chewy, the rib-eye is the exact opposite of what one would expect sous vide cooking to be. To add insult to injury, it is so aggressively seasoned that a more delicate palate would find it inedible. Somewhat lazily, both the fish and steak have the same sides: baby corn, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and a tepid truffled mash that would have been delicious if hot. For our pasta course, we requested a vegetarian option, which came as a portabello linguine. While the texture is nice, it is too salty and garlicky, which is also true of the much drier smoked bacon linguine, presented with an impressive dome of smoke. Finally, dessert was a sponge cake with fresh strawberry cream but the amount of strawberry sandwiched between the dry layers of sponge are paltry. Like the majority of the food at The Helenia, it was very nearly good.The wine list at The Helenia looks decent for such a small venue at first glance, with 13 varieties available by the bottle and one white and one red by the glass. However, of the 13 bottles, four are out of stock. Corkage is HK$100, plus there is also an extra HK$20 for “extra clean glass fee” per glass if you would like to sample a wine before ordering it.The staff at The Helenia tries hard but could be more knowledgeable. When we asked our waiter why there was a large blackboard with a la carte options if guests are required to order a set menu, he had to ask the chef to come out of the kitchen to explain. This was again the case when we asked what the vegetarian option for the pasta course was. Also, the tight configuration of the seats means that sometimes the waiter’s backside can veer uncomfortably close to a guest’s face.A four-course set menu for two plus two glasses of wine comes to just under HK$1,200. While Tai Hang is not a cheap neighbourhood and the operating cost of cooking premium meats in a sous vide machine must be high, this does seem a bit steep given the mediocrity of the results.
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