26/F, Stanley 11, Stanley Street, Central
Liberty Private Works sits on the top floor of the Stanley 11 Building, seating only a handful of diners at 7.30pm, then 8.30pm, every day. When you make a commitment to LPW (because let’s be clear: it is a commitment, not simply a reservation), you sign yourself off to a whole evening at the culinary circus. From 7.30 to close to midnight, you and only a few others are privy to the French technical theatrics of Chef Vicky Cheng’s carefully crafted menu, the broad strokes of edible genius that fly across the plate, the excruciating, painstaking details masterfully executed with almost contortionist flair, and hopefully, as time passes, a few memorable moments to be savoured on the palate.
However, like the circus, four hours watching chefs work the culinary acrobatics, juggling two sets of diners and making a show of it, can drag on a fair bit.. One scan around the private kitchen’s honestly rather bored-looking diners at 10pm made me feel like I wasn’t the only one simply lacking patience – that this occasion was protracted almost to the point of pompousness. Chef Vicky Cheng is a star in HK, I don’t think anyone can deny this – his extensive Michelin-starred resume and tutelage under Daniel Boulud show in the food and presentation of LPW – so perhaps then the words ‘less is more’ might work in his favour. We don’t need hours of proof – we get it! You have fun now.
Plans to return? Hmm, I’m sure I’d get more fidgety the second time around… but a tasting menu at $800 is incredibly reasonable, and LPW is a unique dining experience in Hong Kong that I don’t think should be passed up. This might sound like sacrilege, but I really wish there was some kind of ‘Liberty Express’ where one could sit down for just an hour, say – maybe even two – to enjoy some of Chef Vicky’s creations from LPW. I guess Liberty Exchange is meant to cut it close.
For the amuse bouche, we were served a gorgeous lavender affair on a cold black slate. Sitting atop black salt, the oyster shell was transformed into the cutest little cargo ship, holding – just under the caviar-studded foam tent – high salt notes of Iberico ham and oyster meat. Something pretty on the eyes, certainly.
I absolutely loved the texture play of the rice ‘crispies’ against the soft, almost-melting fresh tuna and sea urchin package, barricaded by thin mandolin-slices of radish and cucumber, with a gold leaf ceiling and baby bubbles of caviar. It was almost like a sea fort, protected against the dry crisp rice lands. The dots of spicy espelette were sensibly restrained, and gave a nice kick to the already strong seafood flavours. Delicious.
A bit more of an introduction on this dish could’ve gone a long way too: I asked the server if I could eat the crab and he said ‘of course!?’ as if I was stupid for asking… then I noticed diners next to me were trying to take the shell off the crab…
One of the most memorable dishes was the Amadai, Razorclam, Fennel, Chorizo plate. Perfect. I don’t know how this was done but I was so impressed: the amadai’s scales were somehow fried upwards, which looked spectacular on the plate – like it had its own scale clay/gel/mousse/spray. It tasted just as amazing – crunchy, crispy, and all-in-all, a beautiful textural journey with the soft flesh of the tilefish to mellow it out. The small diced chorizo paired perfectly with the subtle fennel flavour infused in the razorclam. The flavorful fish-bone broth – added later by the Chef – glided down between the puree like a river between two banks.
I was not a fan of the Egg, Truffle, Parmesan, Caviar. Just saying all those ingredients made me slightly nauseous. I think to place this dish in the middle of a 10-course tasting menu is rather strange too, considering how horrifyingly heavy it is. This is a signature dish at LPW, so I suppose I am the exception on this, but the egg that ran out of the ravioli so perfectly was overshadowed – or rather swept up – by the current of overly cheesy, creamy sauce and caviar and truffle. It was just too much! The servers even provided us with little loaves of bread to mop up some sauce – not all the sauce, mind, as that would’ve been impossible. There was also the disclaimer “Do not try to finish all the bread if you’re already getting full!” like they knew this was overkill.
I was very pleased with the Chicken, Black Truffle, Foie Gras, Cauliflower. The black truffle in the cauliflower was again, sensibly restrained, not spoiling the lovely, overwhelming chicken flavour of this dish. One could supplement $150 for 4 grams of Australian Winter Black Truffle, now in season, but I don’t think this was necessary. The star of the show was the chicken – with dark meat stuffed in a roulade that was fried in chicken fat, with chicken skin crisps, and a chicken-bone broth that was so richly flavoured. The little dices of egg white were a nice touch, adding a lightness to the whole plate.
The Wagyu, Onion, Chanterelles, Sherry dish was the last savoury plate, but I wasn’t blown away by this. It was really an assortment of different onions using different techniques – a char-grilled baby leek, a macerated pearl onion etc. – with a little strip of wagyu steak. All very nicely presented, but it all seemed like a hodgepodge of onions on a slate.
For dessert, we had the Citrus, Cucumber, Mint, Olive Oil, followed by Fig, Oolong, Fresh Ricotta, Black Pepper. For some reason, I can’t seem to find a picture of the second dessert but we enjoyed the tea-flavoured ice-cream.
Chef Vicky had a bit of a show with the first dessert, artfully plating grapefruit segments, coconut mochi, pomelo, and olive cakes with olive caviar over smears of torched meringue, spooning soft minty fresh cucumber sorbet at the end before serving it immediately to our tables. He also added nitro-frozen cream-cheese pieces on top that gave off an ethereal white smoke. It was a playful dish, and we really enjoyed this.
We ended the night with petite fours – a little basket of incredibly light, spongy orange zest petite madeleines. Perhaps it was the Chef’s remembrance of things past, but I read it as being in search of lost time. The madeleine was a wonderfully simple end to a very complex, at times confusing, 10-course menu. At the end of the day, I suppose I wanted more of these simple madeleine moments from the meal, instead of being – dare I say it – troubled by truffle. One night of culinary cray cray ain’t the worst thing in the world though.