Roganic: Delicate flavors with a lot of zing (8.6)

I quite like Roganic. I didn’t think I would. I have been to a good handful of restaurants playing with variations of nouvelle cuisine and, while I mostly walked out of those restaurants happy with my meal, there were not many that I wanted to return to as a regular. Partly that is because I shun heavy meals, partly it is to do with the long list of restaurants I have marked down to visit, but mostly it is to do with the food looking better—and their story or concept sounding more promising—than it really tastes. I think that may have a lot to do with personal preference, so again I am only sharing my two pennies.

Roganic is definitely not very British in the stereotypical way many people might understand the cuisine to be. Perhaps there were dishes that borrow and reinterpret old British classics in the history of the restaurant’s offerings, but that is certainly not a focus, as on our occasion I found very little iconic Britishness in terms of culinary technique and content. None of the hearty dishes or roasties or pies were spotted. If anything, perhaps, one could argue that Roganic’s focus on fresh, good quality regionally sourced ingredients is in line with that of many up-and-coming young British chefs in the fine dining scene in Britain. But other than that, the fine line between cuisines of different nationalities does seem increasingly blurry. Indeed, chefs everywhere are being inspired by ideas from around the world.

Sourcing locally is supposed to be a theme at Roganic, and on our taster menu we were only aware that the pork and fish were local, though I imagine lots of veggies would have been local anyway as that would have been the most convenient and natural thing to do, even for kitchens without any conscious sustainability goals. Supporting local agriculture is an appealing label to some as it seems to encapsulate a certain lifestyle and ideal of sustainability and economics, but often times it lacks genuine economic or environmental sense upon deeper investigation. I can only hope that this is one of the rarer occasions.

Our short tasting meal was a pleasant tour through robust and imaginative cooking and flavors up to the point of our first main course, a poached bream that was just slightly disappointing. But our least favorite dish was the second main course which came after that—the Wah Kee farm pork. While still solid, we thought both dishes paled in comparison to the rest. Because everything else was brilliant, however, I still thought the meal was memorable. I especially liked that there wasn’t an attempt to cook or dress everything in a lot of grease or salt to enhance flavors. The stars of each of our dishes were allowed to take center stage and express their original character. I also noticed a penchant for a bit more tanginess, mostly from fermented and pickled foods, which I thought was enjoyable, especially given the hot weather. Portion control was excellent.

The restaurant itself is located in a somewhat offbeat location in Causeway Bay. The dining room is quite contemporary with neatly decorated plants throughout and a relaxed vibe. Hospitality is OK, if a bit cool. A different person would come with each new course, hastily regurgitate a short description of it (usually on the side of the gentleman rather than the lady), then disappear. Despite that, I imagine Roganic would be suitable for any occasion. If you like this kind of food, a visit to find out whether you like it wouldn’t hurt. A three-course lunch set starts at $320+10% per person. A short tasting menu is $680 (with the option to add $200 for a sea urchin custard and caviar), while the full tasting menu is $980.

Food Rundown
Short tasting menu with sea urchin custard, at $880+10% per person

Citrus cured salmon and seaweed tartlet
This was my favorite. I really liked the thin, crispy seaweed tartlet and how it worked with a tangy paste. The pickled cucumber, the light hints of yuzu and vinegar all complemented well with the popping roe and aromatic salmon, which was cured in citrus for a day and a half.

Chicken skin, parfait, yeast
There was some salted plum condiment to go with the liver parfait which of course by itself was nothing uncommon, but to have that on top of a perfectly crispy chicken skin was new. Again a symphony of textures and umami here—especially with nutty toasted yeast, all working their magic in your mouth.

Sea urchin custard and caviar (+$200)
This was an excellent amuse-bouche on its own, but I would say its name led to unmet expectations, as Hongkongers are mostly in love with and all too familiar with sea urchin. If you had sea urchin (or indeed an enhanced version of sea urchin) in your mind as you take your first bite in anticipation, you could be disappointed, as you might well not know there was any urchin in the custard if you weren’t told. Sea urchin seems to be one of those things that is best eaten as is, the fresher it is (unless you have enough of it to make a noticeable difference in your fried rice). Caviar was also a miss. Other than that, it was a pretty dish, gracefully executed. I liked the thin veil of pickle jelly on the custard, and I loved that it was chilled. I think it could have been made with more ordinary ingredients and still be wonderful.

Soda bread and cultured brown butter
The signature Irish soda bread here was a little bit like a salted muffin, soft and fluffy on the inside with a crunchy crumbly crust and a light brush of honey (or some similar syrup) and oat. Tasty.

Marjoram brined cabbage, soy and miso glazed shimeji mushrooms, wasabi
This was my third favorite dish, and a hearty one. The sweet cabbage and earthy shimeji paired well together with snips of miso, chestnut, soy sauce and parsley. The more surprising part, however, was the wasabi emulsion, which was creamy yet light, adding more body to the dish.

Pea, salted egg, hazelnut, whey
Whipped pea purée and the sweetest fresh peas stood out boldly against a delicate backdrop of buttermilk whey sauce, salted egg and lemon gel. But wait, there’s more crunch coming from lightly toasted hazelnut and mini croutons. It sounds like way too many ingredients, but it was divine. My second favorite dish.

Poached bream, asparagus, caper, lovage
Apart from a neat piece of bream, the other part was a mousse made from flesh from the tails and mussels—the idea of which reminds me of Casa Lisboa’s baked cod with scampi mousseline which had set too high a bar. Plus we eat a dozen if not more kinds of fish every week, and this bream was sadly rather bland in contrast, not having very much to offer in terms of flavor. It lacked a briny depth for me. The asparagus, the vinaigrette and the lovage sauce were enjoyable.

Roasted Wah kee farm pork, artichoke, onion
This was a shoulder cut and was aged for five days. The pork was fairly tender, but I didn’t think the ageing was quite there yet for the optimal tenderness and for the flavors to fully realize. The brown sauce (not photographed) was very much like a typical Hong Kong style homemade chicken wing sauce with sugar, soy sauce and some herbs. The rest of the dish was good, however, as I liked the braised baby artichokes.

This was a burnt honey and chamomile parfait with pear compote and juice. The parfait was fine, but the highlight was the refreshingly citrusy pear compote beneath it.

Whipped woodruff yogurt, blondie fudge, cherry
Coming down to the final course and tartness continues to be a theme, this time coming from black cherry and a flowery yogurt. If you like, you can enjoy the dessert in two parts—first the black cherry sorbet on while chocolate tuile, and then the yogurt with fudge and salted caramel and cherry jam.

Shop 8, UG/F, Sino Plaza
255 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
$$$, British, Western