Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Little Kitchen by David Forestell

The serene and soothing Little Kitchen
During our annual visit to Hong Kong last year, our friend, chef David Forestell and his wife Vivian invited us to dinner at their tiny apartment in Sai Wan Ho. When I say tiny apartment, I mean tiny apartment. It was a tight fit for we three strapping Canadians and the petite and pregnant Vivian all at the same time.

Our dinner was fabulous. 

For hours, David effortlessly brought dish after deliciously crafted dish from the kitchen and as we feasted we talked about our mutual love for tea and food, the pending arrival of the baby, and David and Vivian's preparations for opening a new restaurant that they would eventually call "Little Kitchen."

When dinner was done and we could eat no more, I asked to see the kitchen, imagining that since David was a professional chef, it would be massive.  I was wrong.  The kitchen was about the size of 4 telephone booths stuck together.  I was speechless.  How could he create such a stunning feast in so small a space?

I left their apartment that night in silent admiration for David's talents and a spoken promise to never complain about the size of my own kitchen again.

Not long after our dinner, David opened his Little Kitchen a few blocks from his and Vivian's apartment in Sai Wan Ho and when he invited us to be his guests again it's all we could talk about in the days leading up to it.

To say that Little Kitchen was an unique dining experience is not really doing it justice. David has created something exceptional that begins with the colourful walk from the MTR (Hong Kong's subway) through the lively streets of Sai Wan Ho.
A few of the colourful food shops along Shing On Street

Sai Wan Ho is not a neighbourhood that caters to tourists. It's a slightly gritty, down to earth sort of place with a steady hum of traffic noise, buzzing crowds, towering high-rise apartment buildings and no English signs nor speakers.

We took the MTR from Kowloon where we were staying to the Sai Wan Ho stop, and climbed our way back into the light of day.  After crossing the busy, crowded main street, we made our way to Shing On Street which was lined with shops piled high with fruits, vegetables, dry goods and heaps of medicinal herbs, many of which we couldn't identify. Most of the shops had chaotically plunked bins of this and that outside on the sidewalks turning them into culinary labyrinths making them difficult to negotiate given the number of other people trying doing the same.  We turned left.
Top left then clockwise:  a little ginger visitor.
"Up the back" alleyway behind Little Kitchen.
A nearby food vendor where David sources some of his ingredients
Look up - Little Kitchen is on the second floor.
On the second floor of a 6-storey turquoise-coloured building on Sai Wan Ho Street, festooned with hanging laundry, peeling paint, tangled electrical wires, and air conditioners clinging to window sills for dear life, is Little Kitchen.
Circle marks the spot
"Those who know, come up the back," reads the website.  "The back" being a gritty, somewhat dubious-looking alleyway. We chose to enter through the front which is a shared with the other building tenants.  We climbed the narrow staircase with a father and son who were headed home for the night.  

After our colourful journey we weren't sure what to expect when we arrived but any uncertainty that had formed in our minds went "poof" the minute we walked through the door. The light, the decor and the greeting combined to give the room a zen-like, soothing ambiance.  We instantly felt relaxed, and looking forward to dinner.

Because we'd arrived early, we snagged a coveted table facing the open kitchen so we could watch David at work at the stove and the pass.   Behind us were tall windows facing the street that filled the room with daylight that gradually transitioned into an ever-changing light show thanks to the outdoor neon signs hanging from the buildings across the street.
The view from our table
Our dinner was truly delicious. 

David prepared a special, five course vegetarian menu for us that began with a glass of carrot soup topped with goat cheese foam and ended with fresh mint tea and a little paper bag filled with delicate, just-baked sablées to take home. 
Non-vegetarian diners are treated to David's creative, seasonal, prose-like fixed menu that changes each week.  

Here's this week's menu:

Artichoke Salad: Variations on Theme, 
Counterpoints of Bitter, Sweet and Herbal

French Duck and Lentils: 
Tamed and Rigorously Formed, 
Accents of Sour, Caramelization and Concentration

MSC Atlantic Cod: Sustainably Caught, 
Substantiated with Ocean Memories, 
Summer Hopes and Green Intensity

Really Red Cherries: Multiple Renderings, 
Supported by Richness, 
Sweet/Tart Balance, and Crunch

Top left then clockwise:
Teaware, David plating,
the sturdy dining tables designed by David
David plating,
We loved everything about Little Kitchen.  We loved the contrast between the quirky outside setting and the peaceful, pristine, zen-like inside.   We loved sitting at the thick wood dining tables that David designed himself.  We loved the unique dishware and the feel of the paper thin glassware that he'd brought back from Japan.  And above all, we loved the food.

Despite what culinary magazines lead you to believe, finding a chef like David with the confidence and skill to express his unique culinary vision is rare to find. If you're in Hong Kong you should go.

We can hardly wait to visit again next year. 

Fresh herbs on the back balcony

Top left, then clockwise: look for the Little Kitchen sign
Holiday decoration
Dishware from Japan
The business cards mimic the floor tiles


donna baker said...

Watching the junks sail by in Kowloon? Now I know what you've been up to. Can't imagine anywhere more exotic.

suzanne said...

happy to see you're blogging again!
what a treat THAT must have been. loved all your photos and the descriptions. Makes me want to go out and but all new dishware and glasses! and go to hong kong!

Gustia said...

I'm glad you liked the post. You should go to Hong Kong. I think you'd love it. I'd like to write more often but it seems I get consumed by so many other things I never have time to write...

Karen Barnaby said...

It sounds so perfectly David. I'm glad that he's created the space to speak in his own unique, culinary voice. Yay David!