Although both named among Hong Kong’s favourite restaurants, rough and ready Mexican Brickhouse and simplistically sophisticated New York-esque eatery Blue Butcher are worlds apart in style and substance. With such conceptual contrast, it’s hard to believe that both restaurants were created by the same imaginative team – although their perfect execution should give you a clue!
Also the brand behind elite trendsetting LKF nightclub PLAY, Maximal Concept is slowly seeping into the city’s DNA with its fresh and exciting creations. And although Blue Butcher and Brickhouse are perhaps too diverse to be properly compared, we couldn’t resist the temptation to pit them against each other in four heavyweight rounds of our restaurant rumble.
Brickhouse: Hidden down a dark and slightly intimidating alley behind Milan Station in Lan Kwai Fong, and with no phone number for reservations listed on its website, Brickhouse is on a strictly need-to-know basis. The rough-edged industrial interior is daubed with quirky graffiti and the scrawlings of local artists, staff and customers, the latter of which is made up of everything from trendy Soho kids sporting rock ‘n’ roll haircuts to suited-up business men impressing culture-seeking clients with something refreshingly rustic.
With a crowd-pleasing R & B-focussed soundtrack that’s far from background and a late weekend closing time of 4am, this is a place where partying is part and parcel. The super-friendly staff, complete with Mexican gang-style tats, dreads and Mohawks, also consists of the kind of people you feel comfortable getting a little loose with.
Blue Butcher: Blue Butcher is something of a TARDIS, with the barely-room-to-wiggle downstairs bar and terrace on Hollywood Road giving the impression that this is something of a small establishment. However, a winding staircase leads to a huge upstairs dining room with long wooden tables fit for a medieval banquet, a spacious bar backed by large open kitchen, and even an onsite meat dry-aging room built with pink salt walls.
Despite the abattoir-themed white tiling throughout and troth-like sinks in the bathrooms, this is a decidedly classy affair, where the waiters are the polite and attentive types you’d take home to your mother, and the regular bar flies consist of the city’s most upstanding bankers. This is the place to go if you want to dress to impress and celebrate a special occasion in style.
And the winner is: although both restaurants serve completely different scenes, we’re crowning Brickhouse as the winners of the first round thanks to its infectiously fun and funky vibe.
Brickhouse: With the brilliantly-bastardised Brickhouse Margarita proving ever-popular and the Bloody Maria and Pisco Sour putting a Latin twist on old-school favourites, Brickhouse can be applauded for its perfectly themed and well thought out cocktail list. Add to this the adventurous Cubano – almost like drinking a rather pleasant bonfire with its tobacco-infused tequila, vanilla brandy and chargrilled pineapple – and the to-die-for Diabla – with vodka, raspberry and the kick of jalapeno – and you have a cocktail list worthy of a conquistador. The well-stocked bar also boasts just short of 50 types of tequila, a reasonably-priced Spanish and French-focussed wine list and a bevvy of beers from around the world.
Blue Butcher: Despite also stocking a wide range of micro brews and fine wines, as the winner of Tatler’s Best Hong Kong Cocktail of 2013, Blue Butcher rightly prides itself on its imaginative concoctions. From the prohibition-themed Apple Pie Moonshine, served authentically in a brown paper bag-wrapped jam jar, to the Pork Chop & Apple Sauce Sour, made with actual blended bacon and apple jam, every one of the off-the-wall cocktails jumps off the menu. The real crowd-pleaser however is the Blue Absinthe Fairy, a sharing cocktail that comes in towering genie’s lamp-type contraption and packs a real punch with its namesake wormwood spirit, London Dry Gin, Blue Curaco and Lillet Blanc – so powerful that there is a two-order limit per table!
And the winner is: Blue Butcher, simply due to the sheer creativity, potency and concept of their cocktails.
Brickhouse: Almost everyone is well acquainted with, and appreciative of, Mexican food, but Brickhouse is really bringing its own flavour to this spicy scene with a move away from run-of-the-mill Tex Mex and a firm footing in Mexico City street food. Standard corn on the cob will never taste the same again once you’ve tried it Brickhouse style, spiked with lime juice, slathered in chilli mayo and rolled in queso and coriander.
Another refreshing favourite is the Watermelon Salad, a colourful chessboard of juicy watermelon chunks sprinkled with chilli syrup, creamy goat feta crumbles and addictive candied pepitas that add crunch to the bustle of textures. For a true guac attack appetizer, opt for the all-new dipping trio, where Original and Chipotle guacamole variations will warm you up for the star of the show, Fruit Guacamole, bearing vivid chunks of green apple, pineapple and mango.
The beauty of the Brickhouse menu is that although not stingy, dishes are fairly small, giving you the opportunity to try a whole range of delights when dining with friends. Most of the mains, which consist almost entirely of tacos – made freshly to order right under your quivering nose – are listed on a jumbled blackboard that changes regularly. Favourite fillings range from pulled pork to market fish and even beef tongue, but it was the menu staple of braised goat leg with serrano pickled shallots and fruit salsa that really wrapped it up for us.
In the dessert department, Brickhouse sticks to its overall ethos of less is best by offering just two permanent puds on its regular menu. The gluten-free Chilli-Spiked Chocolate Cake encases a delightful kick in its silky soufflé skirts, while the Cocunut Rice Tamale with goat’s milk caramel tastes nothing like the rice pudding we all know, and no doubt hated, from school.
Blue Butcher: Celebrating local organic produce at the same time as sourcing the best meat from around the world, Blue Butcher is a restaurant where the ingredients come first. The starters here are both perfectly presented and a pleasure on the palate, making a meal with just mains simply unthinkable.
The Bone Marrow sharing plate, planked on a wooden board heaped with crispy toast, caper berries, parsley leaves and salt flakes, is a joy for appetizer architects who like to build that perfect bite, while the light and luscious Steak Tartar, topped with a raw cured egg that cooks itself in the accompanying balsamic vinegar, is one for the starter scientists out there. It was the Organic Smoked Beet Salad that really stole the early part the show however, with the crumbly feta, crushed pistachios and olive oil-rich dressing taking it away from healthy and into heavenly.
For mains we were treated to the melt-in-the mouth Dutch Veal Cheek served with sweetbreads and surprisingly light truffled orzo (miniature macaroni to you and me), with the rich and creamy centre-piece perfectly cut through by a fresh herb side salad. The slow-cooked rare breed Kurobuta Pig Belly & Cheek was one for the pork piggies, served with a delicate Granny Smith slaw and seasoned brown lentils that gave it a hearty farmhouse feel.
And a literal interpretation of meat loving, we couldn’t leave without sampling the signature Sirloin, a generous and juicy cut from a coddled cow fattened up on a 600-day diet of chocolate and coconut at Australia’s Mayura Farm – considered the best Wagyu beef farm in the world by the Blue Butcher crew.
To top off this dinner of dreams, we opted for a simple but satisfying Chocolate Bred & Butter Pudding and a sticky-sweet Maple Syrup Tart, perfectly paired with a light palate-cleansing lemon whipped cream.
And the winner is: It’s two rounds in a row for Blue Butcher – a place where you just can’t fault the food.
Value For Money
Brickhouse: With appetizers starting at HK$55, mains hovering around the HK$200-mark and cocktails from HK$95, you don’t eat out in Hong Kong often enough if you think Brickhouse is expensive. While we’re not talking Michelin star quality (this is Mexican food after all), you really get good bang for your buck in what we maintain is by far the best Mexican restaurant in town. There’s also no service charge, but we guarantee you’ll feel inclined to show your appreciation for the awesome staff, even if it’s in the form of that liquid gold known as tequila!
Blue Butcher: While Blue Butcher’s humongous portions are probably worth their weight in protein alone, this is not a place to be watching your wallet. Standard cocktails and starters begin at a reasonable HK$100-150, but quickly shoot up for the firm favourites, with the Absinth Fairy coming in at an eye-watering HK$695, albeit good for four people, and the Wagyu Rib Eye hovering close to HK$900. This is a place not only for those who truly love food but also for those who can afford to pay for the best. You certainly won’t feel ripped off here, but with so many irresistible extras and a standard 10% service charge, we unfortunately won’t be able to enjoy this gem every night of the week.
And the winner is: Brickhouse, as great food at middle-of-the-road prices always packs a punch.