And what would you like to eat with it?
Even as pandemic restrictions ease in different parts of the world, most of us may not be able to fly yet. So we’re reduced to dreaming about our favourite destinations – especially those that have given us memorable drinking and dining experiences.
But if you could travel freely for a good meal and a drink right at this very moment, where would you like to be?
“Oh, that’s a tough one,” answers Camille Glass, the co-founder of Brut!, a wine bar and tapas restaurant at Sai Ying Pun in Hong Kong.
“After this crazy year, I think I would honestly just head home to my mum’s house in France. If there’s one thing I’m craving, it’s her home-cooked meals and a cup of warm tea made with fresh herbs from her garden. Not the most exciting answer, I know, but I think the whole world just needs something a bit soothing at the moment.”
Yup, we all wish we could have all those things again. But there are ways. “I think we all got a bit creative with how to settle social and culinary cravings this past year,” she admits.
“My friends and I did small-scale dinner parties at home. We did our best to treat those moments like proper outings and would get dressed up, put on great music, and just enjoy being together.”
For Camille, you could say these ideas came readily and easily. She’s a chef who’s worked in Paris and Hong Kong; and with Brut!, she and her team get to serve a curated selection of sustainable, small batch wines together with elegant sharing plates that feature a marriage of different cuisines, as well as locally sourced and international organic ingredients.
What’s more, she and her best friends just launched Crushed, their first wine retail store also at Sai Ying Pun, which she says “has an eclectic offering of small batch wines from around the world”.
It’s been tough in a lot of ways, but her work at Brut! has kept her creative and hungry for more.
“We tried our best to come up with new and interesting ways to feed our community,” she relates.
“Throughout the pandemic, we successfully opened a New York-style bodega, Fat Chad’s, as well as launched Crushed. Both projects were very much geared towards accommodating the neighbourhood during a time when dining in wasn’t really an option.”
Being able to change and update Brut!’s offerings, and have fun experimenting with their seasonal menus, also helps. Executive chef Gavin Chin chimes in.
“If I’m honest, it’s all quite spontaneous,” he says.
“We’re constantly exploring and looking for inspiration whenever we can find it. We use a lot of local ingredients, both dried and fresh. For example, we use dried Chinese olives (lam kok) in our focaccia, or local purslane (a succulent native leaf that has notes of citrus and salinity) as a salad to go with our hanger steak.
“We also do loads of brining,” he adds. “This sort of came about because so many ingredients are unfortunately imported, and therefore lose a lot of their integrity by the time they get to us. We’d much rather play with what we have available here. The brining process adds a certain depth to our dishes that has become a foundation for our menu and flavour profile.”
Which brings us back to feeling nostalgic about certain foods and drinks, and wanting to have them during this pandemic. Since Brut!’s menu is never really the same, is there any dish or drink from their past that Camille also finds herself craving?
“The greatest thing about Brut!’s menu and wine list is that it’s always evolving,” she points out. “There’s so much good wine to drink and food to explore that we find ourselves really enjoying our offerings in the moment. We leave feeling satisfied and excited to see what comes next.”
But on second thought… “That said, there was a wine once… SP68 white, 2018, I believe, was the vintage. It was the most delicious thing. It’s out of stock globally now and the following vintage was just not the same. I’d give a lot to have just one more glass of that stuff.”
Still, there are alternatives
They’re not exactly like the special wine Camille just mentioned (or the Brut! meals Gavin just described), but they do the trick. There are so many cool drinking and dining experiences to be had in Hong Kong; they can tide you over till that long-awaited overseas trip, or you can simply recreate them for the most part at home.
“Gosh, there have been a fair few over the years,” Camille muses. For starters, she’s “had a few really special dai pai dong experiences here in Hong Kong”. Let’s get to it then. 😊
#1 Outdoor seafood markets at Cheung Chau
“There’s something really nostalgic to me about sitting around plastic tables, with ice-cold beers and great friends, in the fresh air and eating local seafood. I’m especially excited for the fried salt and pepper squid each time I go.”
#2 The downstairs bar at Okra
“My other all-time favourite. I’ve been singing Chef Max Levy’s praises for years. I had my first true sake experience there, accompanied by stunning small bites. I especially love their yellow tail and yuba, alongside any of their aged sakes.”
Get her tips on what to eat and drink next, and how to create a dining “experience”, too:
#1 Go indie
“Seeing as we live in a city where so few people are able to host at home, I generally tell people to go digging for the best and brightest in the independent restaurant scene. There are some seriously good eats in Hong Kong; you just need to be willing to scratch the surface a bit.”
#2 Go outdoors (if possible)
“As for drinks, I’m a big fan of the al fresco-style wine drinking that can be found around the city at the moment. I love going to little retail stores like Crushed, grabbing a bottle of something super interesting, and drinking it on the stairs or in the parks outside. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, and you get to watch the world go by all the while sipping on something fresh and exciting.”
So which wines does she reach for when she:
Needs a push or a buzz?
“A very dry, crispy Riesling.”
Wants a relaxing mid-day?
“A funky fresh Pet Nat.”
Wants the night to last?
“A big buttery Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.”
Needs something versatile and “reliable”?
“A juicy, playful light red. Preferably something that you serve chilled down a bit, like a Pinot or a Cinsault.”
“Natural wines are on a very wide spectrum,” she explains. “I think the first thing to consider is where you, as a newbie to the world of natty wines, lie on that spectrum. Are you simply looking for low intervention wines that still have a relatively classical flavour profile? Are you after the really weird and funky stuff?
“I personally lean into the cleaner side of sustainable, or natural, wines,” she continues. “I really love tasting my way through the smaller wineries in the Swartland, for example. Crushed is a great place to kickstart your journey into the world of small batch, sustainably made wines. We’re here to help guide you in the most approachable way possible.”
There’s also one other thing you need to know about natural wines: “If there’s one rule to chuck out the window, it’s that you don’t get hangovers with natural wine. Speaking from loads of experience, it’s just not true.” 😊
So why not reminisce – and relive all of those wonderful times at your favourite spots – as you take a sip in your own cosy space? At least for now. 🙂🍷