FOOD: FRANCIS

THE BEGINNING – STARTS WITH YOU

Farm-to-table is a trend Hong Kong has yet to catch up with. In Israel, it is their way of life. The prominent Jewish faith and their way of living has always been slightly reminiscent of my Catholic upbringing, and with Easter arriving in just a few short weeks – there calls for moments for reflection. Finding God and my faith again was not something I had anticipated nor thought would occur in my late twenties. Bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as my mother put it when I told her. As clichéd as it sounds, it has brought a sense of unshaking faith and warmth that I cannot deny.

Lent is a time for simplicity. We eat simply – showing gratitude for the abundance of seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits we have been offered on this Earth whilst consuming less meat. Living in this healthy, conscious and self-aware time is what gives you the clarity to be good and to do well.

You can draw multiple parallels between Tel Avivians and Parisians, but the most glaring is the shared love for eating and drinking. Their mornings start with a coffee and pastry and their evenings end with a great bottle of wine and soft musical lulls. The people are as warm as their markets with abundant herbs, spices and fresh vegetation, meats and seafood.

It is difficult to pinpoint at what time in my life this zest for food of mine emerged, but I think my mother is the person to thank for it. Food has been the centerfold of religion, of families and within every culture. It is the only time we gather to give thanks, to make peace with ourselves and to appreciate the people we love around us.

We arrived at peak time – 7pm.

People filtered around the outside of Francis, very languidly, waiting to be seated and savouring a great selection of their red wine. After a long day, a quick round of whiskey sours were ordered. For a restaurant at its maximum capacity of 30 pax in its comfortable space, the service was impeccable from the sommelier and front of house. It was a busy Tuesday evening and the kitchen was working non-stop. Always solid service to you ladies and gentlemen.

Close, lively and filled with a neighbourhood café ambience, I was able to reconnect with an old friend. I mean, these are the moments we share food over.

THE FOOD

Hummus
Chickpea | Lamb Neck Ragu

Our eyes went straight to the classic. And intrigued by this twist, we could not help but order to taste this blend of flavours. One mouthful confirmed what could be seen visually, the lamb ragu was unbelievably tender with its true definition of melt-in-your-mouth. Salted, drizzled in olive oil and keeping its bite, the chickpeas and hummus provided a creamy nuttiness to compliment the earthy lamb. Perhaps a little more citrus could be added to cut through the heavy texture and flavours and round out the dish. Such as a good squeeze more lemon and a hint of paprika, this would have made it beyond divine.

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Burnt Eggplant
Pepper | Chili | Yoghurt

Eggplant tends to absorb the flavours you cook it in, which makes it a versatile vegetable to cook with. Especially as the texture can range from a firm sponge to smokey mash. The latter was true for this particular dish. Spice was definitely needed to give the normally mild eggplant a little kick and complimented the smoked flesh. Peppers when grilled are surprisingly sweet and lose their bitterness. Reds, yellows and orange peppers tend to be sweeter than their green counterpart and even sweeter when grilled and skinned. Pair that with dollops of yoghurt, it provided a tart creaminess that you can only get with a good, rich probiotic blend. This winning combination tied the chilled meze together.

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Sardine
Fennel | White Bean | Tomato | ‘Nduja

Warm fondness of my mother’s Cassoulet-style French beans urged me to try Francis’ rendition of it with a sardine. When I say that Israel and France have close ties, I meant more than it’s geo-political ones. Normally prepared on the side with a roasted or braised meat, the Cassoulet-style stew is a hearty mixture of Cannellini beans and various other vegetables. The sardine was grilled to perfection with its soft inner flesh and a charred, crispy exterior. Paired with this almost savoury-sweet stew, it worked well. ‘Nduja is essentially a chorizo and normally provides the stew with a strong salted umami taste. I found that there lacked this flavour’s follow-through in the dish and wondered if there could be more added to intensify the flavor and allow it to pierce through.

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Grilled Octopus
Harissa | Burgul Potato Cake

Crispy, charred and coated in harissa spice, this grilled octopus was an eight-legged dream. Though it had bite, I found the octopus on the slight side of chewy as opposed to a tender bite of its elastic texture. I cannot tell you how wonderful the smoked flavour of the octopus paired with the sour-spicy peppers of the harissa paste tasted. When we think harissa paste, we think of the beautiful desert and colours of Morocco, of Northern Africa – but there remains Spanish origins during their occupation of Tunisia in the mid to late 16th century. Main ingredients are a mixture of peppers: Baklouti, serrano and hot chili peppers, with garlic paste, coriander seed, saffron and olive oil. The potato cake I personally found a little on the dry side and hard to bite into.

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Smoked Carrots
Almonds | Spiced Honey

I cannot hide how much I loved this dish. Three key ingredients all perfectly done in isolation to be brought together. It truly is a testament to how simplicity can go the distance when properly executed. The carrots were smoked to a caramelized char, sweet with a medium bite and coated in this nutty earthy olive oil. Dipped into the spiced honey that was mixed with what I believe to be Tahini – that sesame seed enhancement gave a nutty finish to the spiced sweetness. This is what I pray they will keep as their signature dish.

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Cauliflower
Yoghurt | Tarragon

A good portion of meat-eaters may have switched off by now. I understand this meal is very vegetable dependent. Normally, I would agree but a true test to a good restaurant is in the way that they make their vegetables the main focus in their dishes. Equal rights to their meaty competition. Cauliflower is another versatile vegetable, whether made into a mash or grilled to crisp flawlessness – it is a star to many vegetarian-based meals. I tend to prefer my vegetables to retain almost 40% or less of its moisture. Not only does this cooking time permit that smoked flavour only grilling can provide you with, but it also gives the cauliflower that one-crunch bite. I would have preferred the cauliflower in this dish to have stayed longer on the grill but that is purely my own personal preference. Though traditionally yoghurt is the key dairy base of many Israeli dishes, I thought that a crème fraiche paired with the tarragon would have made a much more interesting combination.

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THE END – WONDERFUL MEMORY OF THE LAST (OF THE FIRST) SUPPER

Nathalie’s Rating: 3.9/5

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