On the second floor of the IFC shopping mall in Central Hong Kong is St Betty, a slightly unlikely location for the latest venture of Alan Yau (founder of Wagamama and Hakkasan). The restaurant has been open a year, but what made it interesting to me was that the head chef as of a few weeks prior to my visit was Shane Osborn, previously head chef of Pied a Terre. The formula for St Betty is not entirely obvious: vaguely European food with Asian touches, with a shopping centre location, 130 cover size and lack of tablecloths hinting at a quite casual format, but the level of work in the dishes and the pricing suggesting otherwise.
The dining room has a large display of fruit at the entrance, a stone floor and a white wall on one side, a view out from the mall through picture windows on the other. There is a short wine list, with wines such as Te Mania Sauvignon Blanc 2010 at HK$460 for a wine you can find in the high street for HK$153, Bishop Head Pinot Noir 2009 at HK$590 compared to a retail price of HK$146, and Ornellaia 2006 at HK$2,900 for a wine you can find for HK$1,460. The bread arrived, white rolls with little flavour, too much air and a thin crust; I assumed the bread had been bought from a supermarket, but apparently was actually made in the kitchen. This is an obvious area for improvement (1/10).
"21st century egg" took chopped century egg (a Chinese preserved egg) with black truffle, poached and rolled with Parmesan and then deep fried and garnished with a sliver of truffle. This was served with asparagus that had been cooked on the Josper grill (an enclosed grill that keeps the flavour in) and topped with Parmesan, served with lemon mayonnaise. This had been made using whole eggs rather than just the yolks in order to make it lighter. The dish was dressed with hazelnut in vinaigrette. The overall creation was quite light, the crispy egg working well with the asparagus and avoiding any of the sulphur notes that can make century egg an acquired taste, the lemon providing some acidity to balance the egg (4/10). I also enjoyed poached spanner crab topped with water chestnut, diced jicama (a sweet root vegetable reminiscent of a turnip) with slices of raw butternut squash, fried soft-shell crab, seaweed and sunflower seeds. The crab avoided the greasiness that can often afflict this dish, the batter quite light, the salad elements a nice light contrast to the deep-fried crab (5/10).
Beef carpaccio was served with capers and rocket with pumpkin seeds and a red wine vinaigrette. The beef had good flavour, the capers lifting the dish, the vinaigrette giving the dish overall balance (4/10). This was better than pan-fried foie gras, served on a bed of endive and orange with semi-dried grapes, pecan nuts and an endive garnish. This dish was let down by rather moderate quality foie gras and a curious absence of seasoning (2/10).
Line caught Japanese sea bass was served with roast carrots, celtuce (a kind of non-hearting lettuce grown for its stems), carrot oil and sunflower seeds. The carrots had good flavour but the sea bass was quite obviously overcooked, something that should have been picked up at the pass (Shane was not around at this service). The fish had good flavour, so it was a pity to see such a nice ingredient being treated carelessly (1/10). Much better was pink snapper with leeks that had been cooked and then marinated, olive oil emulsion, diced potatoes, semi-dried tomatoes, some mussels and a garnish of chervil and tarragon. The snapper was nicely cooked, the vegetables having good flavour (4/10). The best dish of the evening was passion fruit soufflé with caramel ice cream (check). The soufflé was cooked carefully and evenly through, the passion fruit flavour coming across well, the texture excellent. This dish could have been served at a much grander restaurant (7/10).
Service was good, with a friendly and helpful manager. The bill came to HK$975 (£80) per head, with a bottle of wine between two. Overall this felt like a work in progress, which it clearly was at this stage, with Shane having been in charge of the kitchen for just a few weeks. However the best dishes were very good, and it will be interesting to see how it develops when the new kitchen regime has had time to settle in.