Afterthoughts – Tranquilo at Brickhouse
I am obsessed with Mexican food – there is something so utterly captivating about the intricate balance of vibrant, sultry flavours that are never compromising, and ever so bold and unapologetic. I often lament about the lack of good Mexican cuisine in Hong Kong, so when the folks at Maximal Concept invited me to try their new inspirations at Brickhouse, I was somewhat dubious. I got all hot and bothered the first time I tried Brickhouse almost a year ago in the early days of its opening, but left the restaurant sadly deflated, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be uplifted by a second try. However, always keeping an open mind about food, I decided to give Brickhouse a second chance.
Well, first off, like a real estate agent would insist, it’s all about “location, location, location”. Brickhouse’s location certainly adds to its mystery. The first time I visited, I spent 15 minutes walking around LKF glued to my Google map instructions. The entrance to the back alley where Brickhouse is located reminds me of a scene from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – you literally have to walk through a wall of bags to enter the back alley! Tucked into the side of the alley, beside a massive exhaust vent, is the camp yet charming little Mexican diner. Seating is definitely cramped and very social. Even on a Tuesday night, this place was PACKED.
We dominated the central communal table and started off the evening with a round of innovative libations. The exotic-sounding Cubano caught my eye, and I just had to taste what tobacco-infused vanilla brandy is like. The curious drink came in a huge glass rimmed with black volcanic salt (adding to the smokiness factor?) and capped with a napkin and slice of grilled pineapple. Why the mysterious napkin cap, you ask? Well, as I discovered, lifting the napkin released a witch’s cauldron of fragrant tobacco smoke. Yes, fragrant tobacco – not the smell from the end of a cancer stick.
Alchemy at its finest hour – tobacco infused brandy, literally “smoking”. This might be a smoker’s fantasy drink. It was an “interesting” experience, although more for the wow factor rather than the taste. It was way too salty for me, and “smokey” but I’m glad to have tried it. Definitely an inventive drink!
After my smokey (mis)adventure, I was ready to bring my palate back to more familiar territory with a trio of guacamole ranging from traditional to fruit to chipotle. The chipotle was my favourite out of the three, the slight spiciness balanced the richness of the avocado.
You can’t deny a Northern girl her corn! Corn was the food stable of my forefathers in arid Beijing, so I always believe my love of corn is build into my genes. The Mexican-style street corn, rolled in chill mayo and cheese, definitely created a street party of delicious flavours in my mouth. I was so infatuated with this corn that I tried to recreate a similar version in my own kitchen (click here for recipe).
Freshly toasted tortillas – 100% home-made goodness.
Another delectable libation for the evening – Pisco sour with nutmeg bitters, egg white, lime and sugar cane. I loved the frothy egg white on top, but wished the drink had more of a flavour punch. A stronger citrus undertone would have kicked it up a notch.
The very busy, and very happenin’ bar.
Fish taco! Light, flakey white fish with plenty of fresh vegetable crunch.
Queso Fundito – black ben, guacamole, pico de cauliflower, chili oil, creme and freshly toasted tortillas. The scissors plate-side was a nice touch as the cheesy mixture needed some help to unravel.
Agua chili ceviches with succulent shrimp marinated in cucumber water, citrus, pickled red onion, cilantro and chill oil.
What a stunning dish, both in aesthetics and taste. Neat cubes of juicy watermelon dotted with lemon cucumber, goat feta, chili syrup, mint and candied pepitas. Oh, the pepitas! I could have eaten a whole jar of these crunchy little jewels.
Rojas con crema – Manchego cheese, fire poblanos and Spanish onions. Sinfully rich, and best indulged amongst a few friends.
Bahhhhh – I spy a Billy goat! I am not a fan of goat meat, so when the Barbacoa Tacos came to the table, I was unsure about the selection at best. However, under my motto of “a foodie must be open to trying everything” (at least once), I bravely wrapped a thick tortilla full of the slow braised leg of goat, queso fresco, radish and avocado salsa, serrano pickled shallots, spanish onion, and cilantro. The result? I was converted at first bite. The goat meat was tender and succulent, and devoid of any unpleasant gameness. The spicy pop of crunchy radish was a refreshing accompaniment. This was definitely the piece de resistance of the evening, and left us happily satiated.
By this time, we were all begging for mercy after polishing off two heaping plates of goat tacos. However, I couldn’t pass off the deep-fried roasted beets, with sweet chill aioli for dipping. What can I say? Beets are super foods (just never mind the deep frying bit).
Sweet endings – spicy chocolate molten cake with goat ice cream. When I first heard “goat” and ice cream, I cringed and then tried to think of a polite way to decline. Luckily, I held true to my foodie motto and attempted a small spoonful. Hands down, one of the best ice creams in town – smooth, creamy and not at all “goaty”. I always love chocolate with chili so the cake was a classic combo for me.
Goat ice cream with sweet coconut rice tamale. The tamale was pebbled with sweet corn, a definitely win in my books!
I love the beautiful, mismatched plates at Brickhouse.
Say WHAT?!?!?!?!?! Tequila shots for the road, reminds me of my Gamma Phi Beta days.
Verdict: This is a classic case of second chances. The first time I visited Brickhouse, I hated it (well, ok, hate is a strong word but I did not like it). This time back, with a little guidance on menu choices, I left a happy diner. The menu has been slightly tweaked, and offers some innovative dishes that dares to step out of the predictable, comfort zone. The fun, very social vibe added to the whole dining experience. One thing missing from our dinner was their DIY bone marrow taco, and I will definitely be back to try this!
G/F, 20A D’Aguilar Street
(no reservations, walk-in only)