If you’ve been paying attention to the food world, you’ll know that Hong Kong has been enjoying a bit of a Mexican renaissance as of late, with several dedicated mezcalerias popping up around town and more and more restaurants adding tacos — some admittedly better constructed than others — to their menus. Adding fuel to the fire and borrowing from the Californian–Mexican canon of cooking is another newcomer, Big Sur, which recently opened on Staunton Street in the busiest part of SoHo. At the helm is talented Conor Beach, Executive Chef of Woolly Pig Concepts who also oversees the menu at the nearby 12,000 Francs.
Famished on a Saturday night, Big Sur beckoned to us with its spacious, half-empty dining room — one of the few restaurants in SoHo without a queue snaking out the doors — and we breezed in, lured by the promise of quick service and instant gratification. Luckily, the empty Saturday night crowd could be chalked up to the quiet soft opening of the restaurant, as we found out chef Beach’s culinary talent and creative interpretations at the fermentation-obsessed 12,000 Francs extend to a well-versed affinity with Baja flavours and BBQ.
While the aforementioned empty tables didn’t add much to the overall atmosphere of the restaurant on a Saturday evening, there’s definite potential for the space, which sprawls out over a large dining room and separate bar area, where 14 rotating beers are available on tap from local brewery, Young Master Ales. (It’s a good alternative to stop in for happy hour beer and tacos if you’re not after a full meal.)
The restaurant is light and airy, tapping into a West Coast vibe with a dining room awash in blond timber and stone columns and flooring, punctuated by light-blue hues and a few framed pictures here and there that evoke sunny Californian summers. It’s pleasant enough, although a few more thoughtfully placed touches could go a long way in reaching the full potential of the space and concept, swinging the pendulum further from highway pit stop to trendy downtown destination.
Food and Drink
Stomachs grumbling after a long hike, we eagerly peruse the menu, more concerned with the food than the surrounds. Already big fans of chef Beach from previous visits to 12,000 Francs, we’re keen to see how his fine dining technique (he previously served terms at contemporary diners Bibo and Tri) will translate into a casual BBQ and tacos joint — two deceptively simple forms of cooking that some chefs spend their whole careers perfecting.
Our meal starts with a sampling of the two tacos on offer (HK$50 per taco): the Baja, which foregoes fish for grilled prawns and homemade chorizo; and the BBQ pastrami with house-brined-and-smoked beef brisket. Both hit the mark: The Baja is loaded with plump and juicy prawns, snapped to life with chopped jalapeños and a zippy, spicy mayo sauce. It’s complemented with housemade ‘Sur-izo’, coarse crumbles of pork and fat lending a faint char and smokiness to each bite. The more unconventional BBQ pastrami is surprisingly tasty, with sizeable chunks of tender, spiced meat wrapped into the warm folds of the lightly grilled tortilla, helped along with a generous amount of slaw, cotija cheese and tangy, Memphis–style BBQ sauce.
For our main, we dig into the Memphis pork ribs (HK$230), a full slab of spice-rubbed baby back ribs bearing the warming aroma of hickory wood. The meat pulls easily off the bone, and we slather it generously with the smooth and tangy sauce. For sides, we order sweet potato fries expecting crispy fried slithers; instead, they’re more like loaded baked potatoes, thick-cut wedges dotted with mayo and a red chilli sambal. The sambal is a nice twist, although we miss the crunch. Speaking of baked potatoes, those who love the classic steakhouse side can also go for the Idaho baked potatoes (HK$35 each), which are stuffed chock-full of cheddar, sour cream and jalapeños.
To wrap up our meal, we hunker down with a bowl of spicy fried rice, tempted by the menu description, ‘Burnt Ends’ Fried Rice (HK$125). It turns out the crispy morsels are actually bits and pieces of BBQ pork shoulder, mixed together with wild rice, spring onions and mushrooms for a carb-loaded bowl of comfort food. The rice is topped off with a luxurious soft-poached egg, it’s yolky centre spilling like velvet over the delicious bits of pork and rice. Our hungry appetites take us straight through to dessert, but the Texas Sheet ‘Stack Cake’ (HK$90) lacks the moist, gooey richness of a good chocolate cake.
There’s much more to explore on the menu, and a follow-up visit strengthens our first impressions. The consistency and technical range of Beach’s cooking is revealed in dishes such as slow-smoked whole barramundi fish, brought to life with a Southeast Asian–inspired dressing; the ceviche, where pearly pink hunks of hamachi rest on a punchy avocado crema; and the chicken satay salad, which despite an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink appearance delivers an unexpected harmony of flavours. The bold menu goes best with the refreshing draft beers on offer, though the bar also offers a neat selection of wines as well as ‘Juice & Booze’ cocktails, featuring premium spirits mixed with freshly pressed juices (we sample a few and find them light on the booze, perhaps better for those counting calories). The all-day dining concept also extends to a notable breakfast and lunch offering, with house-made chocolate crullers, maple-pecan donuts and coffee available for takeaway, alongside healthy salads and fresh pressed juices.
Overall, Big Sur delivers on big flavours, the trademark cooking style of chef Conor Beach, as evident in the unfussy style of Californian cuisine as it is in the more composed plates at 12,000 Francs. The quality of ingredients and care are discernible, and Beach’s breadth of techniques and ability to draw from different cuisines is perhaps the biggest similarity to California’s melting pot. Is it the most authentic Californian BBQ or the trendiest destination around? Perhaps not, but there are few better spots in SoHo at the moment to make a quick stop for BBQ and beer hankerings. With some of the best BBQ in America to be hunted down in run-down shacks and smokehouses off the highway in the middle of nowhere, perhaps the characterisation of roadside pit stop may not be such a bad one, after all.
Opening Hours: Daily from 9am until late.
Recommended Dishes: Hamachi ceviche, chicken satay salad, Burnt Ends fried rice, tacos, Memphis pork ribs, mixed BBQ plate, sweet potato fries.
Price: HK$300–$500 per person with 1–2 drinks.
Noise Level: Quiet to comfortable noise levels with the dining room full.
Service: Friendly and efficient, well-trained.