Type of food: Pan-European
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)
It was a year ago when Betty’s Kitschen opened at IFC Mall. Hong Kong-born, Norfolk-bred restaurateur Alan Yau (丘德威) outbid competitor Harlan Goldstein for the space where Harlan’s used to be. The restaurant’s name, a self-deprecating play-on-word, warns customers not to take the place too seriously. Or does it serve to manage expectations? Who is Betty and what kind of food does she like to cook? I bet even the staff has no idea.
|Betty's Kitschen at the IFC|
Yau is best known for his affordable pan-Asian noodle chain in the U.K. called Wagamama, a restaurant that goes out of its way to be unauthentic. Betty’s Kitschen is a departure from Yau’s mass market strategy but it sticks to his determination to insult whatever cuisine it identifies itself as. The menu is meant to be French: they serve vichyssoise and duck confit after all. Or so I thought until I also see Caesar salad and gravlax (a Swedish appetizer) on the menu. Then, every afternoon at 3pm, the restaurant transforms itself into an English hotel and starts serving afternoon tea on three-tier stands. If this is what a “pan-European” restaurant is like, then may Betty’s Kitschen be the first and the last to befall our city.
Let's talk about the décor. Yau hired boy wonder interior designer Andre Fu (傅厚民) – who did the Upper House Hotel in Admiralty – to put his magic touch on Betty’s. Instead, Fu played a practical joke on his boss and delivered something shockingly bad. There are stonewalls lined with potted herbs, patio furniture on Italian marble floor, waiters in Kelly green vests and waitresses in tartan. I was expecting the staff -- those Leprechauns and Highlanders -- to break into folk song and country dance at any moment. The combination is what someone who has never been to Europe imagines Europe to be: a hodgepodge of cultural clichés.
The three-course lunch costs $400. It is kitsche food at haute cuisine prices. The vichyssoise is cornstarch mixed with MSG. The so-called “seven hour” slow-cooked lamb lacks flavor, as do the risotto and grilled chicken. For dessert, the chocolate souffle is unremarkable, although the pastry chef tries to make up for it by offering a good selection of ice-creams and sorbets.
Betty’s Kitschen is a restaurant idea gone bad. The place has survived a year of high rent but overstayed its welcome. As soon as the lease is up, mall management will shut it down to make room for still another jewelry shop. A Van Cleef or King Fook, perhaps. Everything about Betty’s Kitschen, from its menu to its décor and even its name, is ill-conceived. Calling it “Ugly Betty” would have been more apt.
|At the IFC, ugly is so not the new beautiful|
UPDATE: In May 2012, the restaurant finally abandoned its ridiculous name and rebranded itself as "St. Betty." But they still couldn't get the name right: there is no patron saint called Betty and even if there were, the restaurant should have been called "St. Betty's" anyway. To revive the kitchen, owner Alan Yau hired two-Michelin starred Australian chef Shane Osborn to redesign the menu and take over as executive chef. I suggest Yau should stop throwing good money after bad.