Gough’s on Gough is the first restaurant owned by top furniture designer Timothy Oulton and, naturally, all the décor has been designed and created by the man himself. Timothy Oulton Galleries is a high-end brand with 42 retail galleries worldwide. Born in Manchester, England, Oulton moved to Hong Kong nine years ago. He opened Gough’s on Gough in the autumn of 2017.
Where is it?
Situated at 15 Gough Street (from which the restaurant clearly takes its name), a quiet little thoroughfare in Central, just off Hollywood Road, Gough’s is within easy reach for city workers, either for lunch or dinner. If arriving on foot take Hollywood Road from Central out towards Sheung Wan then turn right down Aberdeen Street. Gough Street is on your left. The closest MTR station is actually Sheung Wan, though Central is almost as convenient.
The spectacular frontage of Gough’s alerts you to the fact that a meal here is going to be a special experience. Where else are you greeted by a full-size dummy of a deep sea diver in full diving suit and bell helmet, submerged in a massive tank of water and surrounded by live fish?
A gleaming golden spiral staircase takes you elegantly up to the main dining and lounge area where you can either enjoy cocktails at the bar or sip an aperitif on a plush, vintage leather sofa before being shown to your table. It’s not a massive space but extensive use of mirrors give the impression of a much bigger room and the décor, as you’d expect from one of the world’s great furniture designers, is highly original, hugely stylish, and reassuringly expensive-looking.
One of the highlights is a changing wall panel which alternates between oyster shells (around 2,500 of them) leather, and duck down. And the cues for changing the panel? Why, leather for lunch, feathers for dinner, and shells for brunch of course!
There are other nice touches to keep the eye entertained: Oulton is something of a boxing fan and this is reflected in the leather-and-strap edges to some walls, mimicking the padded corners of a boxing ring.
‘Timothy Oulton wanted to open a restaurant where people could come and feel welcome’ explains restaurant manager, Jonathan Jones. ‘Every culture around the world has a way of hosting people in their homes and he wanted to recreate traditional British hospitality in Gough’s. He wanted to create a place in Hong Kong that was unique – a place where everyone is welcome and embraces the old style of hospitality.’
The décor, lighting and atmosphere all lend themselves to a high-class night out, subtle and stylish rather than over-the-top gimmicky, and the low lighting (you can even adjust the height and positioning of the lights suspended above your table) is also ideal for a romantic meal for two – depending on just how private you want to be. The tables are, in some cases, rather close together and, with music playing in the background, you do have to raise your voice to be heard across the wide tables so total privacy is not guaranteed.
British cuisine hasn’t always enjoyed a reputation for being amongst the world’s finest. A tendency to boil vegetables to within an inch of their lives, an insistence on serving chips with every dish, and an almost pathological aversion to anything remotely spicy, mark out the typical British cook as one of the world’s most unadventurous. But at Gough’s on Gough, British food and British ingredients are championed, cooked, and presented in such a way as to completely annul all these time-honoured stereotypes. In fact, so creative and tantalising are chef Aaron Rhodes’ dishes, one could be forgiven for thinking that British cuisine ranks up there with the world’s finest.
While it’s true that not every meal is 100 per cent British (the Madagascan prawns and Gillardeau oysters are not quite native to UK shores), there is, in almost every case, a nod to Brit cuisine in either the cooking method (lots of braising and roasting – including Sunday roast dinners which alternate between roast beef, pork belly, lamb and all the usual favourites), the ingredients, or the inspiration for the dish. This is the influence of Rhodes, a native Brit, who was given free range to create the menu in the restaurant. He chose to fuse the best of modern British cuisine with an element of Asian purism, as well as other international influences (the menu includes Dutch mussels, Boston lobster, Australian beef and French oysters) to create dishes like sautéed girolle mushroom, smoked portobello puree, pine tree cream and pickled yams, and seared tenderloin and slow-braised beef shin, celeriac puree, English ale sauce and pearl barley.
“Arron Rhodes has worked all over the world, from Japan to Peru and the Maldives” says Jonathan Jones. “He employs influences and touches from his experiences around the world and has spent a lot of time choosing really beautiful produce – all from sustainable and ethical farming. He wants to let the produce shine and so supports it with very light sauces.”
Of the British theme that informs the menu, Jones says “We’re a British company and Arron is also British so he’s chosen British ingredients whenever possible and also employs traditional British cooking methods, but with a modern twist. We’d call it modern British food.”
And the food? The food really does do Britain proud. The tasting menu (HK$988 per person or HK$1,438 per person with wine pairings, as sampled for this review) was an absolute delight from start to finish. Opening with duck, plum and foie gras, corn, avocado and sprouts, and annatto seed, smoked fish and lime (the latter served in a charming, scooped-out mini wooden log) and progressing through such delicacies as scallop, elderflower, horseradish and dill, waiting for the waiter to bring the next dish was like waiting to open presents on Christmas morning. “Each dish just gets better and better” he promises as he deftly slips the plates away, once they’d been cleared of pigeon, carrot and ginger, and coffee potatoes.
And he’s not wrong. The final savoury dish is seasonal fish (in this case, Icelandic cod) caramelised cauliflower, and herbs, paired with a 2013 Chateau Puyguerand Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux. The sommelier also kept things intellectually stimulating by explaining his choice of wine and why it complements each dish.
Five savoury dishes followed by a sweet (crème brulee, persimmon, apricot and vanilla) and a dessert wine (a 2016 Domaine Cauhape Jurancon, Petit Manseng from south-west France) seemed a perfectly adequate way to sample the best of what Gough’s on Gough has to offer. After all, in a restaurant as good as this, it’s the quality that counts, not the quantity.
You can either have a drink before dinner in the street level bar downstairs or head up to the main restaurant and enjoy a fine wine, cocktail, beer, spirit, bitter or digestif from the well-appointed bar (where you can also be impressed by the staff shaving fine slivers of ice from large blocks using sublimely sharp Japanese knives). The drinks menu is both comprehensive and imaginative and boasts many artisan and unusual brands (Aylesbury Duck vodka, anyone?). A 45-year-old Pierre Ferrand Abel brandy can soothingly warm your taste buds for $488, a 12-year-old Japanese Hibiki whisky will cost you $208, or, at the other end of the spectrum, a simple chilled bottle of Peroni beer will add $78 to your bill. You can choose to sit at the beautifully-lit bar or recline in one of several designer leather sofas before being shown to your table.
It’s always difficult to judge service standards when you’re being given special media treatment, but the staff were unfailingly attentive in our case and, on observing the service being given to others, it seemed there were no exceptions to this. Vastly knowledgeable about the food and drinks served at Gough’s, the staff seemed genuinely keen to share this knowledge, whether that be in relating the stories behind the origins of cocktails or knowing where each and every major ingredient is sourced from and why a particular wine works well with it.
Gough’s on Gough manages to effortlessly blend fine dining with a stylish, yet relaxed, atmosphere. Knowledgeable, attentive, and friendly waiters are happy to talk you through the dishes and wines being served and the ambience, lighting, and décor all add up to a dining experience that will leave you feeling pampered and satisfied. Timothy Oulton’s talents are not confined to designing furniture – he also knows how to design a first class restaurant.
Words: Stuart Barker
Bar at street level: Every day from 5pm
Lunch: Every day from 12-2.30pm
Dinner: Every day from 6,30pm
Reservations: +852 2473 9066; [email protected]; goughsongough.com and timothyoulton.com