Summer is the perfect season for exploring Hong Kong with a friend, an old flame, or perhaps a new special someone. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants, but it can be harder to track down the establishments that offer something more unique and creative than your typical date-night dinners.
Luckily, we’ve done the work for you. If you’re looking for a real conversation-starter, try one of these off-the-beaten-track date-night ideas for a memorable evening that you’ll remember long after the last petits-fours are served.
Linguini Fini’s Italian hot pot
Price: HK$489 for The Chelsea set
Being Taiwanese, I’ve had my fair share of hot pot before, but never with an Italian twist. When I heard about Linguini Fini’s new Italian hot pot, I had to give it a try. What does hot pot look like without Chinese barbecue sauce?
Before even eating the food, I was impressed by the sheer spectacle of the meal. With most diners enjoying pizza and pasta, our table stuck out with our steaming tub of soups, platters of meat and seafood, and side table of twelve different sauces. I couldn’t help but notice many of our neighbours casting us a jealous, sidelong glance.
We tried “The Chelsea,” the seafood-heavy option with two types of clam broth (one spicy, one heavy on the white wine). The set came with a seafood platter containing shrimp, squid and scallops, but we also added the mixed carne platter (HK$289) to try their famous homemade sausage, meatballs and hanger steak.
The soups were nicely flavoured if a bit on the oily side, and very enjoyable when eaten with the cooked seafood and meat. It almost didn’t need extra sauce, but I made one for experimental reasons and was pleasantly surprised on how well the Italian ingredients — such as anchovies, marinara sauce, a few pestos, roasted garlic cloves, caramelised onions, and aglio olio sauce — formed a tasty hot pot-like sauce. Like Chinese hot pot, the ingredients were strong and heavy but very addictive.
Verdict: While it might not eclipse your go-to hot pot place, Linguini Fini’s cheerful Italian version is a fun alternative. As the only Italian hot pot in Hong Kong, it’s a new experience for both parties and definitely a meal to remember. The experience is a bit messy though, so it’s perhaps better for a third rather than a first date. For those that love cooking, this is also a great chance to start showing off your skills in the kitchen.
Linguini Fini, 49 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2387 6338
Zafran’s “No Menu” experience
Price: HK$498 per person
Wanting to get to know someone a little better? Make a reservation at Zafran and enjoy their Tapas in Caracas ‘no menu’ experience (available Tuesday to Saturday). Duck into the hidden basement spot on Wyndham Street and take a seat in front of the open kitchen, where the affable chef Miguel Gallo will talk you through a flavour profile menu to understand your likes and dislikes. Armed with this knowledge, he and his team will get to work crafting a bespoke menu for you, encompassing five tapas served per person.
Our party of two had differing tastes, so we had the joy of trying ten different tapas. One of us wanted fatty foods, the other didn’t want seafood, and neither wanted bell peppers. The element of surprise was very enjoyable, knowing we would soon be eating our favourite foods but not knowing exactly how they would be prepared.
From the seafood dishes, we enjoyed the cod fritters with lemon mayonnaise the most. These small bites had a crisp yet almost chewy shell, and were surprisingly non-oily. A close second was the baby cuttlefish with chorizo, lightly enhanced with parsley, garlic and shiso.
The fatty dishes satisfied our craving for strong flavours without leaving our palates overwhelmed. Our favourite was the iberico ham and scallops, which was taken to the next level served on a bed of salted, creamy corn mash; we could have happily eaten the mash alone as pudding. The iberico pluma was also a treat, served smoky not sweet and on a bed of roasted eggplant puree. Our only slight disappointment of the night was the foie gras; it was nicely flavoured and served with truffled mash and caramelised onions, but the centre was still cold.
Verdict: We had a great evening, and felt this experience — a bespoke, multi-course meal, was good value for what was included. The tapas bar is the best place to sit to watch the food being prepared, and learn from the chefs about the creativity that goes into the dishes and the origin of their chosen ingredients. It’s a fully interactive experience, which goes a long way in killing those first-date jitters, or simply providing a memorable evening out.
Zafran, Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2116 8855
Cobo House’s Dessert Degustation menu
Price: HK$298 for a non-alcoholic pairing, HK$398 for an alcoholic pairing
Though there are many avant-garde dessert shops in Hong Kong, my favourite has always been Cobo House. Founded by Janice Wong, awarded Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2013 and 2014, the items served have always seemed thoughtful and incorporated unique ingredients — a treat for the palate as well as the eyes. Usually, I want just a bite or two of dessert, but a Dessert Degustation menu — with three full-sized desserts and drink pairings — was too tempting to pass up. Currently, there are two menus on offer: “Hues and Colours of Taste” and “Memories of Childhood.”
Hue and Colours of Taste is the option with stronger, more sophisticated flavours. Our favourite was the Strawberry Caprese, as the sweetness of the mouse and ice cream contrasted sharply against the tartness of the balsamic-cooked strawberries and vinegar jelly. Chocolate H20 is a visual treat served on a beautiful painted plate, matching the purple coating on the crumbly mousse cake. The simply-named Purple is the last dessert in this set, one of Cobo House’s best sellers with creamy purple potato orbs, tart blackberry fruit leathers, and tangy purees.
Taste and Memories of Childhood has more of a playful twist. The Popcorn dessert was wonderfully simple, with kettle corn crumbs scattered around a yuzu foam cake. We adored the presentation of Kyoto Garden, and the combination of lemongrass, orange blossom and pistachio. The Basil White Chocolate was kept from being too cloyingly sweet with the tartness of passion fruit and umami depth of sea grapes.
As for the drinks, we chose the alcoholic pairing with the Hues and Colours of Taste menu, and thought each paired well. With the Taste and Memories of Childhood, we were impressed with how interesting the mocktails were. The Popsoda was salty-sweet with popcorn syrup and yuzu, and the crème brûlée tea had a nice aroma. My favourite drink of the night was the Sabi Sabi, a thick smoothie-like drink with pureed apple and wasabi, though it slightly overpowered the delicate Kyoto Garden.
Verdict: We tend to like things a bit over the top, and a dessert degustation definitely falls into this category. Eating three desserts with beverage pairings might sound intense, but could be just the thing for those with a serious sweet tooth. Cobo House also has a wonderfully tasteful, refined and quiet atmosphere — a lovely spot to savour the moment and get to know someone on a deeper level.
Cobo House by 2am, 8/12 South Lane, Sai Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2656 3088