Best Bites is a roundup of the outstanding dishes we had within the last month, those which renewed our love for established venues, caught our attention at a new opening, or impressed on us again the creativity and skill of Hong Kong’s talented chefs. From casual street bites to meticulously prepared tasting menu dishes, these are the plates we’d recommend you make a special trip for.
The dish: Carbonara au koque
Piedmont, the land of wine and truffles, is one of Italy’s most celebrated culinary regions, though you wouldn’t always know that from dining out in Hong Kong. Sure, the famed white truffles from Alba (a town in the Piedmont region), are shaved around town every fall, but many chefs’ embrace of Piedmontese cuisine ends there. How fortunate for us, then, to have a new restaurant dedicated to the food of Piedmont: Castellana. Opened in partnership with Italian chef Marco Sacco (of two-Michelin-starred Piccolo Lago), this elegant newcomer offers a refreshing change of pace from all the red-sauce Italian restaurants around town.
Pasta is less of a focus in Piedmont than in other regions of Italy, and so it is at Castellana as well. That being said, the pasta was the highlight of a recent tasting of the Marco Sacco set menu (HK$1,580), a series of seven courses served at Piccolo Lago that have been faithfully recreated here in Hong Kong. Chef Sacco’s carbonara au koque may bear a passing resemblance to the traditional recipe, but there are some significant changes in this dish that yield a sublime result.
Carbonara is routinely made with spaghetti or bucatini, but here the pasta of choice is a delicate handmade tagliolini; similarly, the strong, salty guanciale has been replaced by a single crispy sheet of cured ham, which you can break into as many pieces as you like. Perhaps the biggest difference is the egg-laden sauce which, rather than being mixed with the tagliolini before being plated, is drizzled over the top at the table — a visual delight that’s sure to activate your salivary glands. A far cry from the rustic carbonara you’re likely to find at humbler Italian establishments, this beautiful dish is simply molto delizioso. —Michael Alan Connelly, Editor in Chief
Castellana, 10/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 3188 5028
The dish: Prawn casoncelli
The industrial neighbourhood of Lai Chi Kok is experiencing a surge in new restaurants, the latest of which is a branch of Pici, Pirata Group’s popular pasta bar led by chef Andrea Viglione. If you’re wondering why you should trek all the way to the outer ‘burbs when you can get your fix at outlets in Central and Wan Chai, the answer is these plump prawn casoncelli (HK$170): squid ink-stained, half moon-shaped ravioli steeped in the flavours of the sea. The inky black parcels burst with an addictive prawn and crab meat filling and are tossed in a vibrant tomato sauce, interspersed with more generous fresh crab meat and bright cherry tomatoes. Available only at Pici Lai Chi Kok, this plate pretty much epitomises Pici’s raison d’être: rustic, generous, home-made pasta crafted with passion and authenticity. —Leslie Yeh, Dining Editor
Pici, Shop G03, G/F, D2 Place Two, 15 Cheung Shun Street, Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong, +852 2557 7227
The dish: Crispy white asparagus and tarragon sabayon
While most of the publicity surrounding The Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s revamped culinary programming (now six venues in total) has invariably centred on Amber, I think Somm deserves its own congratulatory moment in the sun. The space formerly occupied by Amber Bar has been transformed into a “restaurant by sommeliers”: a Tihany-designed wonderland that draws diners in with its barrique-shaped enclosure and sinuous banquettes.
The food is, blessedly, pretty damn good. Designed to complement Wine Director John Chan’s roster of 1000+ references, there’s a clear throughline shaded with fresh, seasonal, deceptively technical cooking — the kind that begs to be shared and which offers countless wine pairing opportunities. A rustic plate of white asparagus and tarragon sabayon (HK$158), dimly registering as a kindred of the green variety that’s traditionally accompanied by hollandaise, is a fantastic way to ring in spring (an otherwise wet and tedious time of year in Hong Kong). Coated in a crisp batter that accentuates each spear’s natural snap, this is asparagus as it should be: sweet, tender, served with lashings of a luscious, fork-coating, eggy sauce. Throw in a glass of Legras (or three) and you’ve got yourself the makings of an unbeatable lunch. —Randy Lai, Staff Writer
Somm, 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2132 005
The dish: Chicken, leek & bacon pie
James Sharman, one of the chefs behind One Star House Party, is back on the scene at The Leah, a new restaurant where his menu consists of “British food done right”. Fortunately, as a recent dinner visit confirmed, the kitchen is living up to this promise. You may thrill for dishes like beef Wellington and scallops with black pudding, but I’m certain the star of the menu is the chicken, leek & bacon pie (HK$150).
A comforting classic of the British kitchen, meat-filled pies are not always easy to pull off. The pastry has to be perfectly formed and rolled to the right length, then it has to turn out buttery and flaky without becoming overly dry. Then you’ve got the filling, which has to combine tender meat with a perfectly seasoned gravy. The made-from-scratch pies at The Leah — there’s also one made with beef short rib — are nothing short of perfect. You can’t go wrong with either one — try both! — but the chicken pie is the one I’d happily eat every single day. —MAC
The Leah, 308 & 311, 3/F, Lee Garden Two, 28 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2337 7651
The dish: Table-side guacamole
Everyone knows Mexican food is a weak spot in Hong Kong’s dining scene — a situation that’s no doubt been improved by the recent opening of Taqueria Super Macho — but for the best guacamole in town, look no further than Los Sotano. Now, I’m no fan of Lan Kwai Fong — I actively avoid it as much as possible, in fact — but I’ve been forced to make an exception for this subterranean Mexican lounge, where the food is surprisingly good. What’s so good about the table-side guacamole (HK$150) here? It’s as simple as perfect seasoning.
In a traditional molcajete, three perfectly ripe avocados are mashed up with onion, tomato, cilantro, salt, lime juice and — the key ingredient — pomegranate seeds. (You can also specify whether you’d like it to be spicy or not.) The end result is an irresistibly tasty, well balance guac that’s nearly impossible to stop eating. If you need a reason to plan a visit to Los Sotano and sample this guacamole for yourself, check out their monthly Borracho Brunch and weekly Movie + Margaritas Mondays. —MAC
Los Sotano, Basement, 21 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2970 3887
The dish: Bahn mi rice tacos
Over at Nhau, chef Que Vinh Dang takes familiar Vietnamese recipes and shakes them up — with unexpected and delicious results. There’s perhaps no better example of this on the menu than the bahn mi rice tacos (HK$120 for three), which take inspiration from the flavours of the iconic Vietnamese sandwich to become something entirely new altogether. On handmade rice tortillas, the chef combines Iberico pork belly with housemade pickles to create two-bite delights that you won’t want to share with anyone else. If you’re not a meat eater or just looking to try something different, a meatless version made with Impossible Food “meat” can be made, and the restaurant will also introduce chicken and fish options soon. —MAC
Nhau, 12 Circular Pathway, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3612 4568
Taqueria Super Macho
The dish: Mexican street corn
There’s no question that the tacos at Taqueria Super Macho are fantastic (see our full review here), but we suspect that the newly opened taco shack is about to dole out as many plates of Mexican street corn (HK$38) as they are tortillas. Chef Billy Otis churns out the platonic ideal of this south-of-the-border street snack — a dish that’s inevitably set to appear on every table in the house. The sweet golden kernels are blackened on the grill, slathered in crema, and given a powdery white blanket of cotija cheese. A liberal sprinkling of Tajin seasoning is the final touch — spicy, salty and tart with lime, it balances out the cheese and cream beautifully, making for an irresistible combination. We dare you not to order one. —LY
Taqueria Super Macho, 33-35 Bridges Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2333 0111
The dish: Le Capesante
My feeling toward Isola, the Gaia Group mainstay serving home-style Italian in ifc mall since 2005, has always vacillated between indifference and boredom. However, earlier this month I came away pleasantly surprised by the plates being put out by chef Corrado Michelazzo. It’s hard for any restaurant to maintain consistency over a 14-year period, but with dishes like his Le Capesante (HK$268), that’s exactly what chef Corrado is doing.
The constituent elements don’t seem particularly innovative — there’s Hokkaido shellfish, Piedmontese truffle, you get the picture — but all are prepared with “just so” technique that guarantees an even return on every morsel. Scallops, the core ingredient of this dish, are gently seared, preserving their intermittently fleshy and velvety texture. Truffles — basically a cliché at restaurants on the Island at this point — are deployed with refreshing restraint, and rediscover their original role as a flavour enhancer, adding to the intensely buttery profile of the seafood. Derivative? A shade. Satisfying? You betcha. —RL
Isola, ifc mall, Shop 2075, 2/F, Harbour View Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2383 8765
The dish: Sando
Katsu sandos are all the rage these days, so LKF newcomer Silencio created its own luxe version (HK$350) for carnivores to enjoy. Reader, I loved it. The kitchen takes A4 Miyazaki Wagyu tenderloin, gives it the katsu treatment, and then serves it on toasted milk bread with kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce. Is it a stupidly expensive indulgence? Yes. Is it extremely delicious and joy-inducing. Yes again. I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s worth the price tag. —MAC
Silencio, 6/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2480 6569
The dish: Char-grilled diced Hida beef with tri-colour sea salt
Contemporary Japanese izakaya Gonpachi has launched a menu full of variations on premium Wagyu beef sourced from Hida Takayama in the Gifu prefecture of Japan. This summer, Executive Chef Fei Ngan is highlighting 12 different ways to prepare this rich and flavourful ingredient, from turning it into sushi to serving it up as carpaccio, and even using it as a pizza topping. If I had to choose a favourite item, it’d be the char-grilled diced Hida beef ($198), which was seasoned to perfection, cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and served with three different salts to enhance its flavour. In a city with so many dining options, I rarely visit the same locale twice, but I would 100% go to Gonpachi again, purely to sink my teeth into this delicious dish. —Aydee Tie, Head of Marketing
Gonpachi, 4/F, Lee Gardens One, 33 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2787 3688