If you wanted to hand out an award for Hong Kong’s most beautiful dining room, newcomer Alto would surely be a top contender for the prize. Perched atop Causeway Bay’s new V Point tower on the 31st floor, the sleek space was designed by world-renowned product designer Tom Dixon’s firm, Design Research Studio, and this marks the group’s first project in Asia. We hope it won’t be the last one, either, because Alto is a stunner, with 220 gorgeous, golden globes of light hanging overhead and breathtaking, panoramic views of Victoria Harbour and the skyline.
A spectacular setting such as this is likely to put you in a good mood for your meal, and if you’re wise you’ll arrive with a big appetite. Chef Mike Boyle’s dinner menu is by no means the biggest in town, but with 15 starters, seven side dishes, a dozen grilled meats and fish, and seven main dishes, there are a lot of options to consider — and that’s not even counting the desserts. One of the greatest compliments we can pay the chef is that we wanted to eat everything on the menu, and we had a fun, if slightly agonising time, finally settling on what to order.
The selection of starters — in fact, the entire menu — is rather eclectic. (How else to describe a list that include bone marrow alongside quinoa salad and spinach artichoke dip?) There are two standout options to begin with: fondue and watermelon salad. The former may sound overly simplistic — grilled ciabatta served with a tray of melted Fontina — but the creamy, nutty cheese and warm bread make an irresistibly delicious combination. Similarly, the delightful and refreshing watermelon salad succeeds thanks to its mix of ingredients: watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, pear, pine nuts, mint leaves and chili-roasted feta cheese, all topped off with a thyme and raisin vinaigrette. These two dishes would make a fine beginning to any dinner.
Other starters missed the mark, such as a soft shell crab served with a salad of shaved vegetables, capers and brown butter, a dish that somehow lacked the expected sweetness and crunchiness. The foie gras, paired with an almond waffle, grilled peach and pink peppercorn, also failed to impress. The liver was well prepared and delicious on its own, but didn’t marry well with its neighbours on the plate.
On our visits, we most enjoyed the grill section of the menu. Chef Boyle previously worked at Bistecca, so he knows a thing or two about how to handle a good steak. For beef, diners have the option of USDA Prime, grass-fed from Argentina or Japanese A5 Wagyu; leg of lamb and fish are also available. Given our preference for American beef, we tried the 14-ounce USDA Prime ribeye medium rare and found it juicy, flavourful and perfectly cooked. There’s an array of sauces available on the side, but they’re mostly unnecessary since the meat itself is so good.
We recommend not skipping the side dishes, which we found to be well executed, though what you enjoy will depend largely on your vegetable preferences. We particularly enjoyed the roasted mushroom with balsamic vinegar and hazelnuts as well as the roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, cranberry and apple.
The main dishes at Alto are a bit of a mixed bag. Fish can often seem like an afterthought at a meat-centric restaurant, but we were happily surprised by the roasted branzino, which had moist, tender flesh and was served with fennel, cherry tomatoes and French beans in a moreish buerre blanc. If you’re in the mood for pasta, the carbonara macaroni with bacon and peas is serviceable but easily overshadowed by the incredibly satisfying black truffle pappardelle with mushrooms and baby asparagus — a mound of earthy goodness on a plate.
We were surprised to see pierogi — savoury dumplings of Eastern European origin typically served with sour cream — on the menu, but ultimately disappointed by the high-end treatment here, served with edamame purée, beetroot and carrot, as the combination generated significantly less enjoyment than the traditional method of eating them. When it comes to such a humble food, sometimes the simplest approach is best.
The cocktail menu is concise but well structured, divided into pre-dinner, with-dinner, and post-dinner options. We particularly liked the Un-named Yet, a sort of ramped-up Negroni made with Fernet Branca, Campari, gin, vermouth and cherry brandy that certainly awakened our appetite. Wine drinkers, meanwhile, will find a decent selection of wines by the glass, and an abundance of bottles that pair well with all the grilled items which form the centrepiece of a meal at Alto.
After all that food, dessert may seem unnecessary, but the dark chocolate butter cake, served with caramel sauce and bacon ice cream, is a decadent way to end the meal if you’re so inclined. The other options tend to be rich as well, so opt for fruit sorbet if you want something light to cleanse your palate and conclude dinner.
Chef Boyle is clearly talented, and one look at the menu will quickly reveal his enthusiasm, which he may need to cut back on a bit. Like a writer without an editor, the chef would be well advised to do some trimming of his menu and focus on what he’s best at. There are so many good things happening here — beautiful steaks, wonderful vegetarian dishes, great design, creative cocktails — that it seems a shame to hold on to any lacklustre elements.
Another highlight of the restaurant is that it offers great value. One might assume from the décor, the views and the quality of the food that a hefty bill awaits at the end of the night, but all things considered, the prices are surprisingly reasonable, even generous. In a city where it seems like the higher the restaurant, the larger the cheque, that’s reason enough for us to return to Alto — that and those sensational views, of course.
Alto, 31/F, V Point, 18 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2603 7181, diningconcepts.com/Alto