Gone are the days when trekking to Tsim Sha Tsui in search of culinary pursuits was reserved for dim sum and Korean barbecue cravings. With the prolific expansion of Harbour City’s dining options, well-established Central names hauling their brands cross-harbour, and rapidly disappearing real estate in more centrally located parts of town — Kowloon is fast becoming a culinary destination for every cuisine imaginable. And of all the new restaurant openings that grab our attention around Hong Kong Island every month, there are a few gems that are worth a visit further afield.
Recently launched at the InterContinental Grand Stanford is one such outfit — a revamp of 40-year-old Italian restaurant Mistral, rebranded to Theo Mistral by Theo Randall to reflect the new star power at the helm. A prosperous partnership between the international hotel brand and the British celebrity chef has led to several acclaimed restaurants at InterCon properties over the past several years, with Theo Mistral being the latest to debut right here in Hong Kong.
The restaurant takes a bit of a painstaking journey to find (particularly for grumbling Centralites who rarely cross the harbour). You’ll have to mosey over to Tsim Sha Tsui (East!), take a leisurely walk along the harbour to the InterCon, then find your way down the winding staircase to the basement where Theo Mistral sits shrouded in a greenery-filled den.
Despite the lack of natural light, Theo Mistral still manages to feel open and cheery (the decorations haven’t changed much since the rebranding), with an abundance of greenery, mirrors and nostalgic framed pictures on the wall, and cosy leather armchairs juxtaposed with bright blue banquettes. Surfaces covered in marble and light-brown terracotta-tiled floors create textural contrast, while plenty of brass and copper adds to the sense of elegance and refinement. It’s a place that’s just as suitable for a special occasion dinner as a casual post-work catch-up. If you’re dining with a group, try booking out the 14-seat private room — a warmly lit and tastefully decorated den that’s easy to linger in for a long, drawn-out meal.
Food and Drink
Take a seat at one of the white tablecloth four-tops and you’ll be handed a succinct one-pager which traverses your perfunctory dish categories: antipasti, pasta, seafood, meat, pizza. A closer look at the menu, however, reveals more interesting details, with lengthy dish descriptions alluding to the brilliant range of Italian-sourced ingredients.
First up, a selection of fresh Italian produce, untainted by superfluous seasonings and generous in portion size: transparent pink folds of prosciutto di Parma, melting on the tongue with a rich mouthfeel; vivid green roasted asparagus stalks wrapped in more pork fat; mixed olives; bruschetta topped with colourful roasted peppers; and a great big ball of burrata, split open at the side to reveal its luscious, creamy centre. Rustic and bountiful, the antipasti platter (HK$328) would be worthy of a meal in itself — accompanied by a nice Pinot Grigio, of course.
But you’d be remiss to skip out on the other offerings at Theo Mistral, from the wood-fired pizzas to the hearty pastas tossed with a deft hand. Our table “ooh”ed and “aah”ed collectively when the Regina pizza arrived (HK$228), boasting a just-puffy-enough, chewy, golden-brown crust with well-proportioned toppings distributed across a base of mozzarella and tart tomato sauce. A quintessential handheld slice (not too soppy towards the centre, with a nice and firm yet pliant structure), the individual ingredients popped in each bite: fresh basil leaves, delicate Daterrini tomatoes, peppery rocket and sheets of salty parm. While not quite the best pizza in town, it was a fine specimen nonetheless.
Next came the two star dishes of the meal: the pastas — in our opinion, where the kitchen truly shines. An earthy and fragrant aroma harkened the arrival of the cappelletti de vitello ($228 for small), squares of plump stuffed dough, each hat-shaped pocket stuffed with a mixture of slow-coked veal, pancetta and porcini mushrooms. Glistening in a buttery mushroom cream sauce, the ravioli seemed to encapsulate all the joys of home-cooked Italian food in one glorious bite. Also equally impressive: the ravioli d’erbette ($188 for small), squares of sunny-hued dough with crimped edges, bulging at the centre with a bright green mixture. Digging in we uncovered the filling to be a mix of swiss chard and broccoli rabe, cooked down to expel their bitterness, and folded with ricotta for creaminess.
Following such a superior act, the meat and fish entrées tended to pale in comparison (but don’t they always?). Few people seek out Italian trattorias to feast on fish alone — but for those actively avoiding carbs, the roasted halibut (HK$368) would be an appropriate number: The white-fleshed fish benefits from a quick sear in the pan, paired with a simple cherry-tomato-and-caper sauce, roasted Sicilian red papers and wilted rainbow chard. A squeeze of lemon was all that was needed to lift the clean flavours.
The roasted guinea fowl (HK$348) was also cooked well, yet heavy on the salt. It delivered a one-two punch stuffed with Parma ham, and lemon zest and thyme in a creamy mascarpone sauce; bruschetta with Swiss chard, porcini and portobello mushrooms rounded out the gamey number. For meat lovers, it’s worth noting that there are also selections from the grill, with cuts such as US Angus beef tenderloin ($488, 220g) and Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (HK$1,288, serves 2).
For dessert, sweet tooths won’t be left disappointed. Bright lemons from Italy work their magic in the signature crostata di limone di amalfi (HK$98) — a pure gustatory expression of the sun-drenched lemon groves of Amalfi. For fruit lovers, there’s a jar of panna cotta topped with grappa-infused strawberries; for chocolate lovers, there’s the soft chocolate cake teeming with richness, cut through by a scoop of mascarpone. Finally, a bit of theatre to end the night: a Theo Mistral-branded chocolate bar, which is broken apart by a heavy gold hammer to provide a fun finale to the evening.
The wine list is restrained — particularly for an Italian restaurant — but you’ll find some smart expressions by the glass, and fairly priced bottles ranging from crisp and light Pinot Grigio to full-bodied Sangiovese. For a nightcap, Theo’s White Negroni (HK$98) should do the trick: a botanical blend of Malfy Gin, Mancino Bianco vermouth and Bittermens extract.
Truth be told, Hong Kong probably doesn’t need another Italian restaurant. Walk a few blocks through Central and you’ll pass by five or so Italian spots, most likely serving a range of mediocre pizzas and humdrum pastas. One could also argue that with more big chains and restaurant groups turning to the crowd-pleasing formula of Italian cuisine for a quick revenue boost, the less opportunity (given our compact city and rising real estate costs) for truly unique and esoteric cuisines and concepts to take root in what is, admittedly, an increasingly culinarily progressive city.
That being said, a restaurant that elevates the benchmark of Italian food is one that’s worth keeping and revisiting time and again. Theo Mistral shows promise of becoming a staunch stalwart of real Italian dining in our city. While it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel (and some prices can topple towards the high end), there is surely something comforting about the way it navigates Italian classics with ease — the same homestyle food you would sit down to having stumbled upon an old nonna‘s home on the coast of Italy. While Randall’s credentials are irrefutable, we were honestly worried of another celebrity chef opening in Hong Kong. Thankfully, there’s no ego to be found here — just honest and simple Italian food made with care.
Opening Hours: Mon–Sat 12–3pm, 6:30–11pm; Sun 11am–3pm, 6:30–11pm.
Recommended Dishes: Antipasti platter, cappelletti with slow-cooked veal, mixed green ravioli with Swiss chard, roasted halibut with parsley and capers, fish stew, Regina pizza.
Price: HK$400–600 per person.
Noise Level: Medium.
Service: Friendly and open to conversation.