WARM welcome

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am

Paris catch

This open bistro aims to give people a taste of Paris - along Staunton Street - with its inviting decor of pale pistachio walls, mirrors and French posters along with Gallic tunes in the background. Executive chef Renaud Marin's menu features classic French dishes, with most of the ingredients sourced from France. Some of the starters could be shared, such as the foie gras creme brulee which makes the smooth sinful treat a touch sweet and crunchy, topped with poppy seeds that should be spread on toasted sour dough. Presented in a small glass container is the smoked salmon and capers rilette, that's again spread on sour dough. A classic of six Bourgogne snails are cooked with finely diced parsley and garlic butter. For mains, the whiting topped with croutons and capers is excellent, while the traditional rabbit and foie gras in pastry is hearty. The bagna cauda seems more like a side dish to share, as raw vegetables are dipped in a warm anchovy truffle sauce. The wine list features a majority of wines from France, including 10 boutique vineyards. BC

La Marmite

46 Staunton Street, Soho, Central

2803 7808 WWW.AQUA.COM.HK

Currying flavour

If you can look past the vivid terracotta walls and strange fabric jellyfish-like lampshades, Rana Raj makes a pleasant spot to watch the world go by while tucking into some classic dishes from across north India. While the menu is fairly brief, there should be something for everyone. The fish finger Amritsari, strips of fish in batter, tasted better than it looked - the fish was tender and flavoursome, dipped into a tangy sauce. The vegetable galouti kebab was nicely dry and spicy. The saag paneer, cottage cheese in spinach gravy, was enjoyable while the butter chicken came with more of a curry gravy than the smooth sauce of butter chicken served in India. There is a short, reasonably priced wine list with options from around the world, including the Middle East. VB

Rana Raj

Shop A, G/F Carfield Commercial Building, 77 Wyndham Street, Central

2114 0662, WWW.HABIBI.COM.HK

Bistro delight

Charmingly decorated with curving mirrors and Parisian-themed posters, this new French restaurant is a cosy spot for an enjoyable meal. Tables are closely packed and it can take some manoeuvring to reach your seat, but the closeness adds to the intimate atmosphere. Waiting staff are welcoming and friendly. The menu offers classic bistro dishes, with some excellent Burgundy escargots in herbed butter (HK$108 for 12, HK$68 for six), that are deliciously heavy on the garlic. The seared foie gras with grapes and lemon sauce (HK$138 for full portion, HK$88 for half) is a sinful delight - the rich foie gras is topped by a thick, sweet sauce; it's not for anyone watching their fat intake. We appreciated that the starters are available in two sizes; the half portions are generous enough for an appetiser. For mains, the confit mallard duck leg with mustard sauce (HK$218) was the highlight of the meal. The meat fell from the bone and the sauce was just the right balance of tangy and sweet, with refreshing citrus zing to it. The rib-eye steak, 'Maitre d'h?tel Butter' (HK$298 for 280 grams), listed under house specialities, was cooked as requested, but as rib-eye is already a fatty cut, the herbed butter smothering the meat seemed like overkill. For dessert, the apple tatin tart with creme fraiche (HK$68) was a simple, fairly uninspired dish, and we only ate half. The wine list offers mainly French options, but also a few New Zealand and Australian labels, from HK$250 to HK$4,000. More than 20 are available by the glass. VB

Bouchon Bistro Francais

49 Elgin Street, SoHo


Something of a find

I have always been a fan of Jaakko Sorsa's food. However, FINDS, in its former Lan Kwai Fong home, suffered from a bit of an identity crisis - undecided whether it was a fine-dining restaurant, funky bar or late night disco. In its new home, FINDS has found itself and the focus is firmly on fine dining. The beautifully decorated dining room draws its inspiration from the curves of nature with a wave-like timber ceiling and organic bar punctuated with floral Missoni fabrics and cheerful Paul Smith stripes. The Nordic menu is heavy on deep-sea delights - scallops, blue mussels, Arctic halibut and silver cod vying for attention. The house salmon specialties invites a choice of three from a selection of smoked, seared, gravad lax, tartare or mousse (above). Choosing a favourite was impossible. The foie gras two ways, pan-fried with grilled endives and peppered cherry sauce, and a terrine that was perfect with the house-baked dark rye bread, was delicious. For the main course, I couldn't resist more salmon. The house-smoked salmon fillet, with stewed wild morels and fingerling potatoes, is a huge fillet, cooked to juicy perfection. My companion opted for meaty venison tenderloin with wild mushroom filling, parsnip puree, savoy cabbage, rosemary potato terrine and blackcurrant sauce, which was deeply rich and flavourful. Full to bursting point, we decided to share the dessert trio, banking on miniature portions of the Baileys cheesecake, Daim dessert and apple fritters it offered. Not so. The platter could have satisfied four. TJ

FINDS Restaurant and Bar

1/F, The Luxe Manor

39 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

2522 9318 www.finds.com.hk

Gold award

The modern European menu at Gold by Harlan Goldstein features some familiar favourites alongside enough new dishes to make it exciting. The foie gras with green apple 'ice' and black fig jus appetiser was delicious, and the goose liver crisp on the outside and perfectly pink inside. The wood-stone fired flat bread with garlic prawns, chorizo, piquillo peppers and manchego cheese proved a surprise, as I had been convinced flavourful chorizo would overpower prawns, garlic or otherwise. While the 12oz New York prime sirloin was not exactly memorable, I had only one regret about the 750g live Boston lobster with garlic herb butter and lemon. I had chosen to share it. Gold's warm flowing chocolate cake was exactly as it sounded and the berry-berry fantastic cheesecake was that perfect New York cheesecake density rarely found in Hong Kong. The food is good, the wine list immense, the cocktails strong and the vibe chic. TJ

Gold by Harlan Goldstein

Level 2, LKF Tower

33 Wyndham Street, Central


Spanish eyes

Mesa 15 serves Andalusian tapas by chef Alejandro Sanchez, who runs a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain, and comes to Hong Kong every few months. The menu is short, with only 35 small dishes, but there are plenty of fine touches. The ensaladilla rusa, Russian potato-tuna-egg with homemade mayonnaise, is light and refreshing, the texture reminiscent of whipped cream, while the almejas al amontillado - clams in aromatic sherry sauce - is fragrant with the heady fruitiness of sherry. The cochinillo confitado, crispy suckling pig with pickled cabbage (left), is slow cooked for 24 hours, and was full-flavoured and succulent, with perfectly crunchy skin. Desserts are playful, such as the tocino de cielo - pork belly in heaven - which has a crunchy layer of popped rice representing pork skin resting on fruit custard, and the Dracula is bright red with raspberry and served in a martini glass. The wine list is suitably heavy on Spanish options, and there is one light and fruity sherry. The d?cor on both floors of the space is plain in dark browns, with photographs on the walls being the only nod to Spain. VB

Mesa 15

15 Hollywood Road, Central

2530 1890

Food to reflect on

Dining here is a treat: light, fresh French dishes crafted with care and presented artfully. The personality of chef Jeremy Biasiol, who has worked with acclaimed chefs Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse, shines through in his unusual and often delicate dishes, such as frogs legs with thin garlic cream and watercress sauce (above) and crispy scallops with chestnuts, green apple, apple blossom and apple sauce. Biasiol sources most of his produce from local markets, and excels in his use of fresh flavours, often adding flowers to his dishes for colour and taste. Even the humble salad is elevated to exquisite in the Mirror salad with spinach, carrot, tomato and black truffle vinaigrette. Diners have a choice of two set menus, the signature menu for HK$538 for five courses or HK$638 for six, and about HK$900 for the degustation menu. The menus change regularly. There are only six wines available, and they are all French and chosen to complement the dishes. Biasiol sources them directly from the chateaux, keeping prices low. The decor, in a palette of teal and silver, matches the femininity of the dishes perfectly, with curving mirrors, elegant furnishings and a striking delicate wall of spoons dangling in the centre of the room. VB


6/F, Tiffan Tower, 199 Wan Chai

2573 7288

California dreaming

Bankers know all about bubbles: from the tulip mania of the 17th century to the dotcoms of the 1990s. These days there seems to be plenty of wine in town, but the competition is as sharp as a corked riesling. At California Vintage, wines from the Golden State are given pride of place where the hi-tech of Silicon Valley meets the rustic charm of the vineyards. What differentiates this wine bar and eatery is the self-service innovation. High chairs and tables mean more covers, but also enable imbibers to neatly step off their perches and sample the wines. Drinkers make a cash deposit to get a value card which is slotted into machines categorised by suggested pairings. Beer lovers are also catered for. Dishes on the pairing menu range from Gilroy garlic fries accompanied by sour cream and ketchup dips, grilled cheese with sliced green apple, San Francisco cioppino (seafood stew) at HK$140 and the taco trio plate. The baked goat cheese over roasted piquillo peppers had us yearning for Napa Valley, though much of the tuna in the nicoise salad lost direction on its way across the Pacific. However, the fine green salad and flatbread - a house speciality - compensated. Drinks showcase a triumph of the New World over the Old, so bring along a European wine buff and get the staff to test their knowledge. MD

California Vintage

77 Wyndham St

Central 2525 9808 WWW.CVWINEBAR.COM

Crab delights

Crab soup, crab hotpot, crab tempura, crab congee, steamed crab - Kanizen is a heaven for anyone who enjoys these leggy crustaceans cooked in a myriad of ways. Tucked away behind a large wooden door at the end of the street, Kanizen looks unassuming, but inside a surprise awaits - a large open air tank alive with dozens of huge, knobbly Taraba and snow crabs that may make you wonder who's the diner and who's the prey. The rest of the space is simply done in wood, with red and blue fabric curtains adding a touch of colour. We tried the Hokkaido Taraba crab set (left) which started with an underwhelming Japanese tofu with crab dish, followed by the legs and claws grilled to perfection, the flesh soft and succulent. The batter on the tempura that came next could have been lighter, but the crab was tender. The shabu shabu, which comes with raw crab slices and a variety of vegetables, had a light soup base so as not to overpower the flavour of crab, and was enjoyable, as were the crab dumplings. The roe of the crab was mixed into the final dish, congee, which was deliciously rich and creamy. For dessert, green tea or black sesame ice cream. There are limited wine options, and sake. VB


3 Thomson Road, Wan Chai

2866 1618

Streetwise snacking

Ista serves up dishes not often found outside India or Pakistan, such as nihaari, a stewed beef dish usually eaten for breakfast and regarded in years past as poor man's food. Here, though, it is served on white crockery and crisp white tablecloths, and is given a deluxe reworking with the use of wagyu. Other street food on the menu includes kebabs and paani poori (right), also known as goolgappas, which are little round crunchy pockets stuffed with chopped vegetables. Diners are expected to pour spicy mint or sweet sauce into the pockets, that are then to be eaten in one bite. Pahaari tikka is a dish of spicy chicken tikka marinated with green chilli paste, curd and cloves. The meat was tender and succulent, and the marinade a pleasing balance of cream and spice. Most of the menu consists of Indian tapas dishes, but there are also bigger portions of curry available. There is a decent wine list with labels from the main wine producing regions of the world, with a variety available by the glass. There are also cocktails available - the chai martini is refreshing, and not too sweet. While the d?cor in this airy space is largely international, decorated in a palette of cream, brown and black, there are hints of India to be seen in the lattice work screens. VB


2/F, Onfem Tower, 29 Wyndham Street, Central

2530 5353 WWW.ISTA.COM.HK