Shop 1, G/F Tower 1 Starcrest
9 Star Street, Wan Chai
Tel: 2563 3444
Open: noon-3pm, 6pm-midnight
Price: about HK$650 without drinks and service charge.
Ambience: a sofa cast in concrete sits outside the walled-off front of the eatery's Star Street shopfront. The warmly lit cream interior, plaid flannel cushioning and elegant tableware speak of comfort and pared-down refinement. Semi-private booths and private dining rooms with French windows give the space an intimate feel.
Pros: service was impeccable from start to finish. Coming in from the blustery chill, my guest and I were quickly given glasses of hot water to warm up; later, a well-informed sommelier chatted pleasantly about the evolution of malbec wine production. Appetiser choices ranged from classic Spanish (white asparagus with romesco sauce, HK$195) to the more adventurous (smoked eel with pineapple ice cream, HK$190) while the mains appealed with plenty of fish options, a vegetarian arroz, Kobe beef, and sirloin served with bone marrow.
Cons: none, really. The set of three amuse-bouches were presented with a flourish. We could have done without the sweet foie gras mousse served on a bamboo toothpick, otherwise, the food was consistently well executed.
Recommended dishes: my guest's appetiser, the smoked eel, was a play of flavours - contrasting the fatty, smokiness of the eel and the bursts of saltiness from the herring roe with the sweet and tart of a very light pineapple ice cream and various tomato 'textures' - a plasma gelee, a cherry tomato blanched, skinned and lightly marinated, and a green tomato puree. The multiple elements made for a visually enticing display, as well. The lemon puree that came with the suckling pig main (HK$295) went surprisingly well with the crispy-skinned, well-seasoned and tender pork, which had the requisite milky mildness; the slightly bitter edge of the grilled endive was tempered by a drizzle of sweet pomegranate reduction. We couldn't resist ending with a cheese board (HK$190 small, HK$360 large). We chose four French and Spanish cheeses, including a deliciously dreamy goat's milk, and a Basque Ossau-Iraty sheep's cheese.
What else? The Principal offers tailor-made five-course (HK$690; add HK$350 for wine pairing) and eight-course (HK$890, add HK$450 for wine pairing) degustation menus that must be pre-arranged. It's part of the Classified Group of restaurants.