COUNTRY comforts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am



FARE Traditional Roman cuisine.

AMBIENCE Warmly-lit with low ceilings covered with murals and traditional Italian-inspired d?r and pottery hanging on the walls evoke a laid-back, countryside setting.

COST HK$1,600 for dinner for two with drinks.

WHO TO BRING Friends, colleagues or significant other.

TURN-ONS The bread basket, filled with a selection of warm, freshly fragrant and home-baked breads to be dipped in a choice of olive oils and balsamic vinegar, sets the homely mood of the evening perfectly. For appetisers, the mozzarella and tomato with fresh basil (pictured) was a taste explosion with a pleasantly surprising depth of flavour from the olive oil and rock salts. Similarly, the beef carpaccio was a hit thanks to the delicate and light slices topped with shaved white truffles. For mains, Sabatini's speciality dish, seafood linguine with scampi, clams and mussels in a fresh tomato and garlic marinara sauce, is a comforting and hearty dish though the sauce somewhat overpowered the flavours of the fish. Follow with the hot chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

TURN-OFFS The d?r and the seemingly popular antipasti and melon buffet are reminiscent of 1970s dining. Likewise, the three-piece band, in traditional costume, who roamed the dining area looking to sing table-side melodies, seemed to embarrass more than excite diners.

DRINKS Extensive wine selection. MI

Sabatini Ristorante Italiano
3/F The Royal Garden
69 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
2721 5215


FARE 'Deep South' American barbecue.

AMBIENCE Casual dining with wooden communal tables that are perfect for big groups and cosy booths for couples.

WHO TO BRING Meat lovers and those pining for a slice of Americana.

COST HK$1,200 for two with drinks.

TURN-ONS We expected a sparse dining room on a Monday night, but were pleasantly greeted by a busy, lively atmosphere. The open kitchen added a touch of culinary theatre and the wide-open windows gave a rooftop feel with the hum of Lan Kwai Fong below. The full slab of ribs had the requisite smokiness with the flesh peeling away easily from the bone and a touch of sweetness. The beef brisket was tender and moist with a subtle touch of that smokiness, while the pulled pork was a touch on the dry side. The key lime pie was a big serving.

TURN-OFFS The pork belly nuggets sounded like a winner but lacked flavour. The catfish fingers (pictured) had firm flesh but were let down by a soggy coating and lacklustre sauce.

DRINKS Wines, cocktails, beers and soft drinks with an American slant. LL

Blue Smoke Bar-B-Que
3F, 15-16 Lan Kwai Fong
2816 9018


FARE Portuguese.

AMBIENCE Cosy atmosphere with banquette seating and natural light.

COST HK$890 for two including two glasses of sangria.

WHO TO BRING Your significant other or a gathering with friends.

TURN-ONS There was lots of flavour in the saut? octopus in olive oil with garlic, onion, parsley and sweet paprika. While we were warned the caldo verde would be thick, it was quite thin, though the soup had a wonderful taste from the chorizo and kale. The favourite was the slow cooked oxtail stew (pictured) from a 100-year-old family recipe seasoned with herbs and spices. The meat fell off the bone and we mopped up the tomato-based sauce with bread.

TURN-OFFS The grilled salted cod fish was too salty, though the fish flaked nicely and came with garlic roast potatoes, onions and peas. We were dismayed to find the serradura, or Portuguese-style firm milk and cream pudding, was rock hard and we had to wait for it to defrost.

DRINKS Portuguese whites, reds and port. BC

Nino's Cozinha Restaurant & Bar
5/F-6/F QRE Plaza
202 Queen's Road East
Wan Chai
2866 1868


FARE Hearty rustic Italian dishes.

AMBIENCE You couldn't get a more traditional Italian experience, from the memorabilia on the walls to the quiet background music.

WHO TO BRING Wife or girlfriend for a romantic evening meal. Perfect for family lunches at the weekend.

COST HK$2,500 for two for a three-course meal, including wine.

TURN-ONS Highlights were the seasonal starter of terrine of pheasant (pictured) with soft pumpkin bread and mustard young salad leaves in Moscato vinaigrette, which was delicious, and the main course of handmade spaghetti with hare ragout and black truffle that left you wanting more. The service was generally friendly and attentive. Chef Eugenio Iraci also regularly came out of the kitchen to explain specific dishes to customers.

TURN-OFFS Our meal was a real meat feast, so we had side orders of buttered brussel sprouts and rocket salad. The main course arrived with neither. We had to ask for them a second time, by which stage we were halfway through our mains.

DRINKS A selection of over 200 Italian wines. JC

The Mistral
B2/F, InterContinental Hotel Grand Stanford Hotel
70 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
2721 5161


FARE Authentic Spanish.

AMBIENCE Traditional white-washed Moorish arches, filled with enclosed glass, divide the front dining area separating tables and giving a spacious feel.

COST About HK$1,500 for two with wine.

WHO TO BRING Family, friends or the love interest.

TURN-ONS The choice of tapas, which you can also have as a main in a larger portion, include the recommended garlic shrimp and traditional Iberico ham which is cut off the bone as you watch. New menu items include a delicious swordfish salad, which you can have as a main or starter, codfish stuffed with mushrooms and garlic with a vinegar sauce, and Iberian pork chop with mash and cabbage. New dessert dishes include Spanish churros with hot chocolate, and old favourites are still available, such as leche frita (pictured) or fried milk with ice cream.

TURN-OFFS As great as Simon and Garfunkel's music is, I would rather have preferred Spanish music between the live guitar sets.

DRINKS Full bar and a good selection of wines. TF

Ole Spanish Restaurant & Wine Bar
1/F Shun Ho Tower,
24-30 Ice House Street
2523 8624


FARE Belgian.

AMBIENCE Despite being in a modern office complex, the restaurant's wooden floors and walls give it an old European feel.

COST HK$854 for two, including two beers.

WHO TO BRING Colleagues and friends for a casual night out.

TURN-ONS The fisherman's soup was the winner, a full-bodied bisque topped with grated cheese and croutons. We ordered Frites' signature mussels cooked Proven?e (pictured) with tomato, garlic, onion and herbs that were plump and juicy. They were accompanied by thick-cut fries and mayonnaise. Another appetiser, the ch?e tart of baked goat's cheese with slices of courgettes tomato on a fluffy pastry, was a play on textures and was accompanied by a refreshing mixed salad. The cr? br?l?was nicely executed.

TURN-OFFS While the beef was tender in the Flemish beef stew, the meat had not soaked up the flavour from the sauce, which included chunks of potato, onions and carrots. Service was friendly, but the wait for our mains was unusually long.

DRINKS Small selection of Belgian draft beers, but an extensive variety of bottled ones. BC

G/F Oxford House
Taikoo Place
979 King's Road
Island East
2250 5188


FARE Mexican.

AMBIENCE Ordinary restaurant style with lots of sombreros hanging around as decoration.

COST HK$1,298 for three with drinks.

WHO TO BRING Family, friends or colleagues for a casual night out.

TURN-ONS Mexican cuisine is a combination of indigenous vegetables, ingredients and even grains. Take for example the tortillas or Mexican bread. It is said that this northern Mexican recipe requires wheat or corn which is indigenous to Mexico and needs the right mix and temperature to cook. We started with calamares that were fresh and with a dash of lemon just melted in our mouths, so were the quesadillas with flank steak. The prawn satays were interesting and so were the fajitas (pictured). The T-bone steak was slightly chewy but the guacamole dip and other garnishes supplemented the meat. For desserts the pecan pie was exceedingly good.

TURN-OFFS The tortillas that came with the pork burrito were cold and did not seem to be properly cooked. The ingredients used seem to be of a lesser quality and the portions were really small for the price charged.

DRINKS International wine list and a plethora of choice for Mexican cocktails. MM

Shop R004 Elements
1 Austin Road
2196 8733