Newly opened Mercato, Lan Kwai Fong – Jean-Georges Vongerichten returns

House-made spaghetti with cheese, tomato and basil the highlight of food we sampled at French chef’s new casual Italian restaurant in Hong Kong, where he first cooked in 1982

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 12:17pm

French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a long history in Hong Kong, starting in 1982 when he cooked at Pierrot, which was the Mandarin Oriental’s French fine-dining restaurant at the time. He came back to take over that space in 1997 and open French-Thai restaurant Vong.

Now he’s back again, this time with a casual approach to dining at the Italian restaurant Mercato, in California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong. We visited soon after it opened and the place, which has brick walls and an open kitchen, was so dark that without the candle on the table, we couldn’t make out our dining partner sitting across from us.

We were encouraged by the friendly (and hovering) staff to share the dishes, but where could we put them all on a table that was really small, given the plates are large?

We quite liked the food. The appetiser of endive and sugar snap pea salad (HK$108) had a beautiful presentation, with edible flowers and parmesan dressing, and it tasted light and crunchy.

Book: Jean-Georges - Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef

Another starter was the house made ricotta with cranberry compote, olive oil and grilled bread (HK$118). The smooth dip contrasted with the thick, crunchy slabs of grilled bread, and was more than enough for two people.

Next came the black truffle, three cheeses and farm egg pizza (HK$238) which had a pungent, earthy smell. The pizza wasn’t as gooey as expected, considering there was supposed to be a lot of cheese in it; the only messiness came from the runny egg yolk in the centre.

The highlight of the meal was the house-made spaghetti with fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, tomato sauce and basil (HK$98 small portion, HK$138 large). The spaghetti had a slightly rough texture that the tomato sauce clung to. It’s a simple dish, but it was done well.

Another winner was our main course of crispy beef short rib (HK$428), which was served with thick polenta fries. The soft meat had a crusty exterior and was complemented by a flavourful smoked chilli-chianti glaze.

We ended the meal on a light note: scoops of passion fruit and raspberry sorbets (HK$68), which helped to cleanse our palates.

Mercato, 8/F California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, tel: 3706 8567