Causeway Bay on a Saturday night is a year-round Christmas Eve. People wrestle with shopping bags and crowds jostle for pavement space. A stone's throw from Time's Square, Meal Meal offers relative respite from the consumer chaos. Tucked down a side street off the main shopping thoroughfare, the two-month-old restaurant boasts continental cuisine.
There is no question that Meal Meal is eager to please. The staff exhibit the unrestrained enthusiasm of a new venture and we were impressed when a table was made available despite our late reservation.
Decor is minimalist. The furniture is white, simple and understated. The walls are also white, with only a few bands of mirrors for decoration. Even the tableware conforms to the white theme. But we were not convinced that the polar landscape was enough to warrant the 20-odd teddy bears displayed like trophies at the top of the window.
Despite the European pretensions we expected a slightly Asian flavour to the evening. The menu also does not appear to be strictly continental. If anything, it suggests an European fusion. We had spent much of the day working up a healthy appetite so studied the menu eagerly.
Once our orders were taken, we sat back and relaxed. The restaurant is clearly popular with 20-somethings and judging by the American twang, many ABCs and CBCs.
Our starters arrived with the minimum of fuss and were beautifully presented, though a little too colourful for our liking - the spinach and prawn bisque ($42) in particular, which was a startlingly neon green. My companion cast an eye warily from his fluorescent soup to our neighbouring diner's main course. Rather worryingly, it was exactly the same shade of green. Colour aside, the bisque was tasty, although it would have benefited from being a little thicker, and less miserly on the prawn garnish.
The smoked salmon with mango crab meat was a far more impressive starter. Pieces of crab and mango were wrapped in generous slices of salmon and served with bagel toast. Although not cheap at $70, there was no skimping here on either the quality or quantity of ingredients.
It is a shame the main courses did not live up to the excellent service, which was both friendly and attentive. The pan-fried coral trout ($98) was tasty, but the accompanying risotto was a let down. The soy-flavoured butter sauce did nothing to enliven the embarrassing risotto mush.
The roast lamb ($135) was a well-cooked medium, the meat was tender with the pumpkin seed crust providing a tasty finish to the dish. The lamb was a generous portion, but again it was the accompaniments which let down the dish. The sauteed potatoes were soggy and the ratatouille had been overcooked.
Because we had not been overly impressed with our meal, we still had room for dessert. The chocolate mousse ($45) was served in a pyramid shape and was absolutely divine in a chocolatey way.
The creme brulee ($50), unfortunately did not hit the spot. This rich dessert is usually served in a shallow dish, but ours came in a relatively deep bowl, and although it had the hallmark caramelised sugar topping, the ratio of creme to brulee was ruined. This dessert has to be done right to be worth the calories.
Meal Meal has an excellent selection of coffees, from Blue Mountain to Kenyan, and as we lingered over espressos we again considered the significance of the teddy bears in the window. Our waitress filled us in. 'They are Christmas decorations,' she enthused and pointed out their red Santa hats. 'Of course, it is a bit late for Christmas, but they are so cute.' Our enquiry was taken seriously and within a few minutes she returned and presented us with one of the teddy bears. It was a generous gesture and, like everything at Meal Meal, it was well-intended. The restaurant appears to have found its niche as a popular eatery for locals who enjoy reasonably priced Western fare.
Meal Meal also offers a three-course set dinner - excellent value at $145.
Meal Meal Continental Cuisine, Ground Floor, 5 Pak Sha Road, Causeway Bay, Tel: 2882 8133. Open: 12.30pm-3pm, 3pm-5.30pm (afternoon tea), 6.30pm-midnight wdin JUST TASTING Kate Whitehead