Thursday, July 20, 2017

Octavium Italian Restaurant (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Three Michelin starred chef Umberto Bombana's new experimental kitchen, Octavium has created quite an interesting buzz in the dining scene in recent weeks. A private kitchen without a phone number, how can customers make their reservations? The restaurant quietly started its soft opening in early July and thankfully, by pushing the right button, I was able to secure a table last week before taking off to Osaka.

Perched on the 8th floor of One Chinachem Central Building on Des Voeux Road Central, Octavium is a casual fine dining restaurant that slides right in between the prestigious 8 1/2 Otto e mezzo Bombana and casual sister CIAK In the Kitchen. Diners can expect the same high-quality ingredients and exquisite cooking from chef Bombana's team but in a quieter and more intimate surroundings.

I arrived at One Chinachem Central a little ahead of schedule and just happened to bump into my food buddy Agent-I, whom I've recruited for tonight's dinner. Just when we were about to take the elevator up, the restaurant's hostess was already waiting there to pick us up at the lobby.

Once we came out of the elevator, there's a big sign that said "Octavium Italian Restaurant" but no doors.....

What would a secret private kitchen be without a secret door, right? Well, it didn't take long for us to spot a door bell on the wall and by pressing the bell, the hidden door slided open and there it was, an elegant dining room just behind the closed doors.

I always love a restaurant with a surprise no-choice menu so I can let the chefs dazzle me with their creativity and imagination. Octavium is pretty close but we still get a say for our starter, pasta, main course and dessert (between just 2 to 3 choices per category).

Like their three Michelin starred fine dining sister, there will be no snacks served before the meal, except some good old country bread and grissini.

Marinated Japanese snapper - I chose to kick things off with this expecting a refreshing start and that's exactly what I got. The Japanese snapper was marinated with orange juice so unsurprisingly, it came with some nice acidity. Some purple carrot and wild fennel provided colorful garnish and difference in textures to the mix. Pretty good start.

Linguini "Gentil" with scampi, caviar and citrus - Next up was my pasta dish. This was an easy choice for me as I am a big fan of linguini, scampi and caviar. One dish to satisfy my craving for all three ingredients. Isn't that wonderful!?

This was just seriously good. The linguini was strong to the bite and the scampi nice and sweet. Love the bouncy texture too. I thought the sauce was reminiscent of the sea water emulsion which I had a couple of times with my pasta dishes back at 8 1/2.

Mayura beef sirloin with "trombetta" zucchini and watercress - This is where things started to regress a bit. I thought the beef sirloin was pretty flavorful and well marbled but some tendons in there ruined the silky smooth texture a little. The "trombetta" zucchini was quite interesting though as it looked like asparagus at first glance. Interesting idea serving it with artichoke purée and cress.

Tiramisu with mascarpone gelato - I have always been a huge admirer of chef Bombana's tiramisu. He changes his recipe from time to time but for the most part, the core stuff remains the same. But for the first time in a long time, I wasn't completely satisfied with the tiramisu from his kitchen. This was still pretty good but I thought it wasn't moist enough in the middle and I'd love a little more liquor (masala?) in there to spice things up a bit more.

We had some homemade hazelnut meringue cookies and chocolate to go with our coffee before calling it the night.

It was a fairly good debut. The food was really well-portioned with a good balance between meat and seafood dishes. Same goes for service which was right on the spot throughout the night. Only a few things to iron out and they should be ready for prime time.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 8/F One Chinachem Central, 22 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central

The Mandarin Cake Shop (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I have a very special dinner lined up tonight, one that I have been really looking forward to since I secured the table last month. The only problem now is the fact that I have another hour to kill before the long anticipated meal. So I found myself on a mission to find a place interesting enough near my dinner venue to get me through the hour.

After walking around Central for a good 15-20 minutes without success, I suddenly came across The Mandarin Cake Shop (文華餅店) at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a place that I haven't visited for a long long time. Bingo.

Opera cake ($48) - This was pretty decent but the contrasting textures from the different layers didn't come through. There're at least half a dozen places that I think offer a better opera cake. Check that, maybe at least a dozen.

1963 Mandarin cheesecake ($48) - A namesake dessert (sort of), oh I love namesake desserts. This was pretty cheesy almost like an American style cheesecake but it was one that was desperately looking for something to spice it up. Blueberry, passion fruit, something.....

I still remember The Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop as one of the top patisseries in the city not too long ago and even now, it's still pretty highly rated by many Hong Kongers (as seen here with customers walking in and out of the shop during my visit). But I thought with the growing number of quality patisseries these days, their stock has dropped significantly to a point where I won't even consider them a top 20 choice in town. The only title I'm willing to give is perhaps "The most overrated cake shop in Hong Kong".

PS. Another 10% was tagged onto my bill for dining in. Fair deal (Service was excellent). 

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: M/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2825-4008

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Raffinato Bar & Gelateria (Osaka, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

Despite staying 5 nights at Conrad Osaka, I didn't spend much time walking around Festival Plaza, an area of restaurants and bars under the same architecture. The only time I was there, I went on to check out Raffinato Bar and Gelateria, a chain that serves coffee and gelato at the same time.

I had my quick caffeine fix this afternoon at % Arabica when we were in Kyoto so didn't really have the urge for more right before bed time.

Instead, this looks a lot more appealing.....

2 scoops (648yen) - I thought the pistachio gelato was silky smooth and full of rich pistachio flavor. Still like what I had at Venchi a little more but this was nevertheless pretty good. The melon sorbet surprised me too. It almost felt like I was having frozen cantaloupe juice. So refreshing~

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: B1F Nakanoshima Festival Tower Plaza, 2-3-18, Nakanoshima, Osaka, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Higobashi
Tel: +81 (0)6-6228-3444