It’s been a very big year so far for Hong Kong restaurant heavyweights Dining Concepts, and it’s about to get much, much bigger. If you haven’t already heard, the bad boy of cooking, no-introduction-needed Mr Gordon Ramsay, will be next to join the ever-growing family of the world’s top chefs, setting tongues-a-wagging and tummies-a-rumbling within the Hong Kong foodie clique. But before we drive ourselves wild with anticipation, we thought we’d kill some time with the other three Dining Concepts offerings opened this year – and what a jolly time we had of it too!
Asian Invasion at Mama San
The Overview: The latest baby of long-time Asian street food aficionado Will Meyrick, Mama San, the adventurous little sister of the Scottish-born chef’s original Balinese version, has become a beacon of brilliance on Wyndham Street, packed to the rafters with punters almost every night since its opening in April. Combining all the best of Asian cooking and an exceptional drinks list with a relaxed sexy setting, it’s no wonder this lady of the night has earned herself so many loyal customers.
The Scene: The décor at Mama San is much like the food, playing it safe at the confluence of East-meets-West, but in a subtle, refined, while unpretentious manner. The Colonial-era class of the marble table tops, dark wood, leather Chesterfield sofa and dim gas-lamp-style lighting is brightened by a splash of the exotic via the vibrant mural of our namesake matriarch and the collection of Meyrick’s photographs from his travels around Asia.
Salt Crusted Barrimundi
The Food: The eclectic menu, encompassing Thai, Balinese, Vietnamese, Malay, Indian (and every other Asian cuisine worth mentioning), has been carefully pieced together from recipes and techniques sourced by Meyrick and his cooking partner Palm (also his wife’s son) on their various culinary excursions. Combining both style and substance with more dipping sauces than you could wish for, there’s really no misses on the menu in our opinion.
Don’t pass up on the fresh and authentic Tuna Betel Leaves, the Crispy Salt Bush Lamb (we challenge you not to pick your bones), the perfectly moist Salt Crusted Barrimundi, and the better-than-Bali, crackling-tastic Babi Guling suckling pig. The Crème Brûlée and Cookies and Cream are also not to be sniffed at!
The Drinks: Despite boasting a well-researched wine list, Mama San really shines when it comes to her cocktails. With classics, favourites from the Bali restaurants and a couple of new creations, we really do suggest swinging one leg off the wagon if you’re trying to be good.
Have a good slurp of the metal bucket-clad Moscow Mule, the paper bag-wrapped Black Stripe and the dangerously delicious Prohibition Ice Tea – yes, retro cocktails are still all the rage.
Tip: Ask the staff for recommendations, they really know their stuff!
Traditional Italian at La Locanda
The Overview: Located in Habour City’s Ocean Centre and claiming a portion of the picturesque fourth floor patio, La Locanda is really far too good a restaurant to be tucked away in a mall. Headed by pedigree chef Giancarlo Perbellini – whose northern Italian cooking heritage dates back to the 1890s and whose two Verona restaurants have three Michelin stars between them – this unassuming Italian is memorable for all the right reasons.
The Scene: With its sleek open kitchen, wooden dining room, warm lighting and abstract art, “pantry chic” is the closest we came in our attempt to accurately describe the décor. The scene however is whatever you want it to be, perfect for a casual refuelling while shopping with friends, a business meeting that’s set to impress, or a romantic dinner on the open air deck.
The Food: While the food here is largely traditional, featuring time-honoured recipes whispered down ear-to-ear through the Perbellini family, this is not by any means your run-of-the-mill Italian. Personal touches and modern twists are stirred through in moderation, and unusual flavour combinations make the menu a surprising and mouth-watering read.
Maialino Crispy Suckling Pig
Be sure to try any of the pizzas, with extra-crunchy semolina flour bases ensuring they’re hearty but not heavy, the worth-the-money Astice in Panzanella (roasted lobster with out-sized, sauce-soaked crotons) and, yet again, the Maialino Crispy Suckling Pig, which you should by no means shy away from because of the fleeting mention of sprouts and liquorice. Sweets-wise, don’t force yourself to choose between the Mascarpone e Caffé and the Cassata Moderna – just get them both. You won’t regret it!
The Drinks: In true Italian style, drinks at La Locanda are all about the wine list. We particularly enjoyed the fresh and light Riesling Dr Loosen (yes, we know it’s German!) – but just ask the staff what will work best with your food choices.
Tip: If you can’t get a spot on the patio, book late. You may be able to take you desserts out there once it’s quietened down.
Latin Love at Toro Steak House and Gastro Bar
The Overview: Toro’s name says it all really. This is a restaurant firmly focussed on two central culinary components – great meat and Latin flavour. Headed by borderline celebrity chef Richard Sandoval – who has more than 30 Latin restaurants to his name – Toro makes for a truly elegant addition to the Element’s dining landscape.
The Scene: Managing to distance itself from the mall thanks to its placing among the twinkling lights of the Garden Rooftop, Toro lends itself perfectly to an indulgent but cosy Date Night treat. With a New York loft feel, featuring dark wood, leather, low lighting and relaxed Latin lounge music, Toro boasts plenty of romance but a welcome absence of ponce.
32 Oz Bone-In Rib Eye
The Food: If you’re sick of your standard Mexican and uninspired by your local steak house, Toro will reawaken your senses in both departments. All the meat is hand-selected by Sandoval himself, and the modern Asian influence he brings to the made-for-sharing unusual Latin dishes is simply a pleasure to explore.
Steak-wise we went for the Oz Bone-In Rib Eye, but we’re pretty confident that everything from the Grill section will be just as sensational, especially when teamed the standard platter of delicious dipping sauces – we really are condiment crazy! Another must are the melt in the mouth Crusted Sea Scallops, oozing lemon butter sauce and topped with an elegant crumbly parmesan crust, while the fresh and zesty Tuna Nikkei Ceviche made for the perfect palate cleaners between courses.
Spicy Mango Margarita
The Drinks: Although the beer selection is a little underdeveloped, the wine list is lengthy, robust and geographically varied, and the choices of cocktails and (of course) tequilas is small but well balanced. The Strawberry Basil Caipirinha and the Spicy Mango Margarita were the winners for us, but anything after the Don Julio Resposado cannot be judged with authority.
Tip: Don’t fill up on the complimentary bean-filled bread. You’ve going to want all the stomach space you can muster!
With all that to live up to, Gordon better be bringing something extra special to the Dining Concepts table.