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Tuesday 19 June 2012

F.A.B., Harringtons, Libertine, Lupa & Pizzeria Pubblico: New(ish) Restaurants in Hong Kong

In a city where it's not unusual for a new restaurant to close before you've got over the hangover from the launch party, new Hong Kong dining spots have to mark themselves out from the glut of others in order to survive.  

I can be a bit lazy when it comes to eating out, going to my same old tried and tested, trusty favourites, eating the same dishes and not trying new things.  However, in a bid to shake things up a bit, over the last couple of months I've been trying out some recently opened restaurants around the city and weighing up whether I think their respective USPs are enough to win them a permanent place in Hong Kong's dining line-up...

Here's my round up of a handful of new(ish) spots and my predictions for how long I reckon they'll stick around... 

The One with the Celebrity Chef
The American Gordon Ramsey, Mario Batali, opened Lupa in April.  Hot on the heels of his restaurants' success in New York, LA and Las Vegas, Batali is looking to branch out into Asia.  Lupa is the first toe in the water of the Asian takeover.  

Located in the new LHT Tower, Lupa serves up Roman Trattoria cuisine against a backdrop of dark wooden floors, wine-rack lined walls and a large brass sculpture of Romulus and Remus being fed by the restaurant's namesake.  Large floor to ceiling windows mean that the dining room's light and airy but leather booths and the frenetic open kitchen keep things cosy and laid back.  Out the back there's a large terrace which serves a more casual menu of pizza and fritti - the perfect place for a few alfresco after work drinks.  

My expectations of Lupa weren't high, most of the reviews I'd read had rated food as mediocre and service as erratic.  On the day we went for lunch Batali was in town, ponytailed in pristine chef's whites, watching over the service with folded arms.  Whether this meant that the food and service were better than they would have otherwise been I'm not sure, but we certainly had a very good meal with more than adequate service.  

We started with cocktails (it was a bank holiday...) and a couple of smaller dishes to share.  The Amalfi Coast (Ketel One Citron, Limoncello and blood orange juice) was refreshing and zesty with a good kick - a great citrussy summer drink.  The arancine were a delicious combination of crispy and oozy, with plenty of veal and mozzarella and a delicate saffron flavour.  The other two starters paled a bit in comparison (the Squash with Pecorino and the Funghi Misti - nice enough but nothing spectacular).  

Cocktails sunk and small bites devoured, we moved onto a couple of carafes of Italian wine and our main courses.  The Linguine with Clams was absolutely delicious - perfectly al dente pasta and juicy, flavourful clams with a chili punch.  The Veal Saltimbocca was a little salty but otherwise flawless  and the Crispy Long Beans with Aceto were an unusual but very tasty accompaniment to the meal.

Last but not least we (well I...) decided that it was imperative to sample a dessert.  I opted for the Ciliegie e Cicoolato - a bourbon flourless cake with vanilla cream and Amarena cherries.  Absolutely incredible, I scraped the plate clean!  All in all, Lupa far exceeded my expectations and I look forward to returning to sample the much raved about pizzas (and perhaps another dessert...).    

Endurance Factor?  
We reckon that Lupa's here to stay.  Batali opens steakhouse, Carnevino, on the 5th floor of the LHT Tower this month which will be swiftly followed by a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in Causeway Bay.  After that the next step in the masterplan is Mainland China... We predict that Batali world domination is imminent.

Lupa by Mario Batali,
3/F, LHT Tower,
31 Queens Road Central,
Hong Kong.
+(852) 2796 6500

The One with a Tried & Tested Formula
The mega group, Castelo Concepts, has added a new bistro/gastropub to the family.  In the heart of LKF, Harringtons is located on the site formerly known as Dublin Jacks.  Previously dark and full of an older crowd drinking Guinness and watching sport, the newly opened bar and restaurant is pretty much unrecognisable.  Bright and modern, Harringtons applies the very successful Wagyu/Oolaa formula - big, comfy armchairs; decor in various shades of cream and stone; and a band of chatty bubbly staff serving consistently reliable, tasty food. 

As with all Castelo Concepts outposts, the menu's extensive and has a familiar feel but with a slightly more hearty, English twist.  The food is definitely up to the standard of the rest of the group my favs so far include: the Cracklin' Pork Belly Skewers, the Mini Slider Burgers and the Crispy Skin Pesto Chicken.  I've yet to sample the Sunday Roast but with cauliflower cheese, yorkshire pudding and pigs in blankets accompanying the roast meat of your choice it's pretty high up on my must try list.  The only slight niggle are the grotty bathrooms - located down some winding concrete corridors they definitely don't fit with the modern, spotless restaurant interior.  Sort the loos and Harringtons would be pretty much faultless.  

Endurance Factor?
Already part of the furniture, Harringtons will definitely be sticking around.  Like Wagyu, Wagyu Lounge and Ooolaa before it, it's destined to become a Hong Kong institution.  The no-brainer brunch, lunch and dinner choice.  The Castelo Concepts tried & tested formula of good food, at reasonable prices in a homey atmosphere will mean a full reservations book for many years to come.

First Floor,
Ho Lee Commercial Building,
17 Lan Kwai Fong
Hong Kong
+ (852) 2522 1823

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The One that Gives You Serious De Ja Vu

Libertine is the latest in a recent glut of French cafes/bistros in Central.  Perched on the precariously steep Aberdeen Street, Libertine looks pretty good. Ceiling fans whirl above white marble tables and shelves stacked with loaves of bread; while a pretty open air terrace with mosaic floors provides the perfect setting for an alfresco cafe au lait and croissant.  However, you can't help but feel that you've seen it all somewhere before.

As soon as you settle at one of the cafe tables and peruse the paper placemat menu, a very distinct air of de ja vu set in.  And then it struck me... Pastis New York... Libertine's menu design is pretty much identical to Pastis' menu; the furniture, the mirrors, the bar set-up all identical to Pastis; the dishes on the menu again identical.  Sadly the only thing that isn't identical is the quality of the food.  While perfectly edible, having given Libertine two chances, I'm not sure I'd eat there again.  The service is slow and chaotic, the food is uninspiring and unmemorable.  On one visit I tried the truffled eggs with smoked salmon which themselves were fine but were served with wilting, slimy salad and a soggy yet stale tasting croissant.  On my second visit I opted for the steak sandwich which was gristly, chewy and overcooked (although the fries I will concede, were excellent).  

If you're craving French cafe food we suggest that you give Libertine a miss and head over to the Hong Kong namesake of the New York restaurant that Libertine is imitating - Pastis on Wyndham.  While not at all like Pastis in New York, the food is decent, the service is friendly and just the right side of attentive and the most importantly, the rose is delicious...

Endurance Factor?  Sadly we don't think Libertine will be able to emulate the success of Pastis (in either NY or HK) - we give it a year.

26 Aberdeen Street, 
Hong Kong
+(852) 2858 2022

The One with the Killer Location
It's always a mystery that certain seemingly great locations in Hong Kong never seem to be able to sustain successful restaurants/ bars.  Whether it's a case of bad Feng Shui or just plain bad luck, we hope that French American Bistro (or F.A.B.) will break the run of misfortune that its site has had in the past couple of years.  Situated right on Hollywood Road, directly under the escalators, anyone who commutes up and down to mid-levels is going to pass F.A.B at least twice a day.  The perfect stop-off for a well-deserved end of the day cocktail, a great people watching spot to grab brunch or lunch on the way into central at the weekends and a buzzy, convenient meeting place to kick-start an evening on Wyndham Street. 

I've popped into F.A.B. a couple of times for after work drinks and love the relaxed, buzzy atmosphere, excellent cocktails and free olives (always a winner!).  One very hungover Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago I decided to see whether the brunch menu could help make me feel more human.  I'm very pleased to confirm that the steak tartare mini burgers are a magical hangover cure - miniature things generally makes me feel happier (puppies, little cup cakes, babies' feet... ok I'm odd...) and these were little mouthfuls of heaven.  The goats cheese and arugula tartine also scored pretty highly.  For good, solid American/French diner/bistro favourites, F.A.B is a sure bet. 

Endurance Factor? 
We're keeping all our fingers crossed that it's a keeper.  This is just the sort of relaxed bar/ solid, good value diner that Hollywood Road is lacking.  We give it a fair chance of survival and suggest that all our HK blog buds go and give those mini burgers and yummy cocktails your support!

French American Bistro
G/F, 30 Hollywood Road,
Hong Kong.
+(852) 2810 1600

The One that's the Little Sister of a Trusty Fav 
I arrived in Hong Kong in 2009; a few months later Posto Pubblico arrived too.  It was pretty much love at first bite and we've lived happily ever after ever since.  Obviously I've flirted with Linguini Fini and eyed-up Posto Privato but ultimately I've always stayed true to Posto.  When I spotted some hoardings next to the escalator for a brand new addition to the group, I could hardly contain my excitement.

Pizzeria Pubblico is the more cool, laid back little sister of Posto.  As the name suggests, Pizzeria Pubblico focuses on pizza sold both by the slice (HK$30) or by the 18-inch pie (HK$200-240).  The decor has a Posto feel with exposed brickwork, industrial light fittings and big blackboards with the day's specials chalked up.  But while Posto invites you to linger over your meal with its low lighting and relaxed background music, the Pizzeria is more about stopping by for a quick bite and a beer.  I love its location slap bang on the escalator and ironically right opposite the gym - burn off the calories in a spinning class and then reload at the Pizzeria!  

Virtually the second the hoardings were removed last week, I headed down there to try the Pizzeria out with a few friends.  We opted to keep it simple with a couple of salads (very tasty) and a pimped up margarita - crispy but chewy base, tangy but sweet tomato sauce, plenty of Posto's legendary creamy, homemade mozarella and a scattering of ripped basil - total pizza perfection.  Being so newly opened when we tried it, the Pizzeria didn't have its liquor licence which meant the added bonus of free beer for the boys and free Prosecco for the girls... killer pizza and free Prosecco surely the recipe for eternal happiness?!  

Endurance Factor? 
We say Pizzeria Pubblico, the baby of the Posto family, isn't going anywhere.  An ideal pit stop to fuel a great night out or to soak up a few happy hour cocktails on your way back up the hill.  Go now and go often just make sure you remember the restaurant's motto - friends don't let friends eat pizza with a knife and fork...

Pizzeria Pubblico
G/F, Tsun Wing Lane (next to Kinwick Centre), 
Hong Kong 

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  1. I am not so sure about Harringtons. The manager on duty could do with a course in customer satisfaction and being polite. I would go back to Lupa in a heartbeat despite the erratic staff.

  2. i agree about libertine. great name and takes great photos but that's about it. the service was pretty scary, no one seems to quite know what's going on. funny you should mention pastis - i think new york had more atmosphere - my husband ordered a pastis seeing that they had a bottle of ricard but they did not have a clue what it was nevermind how to serve one. great shame. look forward to seeing what that site will hold next.