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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Carbone Hong Kong

As far as you’re concerned, a great meal should always end with:

(  (a) a smear of ketchup on one cheek and a free plastic toy;
(  (b) descending on a plate of artfully arranged petit fours (you may have just feasted on twelve small but perfectly formed courses, but you’re still a little peckish); or
(  (c)  a red sauce spattered tablecloth strewn with half-sipped glasses of homemade Limoncello and shards of cracked nutshells.

Answered (a) or (b)? This post’s probably not for you.
Answered (c)? We think you may just be a foodie after our very own hearts, read on…

So now we’ve given away the ending, let’s rewind to the very beginning or just about the point where you’ve zipped up to the 9th floor of the LKF Tower and are hopping out of the lift with a rumbling tummy and an expectant spring in your step. Welcome to Carbone Hong Kong, it’s time to tuck in to a huge helping of New York-Italian fine dining brought piping hot from the kitchens of Greenwich Village to the very heart of Central.

As you approach the candlelit concierge desk you’re met by an immaculately dressed, beaming hostess. Looking more fifties pin-up than door girl, she greets you like a long lost Italian cousin and suggests that maybe you’d like to start the evening with a pre-dinner drink. A nod later, and in a clatter of heels and a swoosh of a door, you’re whisked from the lobby to the gleaming dark wood bar for a peek at the drinks menu. Your eyes run down a list of old school cocktail classics and then right off the bottom of the page where, with a flash of déjà vu, you realize you’ve seen those black and white floor tiles before, just as the Godfather theme tune starts up in your head. A very smooth-mannered, white-jacketed Barman sidles over, and as you order up a Gibson (ice cold gin, vermouth and rosemary garnished with a pickled onion), you begin to ponder whether the lift was actually a time machine that whisked you back to New York City circa 1958.

Before you’ve even finished that thought, a maroon dinner-jacketed Captain (who it later transpires, runs the joint) appears by your elbow. He raises an eyebrow and, with a twitch of his bowtie, bets you that you’ve never tasted a meatball even a quarter as good as the ones currently being cooked up in the kitchen. Never one to shy away from a good wager, you allow yourself to be shown to your table where in one smooth movement your Captain (“please, call me Louie!”) pulls out your red leather chair and presents you with a menu so super-sized that the rest of the room is momentarily obliterated.  

As you greedily eye your options from Caprese salad to baked clams, through to Linguine Vongole and Ribeye Diana, Frank Sinatra croons along in the background, another Gibson arrives, and you conclude that this may actually be heaven. And if it was, Louie would surely be the Angel Gabriel, because now he’s back bearing a plate draped with Parma ham and studded with hunks of parmesan, nestled next to a slice of the most ambrosial garlic bread topped with a melted cloak of cheese. And that’s just the New York-Italian equivalent of an Amuse-bouche.

Nibbles inhaled, you’re floundering over the myriad of deliciousness confronting you on the menu until it’s Louie to the rescue once more, as he calls out a volley of his favourite dishes while simultaneously bantering with the Captain waiting on the next-door table. Deciding that you could do far worse than put your stomach’s fate in the capable of hands of Louie, you settle back in your seat and wait for the feast to commence.

What follows is a procession of dishes waistband-bustingly abundant, and mind-blowingly great. Octopus Piazzaiolo is a tumble of buttery-soft chunks of charred octopus, sweet peppers and toasted croutons finished with a kiss of chili. The Caesar Salad comes with a side of food theatre courtesy of your Captain chopping anchovies, drizzling dressing and tossing salad leaves in a bowl on a tableside trolley. The pasta course is a masterpiece of two acts. The rich Spicy Rigatone Vodka is a luxuriously unctuous opening, while the delicate Lobster Ravioli provides a lipsmacking finale.  But don’t consider it anywhere close to the curtain call just yet, next up are Mario’s Meatballs, which, after a single mouthful, render every superlative you’ve ever uttered far too lacking to disparage them with. Beckoning Louie over to happily concede that he won his bet, you goggle as you realize he’s laden down with your meat course. Luckily the Veal Parm’s more than worth undoing your top button for, we’re talking meltingly tender veal, crumbed and topped with herby tomato sauce and molten Parmesan – the stuff of a pizza-loving carnivore’s dreams.

As you push your knife and fork together and consider waving your white napkin above your head in defeat, the Supremes’ Baby Love starts playing and a trolley piled high with a veritable sugar high of dessert glides into view. Because you strongly believe that a feast should close on a toothache-inducingly sweet note, you opt for a spoonful of everything and one more for luck. Carrot cake, tiramisu, lemon cheesecake and banana flambé – each more insanely indulgent than the last.  

Full, happy and a little tipsy, you’re delighted when Louie bowls back over wielding a nutcracker, with a bottle of homemade Limoncello under one arm and a basket of nuts under the other. As he shells you a heap of walnuts, pecans and hazlenuts, the afterdinner jokes roll and your Limoncello glass never seems to empty.

Which, as the music fades and the candles begin to putter out, brings us right back to where we began.

The tables may be white-table cloth topped but they’re scrumpled and sauce-spattered. The Captains may be tuxedoed but they’re cheekier than your most entertaining Uncle. The food may be Michelin-star quality but its more comforting and scrumptious than your most treasured, time-honed family recipes. The end of a meal at Carbone feels all at once like a special occasion fine dining experience, and supper at home with your extended Italian-American family. And what more can you ask for than that?

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