Sunday, October 26, 2014

Carbone - Old School Birthday Feast

Veal parmesan at Carbone
The jetsetters among you will know that Carbone is a cult New York restaurant. There, it's had mixed reviews, and when I tweeted about it opening in Hong Kong, I immediately got replies about how expensive it's perceived to be. Plus, I've learned to be wary of "big name" restaurant imports into HK these days, so I didn't expect much of Carbone, until some trusty pals went to check it out - in general they had pretty good things to say, so I put it on my to-try list.

Baked clams
My dad's birthday was coming up, and we were going to go for the chef's table at Gaddi's (my father's love for that restaurant is a well-known fact in our family), but alas, it appeared that the chef de cuisine was off during the time we wanted to book. Not offence to the rest of the kitchen, but when you're going the extra mile for the chef's table, you want the chef to be there. (We did end up going to the restaurant for lunch while the chef was away anyway).

Carpaccio Piemontese - wagyu
I chose Carbone because I thought my dad might like a) to try a new place, and b) the retro atmos. Once we sat down in the cosy wood-panelled room, we both remarked that a scene in the Sopranos could be probably be shot there. And well, c) because I wanted to try it. (Thing about being an only child is, you get to call the shots a lot. I know, I know...) And full disclosure, I reserved with my own email and name. (Just so you know, if this were a proper review for a respectable publication, I would use a made-up name and email.)

Mario's Meatballs
The food menu is physically rather large; "oversized" if you like to use hotel bathroom terminology, but the list of food items is actually pretty well edited. A restaurant, in my opinion, only needs to do a few things, if it means it does those few things well.

Spicy rigatoni vodka
In general, the food was hearty and the flavours bold, as you'd expect of an American-Italian restaurant. The spicy rigatoni vodka, already a bit of a legend here, delivered - imagine a mac and cheese for adults.

Prime Porterhouse
The meatballs and rigatoni were certianly highlights, but the rest wasn't bad either. The beef of choice here seems to be wagyu (a Hong Kong thing perhaps?) and it's used for the hyper-thin carpaccio, which was thin like rice paper, practically melting on the tongue. But if my eyes were closed would I be sure it was beef? Don't think so. Australia wagyu is also used for the prime porterhouse (t-bone). The main issue I have with wagyu usually is the lack of beef flavour or richness - this was ok - on a scale of 1-10, 10 being super beefy, it would have been a 5.

Garoupa Piccata
The garoupa was lovely and juicy inside, but I felt the batter did little except protect the fish from being overcooked. The batter itself was q bit too thick and floury.

Veal Parmesan
I think the veal parmesan looks like a pizza, except instead of a dough as its base it's breaded veal (oh-em-gee, it's like pizza but low in gluten!). It reminds me of parmigiana in Australian pubs - done with more care of course. Warm, meaty, cheesy, a little crisp with a little acid from the tomatoes - it's got all the components of comfort food covered.

For dessert they roll over a cart, and they'll flambe some bananas tableside for the full old-school effect. Cheesy, you might say, but I love that kind of thing.

The wine list is ridiculous though - the selection is pretty good, lots of Italians, natch - but it's the bloody prices. Basically the cheapest bottle is around $4-500 and it's supermarket plonk. I understand it's in the heart of LKF and everything but anything decent will cost close to $1000 at least. If you're a wine drinker, the $500 corkage might be worth it... Also, while I was waiting for everyone else to arrive, I had a whisky sour - the menu says: scotch, grapefruit, honey. I reckon grapefruit may not have had enough acidity to brighten the drink, meaning overall it tasted a bit flat, and the scotch didn't quite come through either, but perhaps my philosophy of what makes a good drink is different from theirs. (But I like their classics-inspired cocktail menu - I'd give them another chance).

Service was seamless - friendly, attentive, present but not intrusive. One issue I have is with the noise levels - we were 6 at a round table, ie. not huge and usually easy to speak to everyone, but the whole night we basically had to shout at each other. There is a speaker practically above every table. Is this what hip restaurants do these days? I guess I'm too much of an old lady to understand the concept of loud music with your meal.

Empty plates, empty glasses, blotches on the table - evidence of satisfaction
Dinner overall was not bad at all - I'd definitely come back, and although it's not particularly cheap (expect to pay at the very least, $600 per head without wine), it's solid, no-fuss, comfort food that leaves you feeling satisfied, not just full.

Carbone [map]
9/F LKF Tower
33 Wyndham Street
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2593 2593
Open daily: 6-11.30pm (lunch coming soon)

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