At Michelin-starred restaurant MONO, Chef Ricardo Chaneton’s summer tasting menus encapsulate South America’s culinary heritage with premium seasonal ingredients at their finest
Stepping inside MONO’s dining room is akin to making a wondrous leap onto the enchanting Latin American continent through Doraemon’s Anywhere Door. The captivating gastronomic journey I experienced at this Michelin-starred restaurant transported me straight to the heart of the Andes Mountains, where indigenous root vegetables like mashua and oca have thrived for centuries. In the next instant, my senses were tantalised by the likes of xnipec, a zesty and spicy sauce from the Yucatán Peninsula.
Co-founded with award-winning hospitality group JIA Group, Executive Chef Ricardo Chaneton, a native of Venezuela, is on a mission to showcase Latin American cuisine on the world stage. His goal came to fruition when MONO became Asia’s first Michelin-starred Latin American restaurant in 2022, and it now ranks at number 41 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023.
Chef Chaneton never ceases to impress Hong Kongers, a fact made evident through his latest endeavour – curating summer tasting menus that masterfully weave together the robust essence of Latin American cuisine with the finest seasonal ingredients.
Set in an intimate 30-seater space, diners are greeted by an expansive stainless-steel chef’s counter juxtaposed against a backdrop of blue-and-white wall tiles and a terrazzo floor, a composition that radiates a sleek and modern ambience. Beyond the 10 counter seats, the main dining room is capable of accommodating up to 20 guests.
I was exhilarated as I took my place at the chef’s counter for my lunch tasting; it’s a very special experience being able to observe the artistry of MONO’s skilled culinary team as they assemble every intricate detail on each elegant plate.
We kicked off MONO’s summer tasting with a classic Mexican street snack known as an infladita. This delicacy features a puffed blue corn tortilla with a crunchy and deep purple exterior, providing a vivid contrast to the intricate, petal-like chayote slices placed atop. As I took my first bite, the infladita’s delicate shell crumbled, unveiling a luxurious under-the-sea element; the velvety and juicy Ebisu oyster, cooked in mezcal, bestows a blend of flavours that transported me to the ocean’s depths.
Next up, Mauricio Rodriguez, MONO’s General Manager, unveiled the star dish – mashua. This extraordinary Latin American root vegetable is skilfully roasted to attain a starchy texture imbued with a delicate hint of sweetness. Alongside it, raw yellow mashua and pickled red mashua add layers of earthiness, spiciness and tanginess. These three mashua variations are meticulously sliced and stacked artfully on a bed of tamarillo-chipotle salsa. This dish is refreshingly invigorating.
Amidst our gastronomic odyssey, Mauricio showed us a vibrant array of Latin American fruits that play a crucial role in Chef Chaneton’s culinary creations. From the large and oblong cacao to the oval-shaped tamarillo and from the the verdant chayote to the oca tuber, this kaleidoscopic tray is a testament to nature’s bounty. It’s truly fascinating to learn that many of these fruits, now widely grown and used in Europe and Asia, originate right in the heart of Latin America.
Being an avid enthusiast of both tomatoes and seafood, the subsequent dish ignited a glimmer of excitement in my eyes. The arrangement of a fresh San Marzano tomato adorned with capers, almonds and edible flowers atop its vibrant red flesh is nothing short of a visual masterpiece. A standout dish from MONO’s current summer menus, it exemplifies the chef’s philosophy of showcasing the inherent natural flavours and textures of the exquisite produce used. As I tasted the alluring tomato, my palate was embraced by a burst of succulence and sweetness that briefly evoked the sensation of indulging in a slice of watermelon. Beneath the tomato rests a bed of briny blue crab salad, imparting a subtle oceanic note. The infusion of a citrusy marinade, crafted with the essence of seasonal Napoleon cherries, intermingles with the tomato’s flavour and the crabmeat’s tenderness, further elevating the dish.
Following the enjoyment of three delicious courses featuring fresh fruits and seafood, we were presented with MONO’s signature sourdough bread (yes, bread doesn’t always have to be served at the very beginning of a meal). While the sourdough is exemplary, the real astonishment comes from the Eva Aguilera extra-virgin olive oil, offered exclusively in Hong Kong at MONO. Its exquisite flavour is so delightful that we didn’t leave a single drop on the plate.
As each dish was presented fresh from the chef’s counter, I was amazed by the innovative recipes and culinary techniques of MONO’s talented team. Even the restaurant’s plates are deserving of praise as they are custom-made and found nowhere else in the world.
Resting gracefully on a tortilla made with buckwheat and corn from Mexico is Hokkaido scallop – a treasured delicacy from Japan – grilled anticucho style. The scallop’s natural sweetness is complemented by the subtle tang and bitterness of oca purée and nopal xnipec sauce. Meanwhile, the nutty undertone of the tortilla provides a satisfying counterbalance in flavour. The intrigue of this taco dish is elevated by the paired bowl of clam bouillon infused with seven-year-old Nicaraguan rum. A bite of the taco followed by a sip of the soothing broth creates a delectable interplay of flavours.
Another pristine treasure from the sea arrived at our table – Pacific sea bass. The sea bass boasts a lusciously buttery texture, but the real thrill of the dish is its sauce base – a concoction of tomatillo and Japanese yuzu koshō concassé blended with the essences extracted from an array of vegetables. A house-infused Colombian coffee oil is introduced to boost the flavour intensity. I initially feared the coffee oil would overshadow the inherent sweetness of the sea bass, but it didn’t. On the contrary, the aromatic roasted notes of the coffee oil enrich the palate, prompting diners to savour every last drop of the sumptuous sauce.
Chef Chaneton blends his extensive French culinary experience with his South American roots in this remarkable dish featuring Plounéour-Ménéz pigeon from France (MONO is one of only three restaurants in Hong Kong that currently serves French pigeon). Enveloped in smoked banana leaves and baked, the pigeon undergoes a meticulous drying process before cooking, emerging as a true masterpiece of tender, juicy, earthy excellence. This dish is accompanied by a unique twist on a classic French dessert – Peruvian oca Tatin – offering caramelised oca root with apricot and pigeon-juice glaze. An edible vegetable ribbon adds artistry and crunch. However, the most surprising element of this dish is MONO’s signature mole, made from 21 ingredients and ground freshly for diners. This complex sauce, lined up alongside a lively chimichurri and a velvety ancho chilli jus made from pigeon jus, red wine, port and cherry wine, enhances the dish with a range of lingering flavours and textures.
MONO’s summer desserts do not yield an inch in creativity, complexity and refinement. I was fascinated by this luscious confit made with Japanese white peach at the peak of ripeness, blanketed in a delicate jelly infused with seven-year-old Nicaraguan rum. Fresh European almonds and a pink tuile crafted from corn and sugar are set against ice cream that’s ingeniously flavoured with a Latin American herbal tea known as mate, complemented by a bed of white chocolate crumble.
This journey of discovery of Latin America’s gastronomic culture culminates in two delightful surprises – the classic Argentinian alfajor, a bite-sized morsel of shortbread-like cookie filled with dulce de leche and coated in shredded coconut, alongside a petite cocoa jelly rolled in smoky ancho chilli. ¡Qué delicioso!
Chef Chaneton’s vision of introducing guests to the vibrant flavours of Latin America through an unforgettable fine-dining experience has undeniably come to fruition at MONO. Each dish we tried was so exceptional that I find myself unable to note a single criticism. Our culinary journey encompassed selections from both the lunch and dinner tasting menus, and my top picks include the roasted mashua, the San Marzano tomato with blue crab salad and the Plounéour-Ménéz pigeon with the chef’s 21-ingredient mole. What truly sets MONO apart is the remarkable fusion of Latin American cuisine with Chef Chaneton’s expertise in French culinary techniques, making for an extraordinary dining experience.
MONO’s summer selections can be enjoyed in either a six-course lunch menu (HK$888/person Tuesday–Friday; HK$1,180/person on Saturdays and public holidays), an eight-course lunch menu (HK$1,488/person Tuesday–Friday; HK$1,680/person on Saturdays and public holidays), a six-course dinner menu (HK$1,888/person) or an eight-course dinner menu (HK$2,288/person).
Where: 5/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.