Celebrated Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten brings his winning formula to Hong Kong with the opening of the second Mercato in LKF, the city's notorious party district. The original Mercato resides at an historical address on the Bund in Shanghai and has won over diners with its rustic-chic Italian appeal. The inspiration behind Mercato stems from Chef Vongerichten's much-loved ABC Kitchen in New York, where it's all about comfort eating with a swish of refinement.
Libations: Our eagerly anticipated tasting began with a round of drinks, starting with a refreshing cucumber martini ($148) that was, well, cool as a cucumber, with a zing of mint, followed by a vodka thyme lemonade ($98), Absolut Citron vodka shaken with lemon and sprigs of fragrant thyme.
For starters: We whetted our appetites with cool, firm slices of hamachi ($118) dressed with crushed olives and dill before crunching into a crisp endive and sugar snap pea salad ($108). Both appetisers focused on simple flavours that worked deliciously well together.
Classic Italian: Wood-fire baked pizza and house-made cheese headline the menu, so we couldn't resist dipping into the luscious ricotta topped with strawberry compote ($118) accompanied by crunchy sourdough bread soldiers. We couldn't decide whether this dish would be better fitted in the starters or dessert sections, but one thing we all agreed on was that this creamy dish was simply irresistible.
On the same track for buttery cheese was the oozy burrata embellished with heirloom tomatoes and basil ($148), which proved there's a reason why these classic Italian flavours have lasted through time. The Parmesan lemon risotto ($128), served with roasted mushrooms and black pepper, was spot on in flavour, although was not al dente enough for our taste. The nuttiness of the mushrooms and the sharpness of the black pepper added another dimension to the creamy rice.
The hero of the evening goes to the spicy salami, broccoli and house-made ricotta pizza ($158). Baked in Mercato's signature wood-fire oven, the thin-crust pie had the most addictive blanket of garlicky chopped broccoli mixed with creamy ricotta. In fact, we could have gone without the salami and still been happily satiated.
Sweet finish: Traditional Italian flavours also resonated in the desserts. The Italian cream cake with raspberry sorbet and Sicilian pistachios ($68) was more cookie than cake and reminded us of a thick, buttery shortbread. No complaints here! On the lighter side was the house-made mascarpone with macerated strawberries and young ginger granite ($68), which added a much-welcomed refresher in Hong Kong's heat. We particularly enjoyed the spicy kick from the ginger granite, which uplifted the decadent mascarpone. Deciding we would go big before going home, we tucked into the sinfully good salted caramel ice cream with candied peanuts, popcorn, whipped cream and hot fudge ($68) as our third dessert of the evening.
Verdict: We can see why Mercato's menu is a winning formula. Classic flavours paired with updated twists, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner here. The pricing, by Central standards, also didn't break the bank, which is a welcome change from many of the new contenders on the market.
8/F, California Tower, 30–32 D’Aguilar Street, LKF, Central, 3706 8567