Stepping out on his own as the co-founder and executive chef of newly opened Andō, Agustin Ferrando Balbi combines his Argentine culinary heritage with his passion for Japanese cuisine in a captivating tasting menu full of elegant intrigue.
Having worked in acclaimed kitchens around the world, from Buenos Aires, to New Orleans, to Tokyo, Chef Balbi arrived in Hong Kong four years ago and was most recently at HAKU before joining forces with JIA Group on this first solo restaurant endeavour.
Tucked inside a commercial building off busy Wellington Street, the demure elegance of Andō is a sanctuary from the chaotic bustle of Central. Draped in muted charcoal tones, the restaurant features not only fine-dining cuisine but also serves each carefully crafted dish in delicate earthenware worthy of its own exhibition.
Our lunchtime Experienca tasting menu ($888/person; +$688 for wine/sake pairings) began with a refreshing, refined dish of abalone blanketed in its own umami-infused gel, ironically named “Como en Casa”, which translates to “Like at Home”. Slow-cooked for six hours in mirin, dashi and soy, then adorned with pretty shiso flowers, intensely aromatic kinome leaves and seaweed, this dish whetted our appetite. Beautifully balanced and showcasing tender, flavourful abalone, this is something we would certainly not be able to recreate at home.
Called “A lo de Neca”, or “To Neca’s House”, this cold almond soup is named after Chef Balbi’s grandmother’s sister, who made this during the hot summer months in Argentina. The delicate soup is given a jolt of umami notes with razor clams, sea grapes and shrimp and is dotted with chive oil and flavourful shrimp oil – as beautiful for the eyes to behold as it is for the palate.
The “Partir”, or “Departure”, course describes the chef’s adventures in Japan after leaving his home country at the age of 24. Served on hexagonal tiles in groups of five, the jet-fresh sashimi selection (+$280) changes seasonally, and guests can select from an assortment of hand-crafted chopsticks to use for this course. Our favourite fish was the thick slice of creamy, melt-in-the-mouth amberjack topped with savoury malted rice and shiso blooms.
Bread this good shouldn’t be just an accompaniment but a star attraction. The seaweed sourdough had a gorgeous, flavourful crust and an addictively chewy centre, all the while made better by whipped butter infused with red miso and extra-virgin olive oil by El Poaig from trees over 1,000 years old!
Like a warm embrace, the caldoso rice with scallop, cured Spanish beef and the crunchy interior of the Spanish sea cucumber gets top marks for indulgent comfort eating. The scallops were cooked to bouncy perfection, and we much prefer the crunchy texture of sea cucumber innards to the gelatinous exterior that is so coveted in Chinese cuisine.
One of our favourite fish, the kinmedai served at Andō is wrapped in kombu before being steamed in mineral water. The result is a fork-tender fish infused with umami notes, paired with a robust romesco sauce made from tomato, garlic, pepper, onion and almond, popular with local fishermen in the port city of Tarragona, Spain.
A nod to Argentina’s love for grilled meats, Andō’s menu features A5 Kumamoto Wagyu, grilled over charcoal and paired with meaty girolle mushrooms to commemorate Chef Balbi’s childhood memories of family barbecues.
Almost too pretty to eat, the dark chocolate and passion fruit caramel, shaped like a cherry blossom, is a juxtaposition between its delicate exterior and heady, aromatic interior. Pictured at bottom, these lovely petits fours ended our meal on a high.
What a treat – not only for the palate but also for the eyes! Each dish at Andō was perfectly executed, with great attention paid to the balance of flavours. We also adored all the custom tableware used to further accentuate the uniqueness of each dish.
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.
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