As a food writer, one of the questions I regularly get is whether there are still hidden gems out there. More often than not, I'll point them in the direction of the slowly proliferating buildings filled entirely with restaurants, now popping up throughout the major shopping areas in Hong Kong like Causeway Bay and Mongkok. While these restaurants normally don't boast the most impressive credentials (you won't find celebrity chefs, opulent decor or impeccable service), what you'll find, if you know where to look, are passionate restaurateurs free from the hefty costs of running an eatery at street level who are thus able to offer good-value food.
One of the restaurants in which we see potential is Basilico, an Italian spot in an unassuming building opposite Jamie's Italian and Penthouse in Causeway Bay. And it's a completely different world from those heavy hitters. Walking into the restaurant we were taken aback by the rather unseemly interior, comprising little more than plain white walls, dark brown furniture and beige tablecloths. Everything was in earth tones, and we found it rather bland and unexciting – the same went for the music selection, which was mostly modern pop.
But we were there for the food, and the food was generally great.
We started our meal with Atlantic scallops served with green pea risotto and pumpkin purée. The three distinctive ingredients were presented piled on top of each other but produced slightly jarring textures when eaten together. They tasted great separately, however, especially the scallops, which were fresh and firm, and the purée, which was silky smooth.
Moving on, we sampled the grilled lobster, cut in half, topped with bread crumbs and served with garlic butter, pumpkin purée and green pea purée. The lobster was grilled perfectly, and the no-frills garlic butter sauce elevated the natural sweetness of the lobster flesh. We were happy to see the reappearance of the pumpkin purée too.
We powered on to the Norwegian cod wrapped in Parma ham and roasted mushrooms, served with garlic butter sauce and cauliflower purée. Aside from the fact that by this time we had been quite intimately acquainted with all the members of the purée family, we also felt like our newfound good friend – garlic butter sauce – was getting a tad clingy. But that's okay, because we're sociable people and we love eating with our friends. The codfish was tender, and the Parma ham wrapper provided a harmonious combination.
We ended the meal with lemon sole with garlic butter sauce, roasted vegetables and truffle mash. We finally bid the purées a fond farewell, but it looked like our best friend was here to stay. Hey, the key to success for any business is to do what you do best and trade the rest, no? We're just not sure if this rule applies in the case of a restaurant. Again, the lemon sole was grilled perfectly, with crispy skin and moist flesh.
We also tasted two drinks – the Bubbling Passion mocktail and the espresso martini, both of which were impeccably crafted. The espresso martini was one of the best we've had, with a smooth and rich taste of coffee without being overly sweet and a subtle kick of vodka.
Overall, Basilico was hit and miss. The flavours of all the dishes and drinks were delicious and the techniques refined, but they were also incredibly repetitive. We had hoped to have been inspired by sauces other than garlic butter and garnishes outside of purées and roasted vegetables. The atmosphere and interior need a lot of work too in order to complement the sophistication of the food served and the relatively steep prices. The food we sampled on this occasion consisted of specials made from seasonal catches (they import fresh seafood every Monday and Thursday), but a regular pizza will set you back upwards of $100, black truffle spaghetti carbonara is $169 and a pot of Holland mussels will cost you $289. The set lunches are a steal though – going as low as $68. We also hear they do an insane happy hour deal (shhhhh).
9/F, Circle Tower, 28 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, 2526 6168
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation.