Jet-setted from Puglia, the burrata at La Brata restaurant in Central is so large it exerts gravitational force.
You and your wife, unable to withstand its pull, pierce its skin, and it oozes heavy cream like a wound from Cupid’s arrow. This is a burrata to make a cardiologist suppress a smile, pure antimatter to the human heart. Well worth it though, oh yes.
La Brata serves it in many iterations. The first time you order it within a circular fan of thinly sliced Parma ham (the slicing machine sits nearby like Clifford the Big Red Dog, who might just take your fingers off if you’re not careful).
And beneath the cheese there is yet more ham. It is particularly delicious, aged, redolent of pig. With this you have excellent, warm bread and a large side of halved cherry tomatoes, red and orange, sweet and tart, tossed in olive oil flecked with fresh basil.
On your second visit, you have it with a variety of cured meats – Parma ham, speck and pancetta – along with olives, roasted peppers and rocket. The menu says there should be anchovy, but it is somehow forgotten. It is as delicious as the first version of this dish, if not more so.
Clearly, this is a restaurant that does not eschew excess, your dominant chord.
The restaurant’s soundtrack – volume set by a sane adult, not by a feral tween – is Italian love songs that kindle romance.
Your wife, family sommelier, orders a shapely Barbera for about HK$580, quite reasonable (that is, when you consider the cost of real estate in Hong Kong’s epicentre, more costly to patrons than the ingredients from which their meals are made). When you come back a second time, you order this delicious wine once more. If romance were a rocket, this would be the second-stage booster.
On visit one, you split a main of house-made taglierini cooked to the tooth, not so easy with fresh pasta, in a cream sauce with bits of hazelnut, imbricated by white truffle shaved before you, gloriously scenting the room, infinitely better than truffle oil, which is always suspect in its lineage.
On visit two, you try the pizza with sausage and ham (adding rocket as a cap). Were it a home pizza made by a friend, you would call it excellent, but it falls short of the magic dished up by the top pizza mongers in town. A great pizza crust is a mystical balance of crispness and pliability, and the flavour of the crust is no less important than the flavour of the toppings.
Here, the crust, made from focaccia dough, is crisp but almost unpliable and the flavour is meh – though there is a textural element, perhaps from semolina flour or polenta meal, that you like a good deal (you ask the waiter about this, but he couldn’t identify it). The sauce tastes omni-purpose, as though it could have been used for pasta as well, lacking the delicacy of a pizza sauce designed to showcase its toppings. And the toppings and cheese feel heavy. In other words, compared to the buff pizzas from restaurants singularly devoted to making them, by your lights this one could use more time at the speed bag.
Your first-visit dessert is a stylish orange crème brûlée the two of you split that would have been perfect were it not for the fact that there was no flavour of orange whatsoever, a puzzling air ball in an otherwise high-scoring game.
The second-visit dessert is the tiramisu, which is handsomely presented in a glass jar, more than ample, and as good as this standard dessert can be.
The ladyfingers used for the tiramisu are apparently imported from Italy. You would have been more impressed had they been house-made. Why not? The burrata that started your meals is flown in from Italy. It is delicious, but had it been house-made, you would have been blown away. Making burrata and ladyfingers, while involved, is well within the capacity of a professional kitchen. Both these efforts would confer upon La Brata a particular stature. With respect, why not try this? To be fair, you’ve read this review to your wife, who says about the burrata, it’s perfect, it “shines like the sun”, and they shouldn’t mess with perfection. What’s more, says she, you should remove this scurrilous section altogether from your review. Reporting her input, almost always wiser than your own, is your response.
The food quality oscillates between superb and pretty good, with its centre point at very good, more than good enough to make this restaurant a regular destination.
Service is notably kind and attentive. You particularly like Mitch, a lovely woman who runs the place with a fuzzy heart.
The interior is your well-worn favourite chair, nothing fancy or showy, but comfortable and comforting.
Like “strengthening medicine” for Kanga’s beloved Roo (don’t you remember, from Winnie the Pooh?), they give each of you a glass of limoncello to fortify you for the night ahead.
The cost of the meal for two on visit one is HK$1,400; on visit two, it’s HK$1,250 – both bargains (and in both cases, the wine approaches half the cost; if you order by the glass, the meal could be far less expensive).
At the end of each visit, you check for cardio arrhythmia (so far, so good), exchange kind words with Mitch and fondly bid alla prossima.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall value: 3.5
11 Old Bailey Street, Central, 9080 7859 (WhatsApp), firstname.lastname@example.org (note: in March 2020, they plan to move to a new location on Elgin Street)
In order to review objectively, David Greenberg does not solicit or accept comped meals and anonymously reviews restaurants.