Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Off Night' One Off? Cenacolo Steak and Pasta

Everyone knows and understands that all humans have different tastes, likes and dislikes.  FMUS hates pumpkin and sweet potato, I think they make a fantastic soup, mash or generally anything else.  I am really not partial to salted caramel anything, but FMUS will always order that flavour if it is on the menu.  Writing this food blog has also reinforced that what works for one palate doesn't work for another, and what one person thinks was an amazing experience will be a really bad night on the town for another.  We experienced the negative side during a visit to Cenacolo Steak and Pasta in Soho.   

We were still HK newcomers, and had only recently discovered the little district known as Soho. (Fun fact - the original Soho in London was thought to be named after a battle cry; whereas SoHo in Manhattan means "south of Houston Street" and SoHo in HK means "south of Hollywood Road").  I had been tasked with finding somewhere for dinner in this area, and, not knowing what was really on offer, did some research and came across Cenacolo Steak and Pasta, in Graham Street.

As with a lot of restaurants in Hong Kong, Cenacolo Steak and Pasta is also run by a company with a stable of restaurants.  The Al Dente Group not only runs the Al Dente restaurants, but also Cenacolo  and Le Souk in Soho, and Angus BRIM 28.  Cenacolo offers Italian and Mediterranean dishes, and there is quite a variety on offer, from pastas to Australian and New Zealand steak and lamb.  So with a few options on the menu that I thought would be good, and after reading some good reviews, I made a reservation.

Cenacolo has that "traditional" Italian restaurant down pat, a little dark but cosy, the tables close together and bottles of red wine displayed around the walls.  While there were not many people at the restaurant when we arrived, being a Friday night in Soho it wasn't long before other customers started to turn up and the place became quite noisy.

We were served some bread with oil and balsamic vinegar presented in those cool little bottles that we've been seeing around Hong Kong.  We had decided to forego an entree each, instead deciding to share a plate of the carpaccio, with shaved Parmesan, wild rocket, capers, olives and virgin olive oil.  When it was presented there was also artichokes on the carpaccio, and the capers had morphed into caper berries, which I didn't really mind as I enjoy the tart flavour. However, the star of the dish, the raw beef, was quite bland, and really needed some seasoning. Even the Parmesan  and a squeeze of lemon couldn't raise the flavour of the beef.  In the end, we decided that the carpaccio was just too busy (too many conflicting ingredients) to be considered good.

While we were somewhat disappointed with the starter, we were still looking forward to our mains. Cenacolo is an Italian restaurant, but we both felt like something more than just pasta.  I had ordered the scallopine ai funghi, pan fried veal in a light creamy mushroom sauce served with garlic mash potato and grilled veggies.  I was looking forward to this dish, and was not deterred by its rustic presentation.  While perhaps I would not have lumped the veal and veggies on top of the mash, what was disappointing was again a lack of flavour, like someone had forgotten to add the salt.  The mash had no real taste of garlic, and the sauce was very thin, not at all the creamy sauce I was expecting.  The veggies were cooked well, not too soft, but the veal was a little chewy.

FMUS on the other hand was bitterly disappointed with his lamb rack, described on the menu as young lamb char-grilled to perfection and served with a rosemary garlic mash and grilled veggies, and a mint jus.  Of course the first thing that jumped out for him was the inclusion of pumpkin - while I had carrots, beans and broccolini, he also got pumpkin, one of his most loathed ingredients, as well as a weird zucchini flower sticking out of the mash.  However, his main complaint was the poorly cooked lamb - the fat was barely rendered and there was hardly any meat on the bones at all.  The presentation was very unappealing and the bread crust covering the lamb was thick, gluggy and very bland.

Things were not going that well.  We decided to persevere and try some desserts, thinking that a basic Italian dessert should lift the meal.  My tiramisu was in fact OK, if a little retro in presentation.  FMUS on the other hand went for the Galliano flavoured panna cotta served on a bed of mixed berries, thinking a nice panna cotta on a bed of fresh berries would be simple yet effective.  However, he was served a big cup of nope on that one - instead of fresh berries, the panna cotta (which was really, really cold and rock hard) was nestled in a bed of hot berry coulis. FMUS found the combination of a very cold panna cotta (clearly almost frozen to ensure it didn't melt) and the hot berry coulis to be really unpleasant for his palate, and had a lot of difficulty finishing it.

The food at Cenacolo Steak and Pasta was what we would consider to be very average.  The service was good, the staff clearly took their jobs seriously, and didn't need to write down our orders.  The other diners seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the restaurant has been around for a while, so clearly they must be doing something right.  However, on this night we were those diners who had a poor experience.  I hear you ask "why didn't you speak to management?". Well, because the meal was not appalling, there were just elements that did not sit with our view of how the food should be presented.  And also, who wants to send something back just because we thought it lacked flavour or was not really what you were expecting? A bed of mixed berries could have meant fresh or mushy, it was not actually specified.  All we were looking for was a place to go after work, and didn't want the evening to turn into one of those horror stories you read about where the diner acted like a wanker and everyone was left with an even more unpleasant taste in their mouth.

We found Cenacola Steak and Pasta was just not what we were looking for.  Others seem to really like it, and there look to be many other options on the menu that could be interesting. Maybe we should have gone with their steaks and pasta, as their sign out the front says "Best Steak, Pasta, Seafood, Wines" but we'll never know.


Cool little bottle
The zucchini flower was like and afterthought stuck in the mash
Lots of little knick knacks, jars and wine dotted around the restaurant
Lots of other diners were enjoying their meals


  1. Your right it doesn't look very appealing,Bonus points for the inclusion of a classic Oatmeal cartoon ;-)

  2. This was yummy, top marks. Thanks for posting this recipe.



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