Friday, 3 July 2015

Cecconi's - their meatballs are amazing!

If you've been living in Hong Kong for any length of time, chances are, you've been to one of the restaurants that makes up the DiningConcepts stable.  In what has to be one of the most diverse portfolios of restaurants in HK, DiningConcepts has so many dining spots that they run a frequent diners club loyalty program.  With over over twenty different concepts, the team run such favourites as Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen (see post here) and Mario Batali's Lupa (see post here).

We've rather enjoyed most of our visits to the DiningConcepts restaurants, so have recently been keeping an eye out for one of their restaurants when looking for dinner.  Over the last few months, we'd had some pretty ordinary Italian cuisine, which is always disappointing given our love of Italian food.  So, when we spotted a little restaurant in Expat territory (Elgin Street), we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it on the list managed by the group.

The front of Cecconi's is quite deceiving, it's hard to see into the restaurant, so it would be easy to miss the casual elegance of the white linen tables and the classy, yet understated dining room. Walking through the front door located under the slightly garish neon sign and into the quiet tranquility of the completely empty restaurant, completely removed us from bustling Soho and the heat of a typical Hong Kong evening.  We were taken directly to our table, which was located in a very comfy booth at the back of the restaurant, which gave me fantastic views of the pass.

Menus were offered and glasses of cold water were poured, then consumed and then poured again (it was a very warm night!).  While we were looking over the very comprehensive Cecconi's menu, trying hard to decide how our evening of consuming would play out, we were given some fresh bread, olive oil and a plate full of olives.  I skipped snacking on the olives in favour of the fresh bread, but SC started to tuck into the salty olives with an appreciative smile.

It gave us just enough time to stave off our hunger and a little time to consider our options before our incredibly affable and friendly waiter took our orders.  While waiting for our starters to arrive, we noted the steady stream of diners arriving for their dinners.  We may have been the first to arrive, allowing for a few moments of tranquility, but before long, Cecconi's really came alive.

Being so close to the pass, we were able to keep our eye on the food as it moved from the kitchen to the dining room.  We could see the care taken in wiping down the plates to ensure maximum presentation, which was clearly evident with the arrival of our starters.  First up was the roasted fig with goats cheese, flat pancetta and honey mustard dressing.  The dish looked beautiful, with the fig wrapped inside the pancetta, along with some slowly melting ricotta.  The combination of the ricotta and fig was delightful, but wrapping it in the salty pancetta was something special.  The sweetness of the fig was set alight by the added saltiness, a brilliant combo and great start to the meal.

I'd chosen the veal meatballs served on stewed tomatoes with Grana Padano as my starter, and it looked spectacular.  The vibrancy of the tomato base, sitting starkly against the white plate and a drizzle of olive oil was visually stimulating...  But it was nothing compared to the smell emanating from the plate, which was mouth watering.  The three large meatballs were topped with the Grana Padano cheese and a contrasting green and purple salad.  The aroma of the dish had been driving me wild and as I eagerly started to devour the veal meatballs, I was mentally calculating where they sat in my all time list...  It was right near the top, they were wonderful, but I could easily had a bowl of the sauce on its own as a soup.  The only thing missing was some crusty baguette to soak up the sauce on the bowl, it was a shame when my plate was cleared with some of the sauce remaining.

With such delicious starters, we were really keen to see if the mains would measure up, so many times a meal starts beautifully with a great entree, then falls flat after.  SC's peppered duck breast and confit duck leg, served with sweet potato mash and lime jus was delivered and from appearances, Cecconi's was not going to befall that fate!  The duck breast was thinly sliced and the presented in a layered manner over the leg, making it quite lovely to look at.  The breast was lovely, with fat that had rendered just right and was almost melt in your mouth.  What was completely melt in your mouth was the confit leg, which fell away from the bone from just looking at it (not quite, but it came off easily!).  The dish had a rich and deep gamey flavour, which was offset nicely by the lime jus provided an interesting undertone.

I'd decided on one of the many risottos available on the Cecconi's menu, which had five in total. I'd been contemplating the lobster risotto, but was finally swayed by the chicken, chorizo, rosemary and aged balsamic risotto.  With hindsight, ordering a risotto might have been a mistake after devouring the delicious, but very large veal meatball starter.  While I quite liked my risotto, which was cooked to perfection, I just couldn't seem to make a dent in the dish, and by the time I'd finished, looked hardly touched.  While I did assure the waiter, who then assured the chef that I'd left the bulk of the risotto because I was full, this was only partially true.  If the chorizo had not been chopped so fine, I probably would have eaten just a little bit more (or at least picked out the chorizo pieces).  With the balsamic drizzled over the top, the dish was just a little sweet, which could have benefited from more of the spicy chorizo.

We were both completely stuffed, but wanted to check out the dessert menu, largely because we'd enjoyed the meal so far and wanted a sweet finish to dinner.  Most of the dessert options looked quite heavy, but there was one option that looked tailor made for the end of a heavy meal.. The pavlova roulade with chantilly cream and fresh fruits looked a little rustic on the plate, but it was the perfect finish to our meal.  There was an abundance of gooey meringue, plenty of fresh fruit and just a little bit of cream, which made it a great pavlova.  Great, but not perfect.  There needed to be a thicker layer of crunchy meringue over the top of the gooey meringue, which would have provided extra crunch and align with an Aussie's view of pavlova..

You could have rolled us out of the restaurant by the time we'd finished the whole meal, for some reason, we'd reached our limit of eating!  We'd had some terrible Italian in Hong Kong, so it was refreshing to find a place that had very reasonably priced Italian in a very accessible location (it was right on our way home).  We'd discussed that Cecconi's had now made our list of restaurants we'd like to revisit when thinking of a quick and easy meal.  The fact that the surroundings were lovely just added to our interest in the place.

There was a funny moment, when I overheard the chef giving our waiter a bit of grief about the nearly full plate of risotto, but seriously, there was not much wrong with it at all.  It was well cooked, and inventive, but there was a lot of it and would be best served after a much lighter starter than the one I chose.

My confidence in the restaurants run by DiningConcepts is growing to the point where I would now start to recommend to others.  Yep, with over 22 restaurants under their management, there are quite s few more that I'd like to get in and check out.  Hopefully, they're all as great.

The veal meatballs with that tomato sauce was simply mouth watering
The duck was perfect, with the slight peppery flavour balanced out by the jus
The restaurant filled up quickly after we arrived (first as usual)
No surprise, Cecconi's is award winning

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