Sunday, 5 July 2015

On Dining - On top of the world in Central

When you plan a move to another country, one of the things that's hardest to do is to say goodbye to friends and family.  Sure, everyone says all the right things, like 'of course we'll keep in touch' and 'it won't be long before we come and visit', but you alway have that nagging fear in the back of your mind that it might be a long, long time before you catch up again.

I guess the thing about moving to a county like Hong Kong is that it's pretty much the centre of the world, you can stop off here when travelling practically everywhere.  So, I've been pretty stoked that I've been able to host a few friends already in our short six months in country.  What's better is that as I've gotten to know HK, we can act as guides, both for touristy stuff and the important culinary stuff.  When a buddy was recently back in Hong Kong for the second time in as many months, I wanted to take her out somewhere special for dinner, and that spot was On Dining Kitchen and Lounge.

On Dining is the second restaurant from Philippe Orrico, the first being Michelin Starred Upper Modern Bistro, which is ironically a restaurant I'd dined with another of our visiting friends (see post here).  Philippe is joined by a trio of long-time friends in the venture, who between them have some experience at many of Hong Kong's finest restaurants.  While Philippe's first restaurant is in the back streets Sheung Wan, On Dining is right in the thick of HK's busy dining precinct in Central, and with little room for error in such a dining hot spot, we were expecting a meal every bit as good as it's Michelin Starred sister restaurant.

Located on the 29th floor in On Lan Street, On Dining is a stone's throw away from the shining lights and pumping night clubs on Lan Kwai Fong, and as we took the elevator ride up to the restaurant, we were led through a lively bar bar area on the upper floor.  Being a Friday night, it there was quite the vibe, which was somewhat diminished as we defended the stairs to a more tranquil, but no less pumping dining room.  We were shown to our table, which was squeezed up against the plate glass window and gave us a fabulous view of the Hong Kong skyline.

We were given some menus to look over, which had the colourful and funky branding on the cover and contained a range of lovely looking entrees and mains, all with a contemporary French and Italian feel to them.  Looking at the menu, we did worry that our vegetarian dining companion was not going to find anything to order, but thankfully, there was just enough available to satisfy most vegos.  The girls ordered Japanese beers, that when delivered came in funky looking cans with cat prints, which were delivered with some crusty bread in a cloth basket (which was repetitively topped up as it emptied!)

By the time our entrees arrived, there wasn't a spare seat available in the restaurant, which was quite refreshing as many of the restaurants we'd been to of late were lacking in atmosphere due to being mostly empty.  Loving slow cooked eggs, SC had ordered the 63°eggs with wild mushrooms, shellfish bisque and yuzu, which looked lovely in it's bowl.  The slow cooked egg looked like an island in a sea of foam, and when the egg was cracked open, the velvety yolk blended in with the shellfish bisque to thicken up the bisque to make a soup.  The combination of the slightly salty bisque and the creamy yolk played nicely against the well seasoned mushrooms, providing a light starter that was full of flavour.

Soph had chosen a dish that I'd sampled, and loved, at Upper Modern Bistro.  The mushroom soup, with Beaufort d’Alpag (an alpine cheese from the Savoie region of the French Alps), had been a delight when I had sampled and I was keen to see if Soph enjoyed it as much as I had. Exclaiming that it was 'totally yum', the mushroom soup had slightly course texture that evened out with a quenelle of cream fraiche and little squares of the cheese.  The soup was quickly devoured!

My choice of starter for the evening was the spicy beef and tuna tartare with parmesan crisps, a dish that I'd seen in a surprising number of restaurants since moving to Hong Kong.  Before moving, I'd not seen the combination of raw fish and meat, and to be honest, I'm not sure why.  The tartare looked lovely, with the complimentary textures of the beef and tuna sitting well together on the plate and a generous amount of shaved truffle sitting atop.  The proteins were quite fresh and had already been mixed with the customary egg and condiments, which included gherkin.  Some toasted baguette finished off the plate, which was used to scoop up the tartare and provide crunch.  I loved the dish, but found that I was one slice of toast short, a minor issue.

There were a few vegetarian options available on the menu and Soph decided on the mushroom penne with parmesan cheese, which made it two mushroom dishes, back to back.  You can always tell a beautiful pasta dish by the simplicity and restraint used in the ingredients, and the dish delivered on all fronts.  Looking simple and beautifully elegant on the plate, the perfectly formed penne had lashings of finely shaved truffle sitting on top and large slices of mushroom throughout.  The simple flavours combined wonderfully, allowing the subtle flavour of the truffle to shine through, leaving a wonderful feeling on the back of the palate, stimulating the umami part of your taste buds.

After such a light starter, SC's main was perhaps the heaviest dish of the night, and very much a winter dish (even thought it was a summer menu).  The quail and lobster pie looked quite barren on the plate before the lobster bisque and piquillo sauce was added, but once the sauce was on the plate, the dish looked spectacular.  The golden orb of a pie also looked like an island in a lobster bisque sea.  The combination of quail and lobster was an interesting one, not one I'd have conceived (but I'm certainly not a chef!).  The tangy bisque helped soak into the buttery pastry of the pie, and the lobster flesh married with the heavier quail nicely.  While it was a heavy dish, SC devoured it in quick time.

I'm a sucker for a risotto, and when you add truffle in the mix, I'm generally good to go.  I'd initially had some reservations about ordering the Tasmanian black truffle risotto due to my Upper Modern Bistro truffle risotto experience.  It wasn't bad as much as out of balance, with way too much truffle and not enough of the creamy risotto to balance it out.  My curiosity won out at the end of the day, I wanted to see if the On Dining version would be better balanced.  When it was delivered, I could see that there was an abundance of truffle, but it accompanied a much deeper dish of risotto.  The balance of the risotto was much better, but I did find the risotto to be a little dry.  It was still pleasant to eat, but definitely could have been more creamy.

Dessert time and SC couldn't look past the tiramisu with yoghurt sorbet, nuts and candies, which looked very different from any tiramisu I'd ever seen when presented.  It actually looked beautiful, and was clearly a deconstructed version of the famous Italian dessert.  The circular creamy custard was dusted with coffee powder, then topped with candies, a pretty flower and some biscuit.  I'm not a fan of tiramisu as a general rule, but the spoonful of the On Dining version left me with a desire to swap desserts with the girl, unfortunately, she was having none of that!

Soph and I both opted for a lighter dessert, which turned out to be a little boring.  The fresh mandarin with sorbet and tuile looked a little too orange, with no real contrasting colour to make the dish look exciting.  There were different textures of mandarin, including a sorbet, some jelly and fresh mandarin, but without any dramatically different textures, or different flavours, it just tasted like a mandarin ice block.  The best I can say about the dessert was that it was refreshing.

It had been awesome to catch up with a buddy from Australia for dinner and Soph is always great for a laugh.  Luckily, we'd landed in a restaurant that hit pretty much every note well, with a minor exception of the mandarin dessert and a slightly dry risotto.  

One of the standouts of the night was the impeccable service, the team at On Dining really know how to look after a diner and where the dining room was completely packed!  It's always great when you come to a restaurant and service just fades into the background, then all of a sudden, your bread is topped up and the butter replaced.  Even better when your water glass is kept topped up and beers replaced when empty!  We certainly couldn't fault the service, which to be honest, was a tad better than our trip to Upper Modern Bistro.

By the time we'd finished our meal, we were all feeling happy, content and quite full, which are the hallmarks of an enjoyable evening.  It had been fantastic to take an out of town guest to a great little restaurant and provide a completely memorable dining experience.  If Upper Modern Bistro is Michelin quality, then without doubt chef and owner Philippe Orrico can look forward to another star coming his way.

The kitchen in action
Hong Kong skyline - tough to deal with for dinner :)

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