Sunday, 14 February 2016

Ivy - Is it Italian or French? The French Riviera

One of the things I still find a little strange, even after residing in Hong Kong for over twelve months, is the placement of restaurants in shopping centres. Throughout Australia, Europe and the Americas, shopping centres have designated areas for restaurants and food outlets. They're often quite fancy places with a range of restaurants from renowned chefs and up-and-coming dining establishments.  Harrods in London and KaDaWe in Berlin are great examples of major shopping outlets that have specific locations for restaurants.

Hong Kong is quite different, with restaurants dotted through out major shopping centres, often spread around shopping centres in unusual locations.  Ivy is the latest restaurant from the Gaia Group and is one of those restaurants that's tucked away on it's own in the IFC, so you stumble across it almost by accident!

It's a little known fact (well, I didn't really know!) that the French Riviera was a part of Italy until it was handed over to France in the 1800's. Which explains why the French restaurant has more in common with an Italian eatery than your traditional French bistro.

We'd initially hoped to get along to the annual Winter Carnival recently, but changed our mind pretty quickly once we'd seen the queue to gain entry, so had an evening free and no dinner plans.  We were feeling pretty lazy, so wanted to check out something close by, and the Ivy seemed like a pretty good option.  With no reservation made, we rocked up to to the restaurant and were relieved to find plenty of tables available.  

Shortly after being seated at a table with spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour, we were given a copy of Ivy's menu, that read much like a combination between Spanish tapas and Italian.  With a list of smaller options that would have been perfect for sharing, and a few larger bites, we contemplated our next move.  Complicating the options was a very reasonably priced and interesting looking chef's tasting menu, which as it turns out we went for.

The girl decided it was time for a cocktail (as opposed to her usual choice of a red) and asked for the 'Fresh Ivy Martini', but ended up being given a berry martini instead.  I suggested that she let the staff know that it was the wrong martini, but SC just shrugged her shoulders and ripped into her martini.  I figured she just wanted a decent hit of booze, which the berry martini provided 'in spades'.

A couple of things happened in quick succession.  We were brought over an Ivy branded white paper bag that was filled with bread rolls, a plate that held a couple of vine ripened tomatoes with salt and a whole lemon appeared and an amuse bouche was presented.  Interestingly, there was no description of our amuse bouche by our waiter, so we had to guess that it was duck pate with grape and balsamic on a toasted sour dough.  We did however, get a brief outline of what to do with the tomatoes and salt, which was to cut into the tomato and dip in the salt as a pre dinner snack.  

We were off to a mixed start, the tomato dipped in salt was kind of refreshing, but it was hard to get the right balance of tomato and salt.  The amuse bouche was quite tasty, especially the hit of the acidic balsamic vinegar against the creamy duck pate.  The bread rolls were very disappointing though, quite stale and not very tasty at all.

There was a choice of options for the first course of the tasting menu.  I'd chosen the French green beans with foie gras and aged balsamic vinegar and the girl went for the poached tuna nicoise salad with french beans, egg and tomato.  I quite liked the hit of the balsamic poured across my very thin green beans, but would have loved a little more of the lush and creamy foie gras.  SC's tuna salad was nice, but suffered a little from having poached tuna as opposed to nice chunks of lightly grilled tuna that would form part of a traditional tuna nicoise.

Second course was set as a Jerusalem artichoke veloute with black truffles, chicken stock and cream, which sounded amazing on the menu.  I'd assumed that the cream was meant to be a nice quenelle sitting atop of the veloute, but by the time the soup arrived at our table, it had melted and was a flat layer of light cream over the darker artichoke soup.  There was a very distinct truffle smell emanating from the veloute, which was mouth watering and made us want to dive straight into the dish.  It was a bad move though, the veloute was super hot and needed a few moments to cool down a bit.  In fact, it wasn't until we were halfway through the soup until it cooled enough for the flavours to really shine, with the umami flavour of the truffle partnering nicely with the sweet artichoke veloute.

With three choices available for main, we again went our separate ways.  I'd chosen the Josper grilled Iberico pork chop with green apple compote and the girl chose the wild mushroom asparagus and parmesan.  I know what you're thinking, those dishes don't sound French!  It was where the Italian influence on the French Riviera came into play.  

My Iberico pork chop was nicely cooked, with a lovely caramelisation that helped enhance the sweet pork.  There was a sweet and sticky jus that further enhanced the strong flavours of my pork.  I wasn't a huge fan of the stodgy apple compote and the carrot that accompanied the dish was well over cooked and had a soft texture that wasn't that enjoyable.

There was a wonderful truffle aroma emanating from the girls wild mushroom risotto, that was a very good example of risotto.  The rice was expertly cooked, with a slightly firm texture but looked a little dry on the plate  The pairing of mushroom and asparagus were quite classic, and even though the risotto looked a little dry, it was actually quite moist and very tasty.

While we had a couple of options for dessert, we both chose the 'chocolate opera flourless cake' that was served with mixed berries and a bitter sweet chocolate mousse.  The dessert looked the goods and the chocolate cake was beautiful and moist with a crusty outer, and reminded me of a big chocolate brownie.  There were a couple of things that I'd have changed on the plate though: firstly, I thought there needed to be a berry coulis to add a little sauce to the plate.  I also thought the a vanilla cream mousse would have paired better with the chocolate cake than the bitter sweet chocolate, which as just a little bit overwhelming with the very chocolate(y) cake.

For the very reasonably price of the tasting menu, I thought the meal at Ivy was pretty good. There seemed no pretence that you might find in a restaurant actually on the French Riviera, with food that was honest more than spectacular.  It was a little confusing visiting a French restaurant that was much more akin to an Italian trattoria, but I've never been to the region and have no comparison points.

Service left a little to be desired though, with the wrong cocktail coming out and no real explanation of our meal as it was presented.  Not a huge deal when we had the tasting menu with us, but I sure would have liked an explanation of our amuse bouche.  I was also a little disappointed with our bread rolls, which seemed like they were just not freshly baked, a big no-no for me.

While it was an interesting meal, I think I'd probably stick to a more traditional French restaurant for my French food, and the same for Italian. 

Great views of Kowloon from the Ivy
Cake to go?!
The restaurant is quite large and is a little on the plush side!
Comfy seats to enjoy a drink while waiting for your table

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