Saturday, 6 August 2016

ALTO Bar and Grill by Dining Concepts - wow, what a view

Dining Concepts is one of the leading restaurant groups in Hong Kong, running a heap of restaurants from some of the world's leading chefs.  Names like Gordon Ramsey and Mario Batali are associated with the group, which gives Dining Concepts star power.  So much so that the group launched on the Hong Kong stock exchange this week with shares rising an amazing 1900% at one point.

Amazing really.

One of the key things about Dining Concepts is that they sure do know how to open a restaurant, often with much fanfare, sometimes low key.  ALTO in Causeway bay was the most recent restaurants to join the stable and after reading some of the press about the joint, we decided to get along and check it out.

Located in the very new V Point building, which it must be said was still not fully occupied at the time of our visit, the very modern space resides on the 31st floor of the building and had simply stunning views of Hong Kong.  You're instantly assaulted by the stunning array of lights that dangle from the ceiling, very much looking like floating orbs or golden suns at first, but as you get closer, more like bright amoeba - all different shapes and glowing.  The rest of the restaurant is a mix of comfortable modern chairs and tables that seemed like a cross between picnic and traditional restaurant tables.  

Designer Tom Dixon of internationally renowned Design Research Studio had done a superb job of building a contemporary looking restaurant that has moved away from the semi industrial feel that seems to be so prevalent nowadays!

Helming the newly opened restaurant was Chef Mike Boyle, who'd previously run the kitchen at another of the Dining Concepts restaurants, Bistecca (see post here).  Building on the very beef focussed Bistecca, Chef Mike has created a menu that continues in the beefy tradition, but adding an interesting assortment of starters and sides that seriously expand on the options available to those not only wanting steak.

With a plethora of delicious looking items to choose from, it actually took us a little while to decide on what we'd be consuming for the night.  While we were agonising over the menu, the girl ordered a cocktail and we were presented with a ginger based mocktail that was instantly refreshing on a blindingly hot summer's evening. Following the mocktails was an itty bitty loaf of bread that was lovely and sweet, and even seemed to have some olive oil baked in, not sure how, but it was superb.

We'd eventually been able to make our selections and it wasn't too long before our starters arrived, the girl selecting the Ahi Tuna served as grilled tuna alongside a tartare that had avocado, young coconut (whatever that is!) and a touch of lime and chilli.  Served on a speckled flat bowl, the dish looked quite appetising and was very generous in size.   The grilled tuna was crusted with sesame seeds and was a tad over cooked for me, the grilling of the crust seeping a little too much into the delicate flesh.  The tartare was superb, fresh tuna chunks interspersed with sweet avocado providing a well balanced set of flavours, that were enhanced when dipping into the chilli sauce.

I'd not been able to pass up on the bone marrow, which was served on a wooden board with two huge bone halves with a speckled crust, along with a side pot of chimichurri sauce and heaps of toasted baguette.  Wow, the dish was messy to eat.  The idea was to spoon out the delicate marrow and spread on the toast, then top off with the chimichurri sauce, which I was able to do, but I also managed to get each of the ingredients on the table, on my napkin and on myself!  It was delicious though, the sweet bone marrow was fresh and well cooked, a touch of chilli was in the crust, which brought a nice dimension to the sweet marrow.  The chimichurri sauce was perfect for the dish.  Unsurprisingly, the girl didn't want to try any of the marrow, she's not a fan, but that was fine, it left so much more for me to devour.

I've been having some pacing issues at restaurants of late, with a feeling of being rushed, and I was super happy that ALTO had the pacing right.  After a perfect amount of time, our mains arrived, the girl choosing the 8oz tenderloin that was presented on a stone plate and topped with a couple of padron peppers.  The beef was ever so slightly over cooked, more medium than medium rare, but thankfully the cut was incredibly tender and the overcooking had no real impact on the flavour.  Interestingly, we weren't advised until the steak was almost finished that the stone plate was a salt plate and designed to continue to salt the steak throughout the meal.  We'd been wondering why the steak was saltier as it went on, but it made perfect sense....  Although the last few bites were just a bit over seasoned as a consequence.

Wanting to try something other than beef, my choice was the pan-roasted duck breast that was accompanied by radicchio, purple and yellow beets, grapefruit slices and a beetroot puree.  I quite liked the presentation, which was modern but not overworked but noted that my duck was probably more medium rare than the medium that had been recommended by our wait staff.  It wasn't a problem for me as I'm happy with both, but was more perplexed as to the recommendation.  I loved the sweetness of the roasted beets that complimented the gamey flavour of the duck and the very, very delicious duck skin that was cooked expertly and had perfectly rendered fat.  I even liked the bite of the radicchio which balanced out the sweetness, but I found the grapefruit to be to harsh for my palate.  I also thought that the beetroot puree was a little thin, and maybe a little over worked. Quibbles aside, I did enjoy the dish.

We never seriously considered dessert.  While the starters and mains on the menu had left us with way too many options, the dessert menu seemed limited in comparison; perhaps we'd have gone for the apple crumble if we'd been in the mood, but it really seemed more appropriate for a winter menu.  I think if there'd been some light summery items on the dessert menu, we might have been more tempted.

We do like visiting restaurants in the Dining Concepts stable, you pretty much know what you're going to get; a good quality restaurant with very decent food.  Given that ALTO had pretty much only just opened, we were fairly forgiving of some of the minor issues throughout the night.  Mentioning that the salty plate would continue to season the beef and the slightly watery beetroot puree coming to mind.

There was a slightly more serious issue, which was thankfully resolved quickly by the friendly wait staff and management.  Eating out as much as we do, I didn't fully pay attention to the bill when checking before paying.  It took a few moments after for the realisation to kick in that the bill was about $600 HKD more than we'd expected.  It turned out that a bottle of wine had been attributed to our table by mistake; easily fixed but probably shouldn't happen.  Again, a symptom of a new restaurant finding its feet.

A good lesson that I should more carefully check my bills!

Overall, ALTO is a worthy addition to the Dining Concepts group of restaurants.  The food was inventive but accessible, the setting wonderful, especially that amazing view of Victoria Harbor and the fit out is modern but not intimidating.  Chatting to one of the Managers on the way out, it seems as if there will be a bar opening on the top floor of the building, which wasn't quite open at the time of our visit.  It would definitely be a memorable space to watch the New Year's fireworks from!

Now I just need to decide if it's worth buying Dining  Concept shares; you know the old saying; we eat out often enough, why not buy shares in the restaurant....

Well now, we finally can!

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