Friday, January 29, 2016

Early Morning at L'altro

A few Saturdays ago I was at the Italian restaurant L'altro in Central again to check out the new seasonal dishes by Chef Mauro. He also wanted to do a few bespoke dishes for us using seasonal ingredients, so we began early in the morning on a "field trip" to Graham Street Market, one of the oldest market in town and only a block away from the restaurant.


Morning at 10am may still be a bit too early for most of us to get up on Saturday, but the market was already buzzling. In Hong Kong we are blessed with easy access to food ingredients not only local ones but imported ones from all over the world, and there's no better place to look for those than at Graham Street, where you can find anything from a small shop manned by some old lady selling tofu to a new fancy French boucherie/formagerie only open its food a couple weeks ago, from vegetable stall selling all kinds of Western and local produce to a 100-year-old Chinese sauce shop still brewing the soy sauce the old-fashioned way locally. I come here occasionally for my grocery needs too but it's still great fun walking along with the chef this time to explore some stalls and food ingredients I may not be so familiar with, and in the process, picking his brain on new cooking ideas for my kitchen.

We picked up the stuff we needed - mostly seafood and veggies - and made our slow stroll back to the restaurant, and I am curious to see what Chef Mauro intended to deal with them in the kitchen. I have been trying to improve on my pasta making skills at home so it's great to receive some tips from the professional. And of course, who doesn't like live scallops and razor clams which we bought fresh from the fishmongers at the market?

With all the ingredients we got from the market and some new dishes on their seasonal menu, we ended up having a good share of food. The scallops were turned into a simple cream soup with pea puree at the bottom served in a cappuccino cup. I also loved how Chef Mauro prepared the razor clam dish, pairing it with quick-blanched white asparagus and deep-fried jerusalem artichoke chips, combining some interesting flavors and texture for a simple, refreshing dish. With the freshest ingredients available you really don't need to do a lot to create amazing dishes.

I was at the restaurant a few months ago for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the dishes, and this time I am equally impressed. The pasta he showed us in the kitchen earlier was turned into another classic dish, with chunks of lobsters and cherry tomatoes. The "liquid pizza" was an interesting creation with a racy acidic tomato cream soup with dollops of mozarella cheese, anchovies and pickled onions, surrounded by bits of dark bread crumbs - I love this playful presentation. I also enjoyed the perfect risotto done Milanese style, infused with the golden color from the saffron and served with almost-melt-in-your-mouth veal shank.

We finished with a pair of desserts. The first one was inspired by the popular mango-pomelo dessert in local cuisine, given an Italian touch, with coconut panna cotta, mango sorbet, sago crisp and bits of pomelo on the side. Second one was the classic gelato which has been a signature item at the restaurant. Both were tasty - well is there an Italian dessert that I don't like?

When? January 9 2016
Where? L'altro, Level 10, L Place, 139 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Milanese Risotto with Saffron and Veal Shank
Web: www.laltro.hk

(Note: lunch was by invitation courtesy of L'altro)

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