Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tourist for an evening - Dinner at Cafe Deco

I have to admit - Cafe Deco is not the type of restaurant I had in mind normally for dinner on a random Monday night - if not with an invitation from their PR people to try out their new tasting menu. Don't get me wrong - I do quite like the restaurant from my last few visits - while their food didn't particularly stand out, it's decent, and like most other Hong Kongers, I had my fair share of opportunities to come to the restaurant especially when we had to entertain overseas friends or relatives who stopped by for a visit. After all, with a broad choice of menu from sandwiches to sushi, from grill meat to seafood, from Indian tandoori to Pad Thai, and the most spectacular view to show forth no matter what time of the day, it's always a safe choice to please everyone and to impress our out of town guests.

But I guess I often have this problem of being skeptical for "touristy" restaurants like this one. You know, most of the time when we described a place as being "touristy", we often implied the place is overrated, over-hyped, overpriced, under-delivered, despised by "knowledgeable locals" and serve un-authentic, predictable and generic food to ignorant out-of-towners who don't know anywhere else to go. Let's face it - fair or not, I am sure that's what many of us think when we talk about Cafe Deco.

Anyway, I decided to try the restaurant with an open mind, without any presumption or specific thoughts of what to expect. As I stepped in, I realized the restaurant has undergone quite a bit of changes since my last visit - the new decor, a dessert counter near the entrance for cake or gelato takeaway, and a re-designed menu.  And of course, something remained the same - our table - I am sure they have made special arrangement for it - offered a perfect, panoramic sight of the famous Hong Kong skyline, and I arrived just in time for the daily light show - with orchestrated colorful arrays of light beaming through the sky from the rooftop of the skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor. Sweet.

The tasting menu normally included a number of signature dishes the restaurant has to offer and I was told the items change regularly. With the amount of food (6 courses plus petit fours), I would say the menu did offer very good value for the price, and the food didn't disappoint either - certainly not something I would dismiss easily as being "touristy" in the stereotypical sense.

My favorite of the evening was the ocean trout ravioli with wok-seared watercress. Meat of the ocean trout - the restaurant boosted that all ingredients used are "certified sustainable" - were mashed to mousse consistency, wrapped in ravioli dough and served with watercress, salmon roes and a sauce with Asian spices. It's neatly presented, and I quite like the subtle Asian influence infused into the dish by means of the curry-like flavors and use of ingredients more commonly found and used in this part of the world, such as watercress and salmon roes. The dessert at the end also followed the same Asian-inspired note - chocolate souffle was made with the rich Valrhona P125 chocolate, and served with coconut crumble and tangerine rambutan sorbet. While I would prefer a more creamy sauce to go with my richly flavored souffle (say, a lemongrass creme anglaise maybe?), the sorbet was delicious and refreshing. Other courses in between - including the pan-seared foie gras, cream of artichoke soup, and the surf and turf with lobster tail and wagyu steak - were very enjoyable also.

Restaurants in sightseeing hotspots never got a good rap no matter where you go and that's why "touristy" restaurants often mean something bad in people's mind - who haven't got cheated by the clam chowder from ready-made packs in a rock-hard bread bowl served at San Francisco's Fishermen's Wharf, or had a lousy cup of overpriced, lukewarm coffee and day-old croissant at the cafes of many museums around the world? Of course, on the other side of the spectrum, one can always point to restaurants like Le Jules Verne at Eiffel Tower which is owned by the legendary Alain Ducasse, or Nerua, the newly crowned Michelin one-starred restaurant at Guggenheim Museo Bilbao - as prime examples of "touristy" restaurant that treated the food they serve seriously.

I am not ready to say Cafe Deco is right up there among the very best, but this is definitely no tourist trap and respectable in its own right. I was impressed with their dishes that evening and would love to come back, especially when I am looking for a comfortable place for an easy, no-brainer meal in the future. After all, the Peak is only a quick 20 minute drive from Central - hardly a difficult detour - with plenty parking spaces available most of the time so it's very convenient.

After my dinner, I walked over to the observatory deck at the peak, and fell in love once again with the most amazing night view in the world. It's a familiar sight no doubt, yet every time you look at it, you just can't help but say to yourself, "wow - there's no place like this elsewhere in the world". Who said you can't be a tourist at a place you call home - for just this evening? 

When? January 14 2013
Where? Cafe Deco Bar & Grill, Level 1-2, Peak Galleria, The Peak, Hong Kong
Menu highlight: Ocean Trout Ravioli with wok-seared watercress, snow pea shoots and spicy soy-butter dressing

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