Thursday, December 9, 2021

Newest and Hottest

Our reservation at Estro for early November was made on the first day they opened up for lunch booking back in September. We have been wanting to check out Chef Antimo's new restaurant (and one of the hottest opening lately) since having the first taste of his cooking back in March during his brief stint at the pop-up Tatler Dining Kitchen.

Estro sat a couple levels up in a building at the quiet Duddell Street. I felt the laidback decor, completed with the rich pinkish, salmon-colored wall and the curvy furniture, was more suited for a day-time visit when the ray of sun beams from the window at the far end of the main dining room. And then there's also a sense of elegance, somewhere one associated with special occasions - the perfectly ironed white cloth sat atop each tables with upholstered chairs, marbled countertops and all the art pieces scattered across the spacious room and on some of the tables. The open kitchen sat on the side in the middle that extended to the edge of the dining room, where Chef Antimo Maria Merone and his team worked, observed and interacted with diners in the usually packed room. 

Lunch menu is an abbreviated version of what Chef Antimo offered in the evening (only slightly just), with a choice between 4-course or 6-course options. We opted for latter, and soon, a few bite-sized dishes appeared as our amuse-bouche course. The pumpkin espuma, served in a well-crafted porcelain bowl, was just as you expected, airy and creamy with a hint of sweetness, and on the small dish was an escaroles tartlet and a spinach "sponge" in the shape of a macaron in deep green color - both were refreshing. The warm soup served in a small tumbler was an interesting one - introduced as a "clarified minestrone" with the appearance of a consomme but rich in root vegetable taste. 

Bread and (olive) oil was carted over in much fanfare (who didn't these days) with an elaborate introduction of olive oil choices. The one from Puglia was my favorite, with a hint of spiciness, but this time I wanted more of the butter, whipped with anchovies for the mineral and umami flavor. 

Both appetizer courses were served in rather generous portion - the medallion-shaped white bonito was gently warmed with olive oil, served with dollops of ricotta on the side and in the center, creamy sauces made of capers and black olives. I tasted Mediterranean in each bite with hint of sea water accented by the acidity in the caper sauce. That ocean theme continued with our second seafood appetizers, with a piece of langoustine from Scotland, quick-tossed in the pan, and garnished with cauliflowers in many shapes and forms and textures.

We got both pasta courses in our longer lunch menu. The dark ink gnocchi was on the soft side, which contrasted well with the bouncy bits of cuttlefish dotted on top along with the fresh honey peas. The Vesuvio pasta was the one I most anticipated, served with the rich Genovese ragu with Montoro onions and short ribs. Quite possibly the best pasta dish I have had this year with the hearty flavor.

I went with the lighter of the two main course choices. Slab of seabass fillet was warm poached in oil and served with blue mussels on top and the green "romanesco" sauce underneath. The ocean flavor was impeccable brought to life by the rich, aromatic sauce. I didn't think much of our first dessert to be honest, maybe I wasn't too fond of the combination of mandarin and ricotta, but the sight of the scoop of pistachio gelato served in a stemmed glass caught my attention just as we finished the first sweet course. "You could ask for refills if you want," said the wait-staff just as she came by to take away the glass wiped empty almost immediately. Little did she know just moments ago I was whispering "So good I could have 10 of those in one go" - but no, I didn't dare exploit their suggestion out of courtesy and happy with just one serving this time.  

Went with two simple glasses, starting with the Spumante on the house, followed by a Greek white from Santorini made using indigenous grapes (assyrtiko and monemvasia). I ordered it for fun and turned out it was enjoyable, and the minerality worked with the seafood dishes just perfectly well and added a Mediterranean touch to our meal. Knowing we stood no chance of getting another table at the restaurant any time soon, I guess for a while I just have to live with the feeling of missing that bowl of gelato that I finished too quick and felt embarrassed to ask for a refill. 

When? November 6 2021
Where? Estro, Level 2, 1 Duddell Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Vesuvio | ragu "Genovese" of Montoro onions, short ribs
Cantine Astroni Astro Campi Flegrei Falanghina Spumante Extra Brut NV
2019 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Monemvasia

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