As the completion date for the new MTR stations draws nearer, the up and coming neighbourhood of Sai Ying Pun continues to draw in restaurateurs, eager to get a foot in the door before rental prices rocket. The newest kid on the block is La Viola, an elegant bar and restaurant specialising in ‘southern European’ cuisine.
The quaint little restaurant, located at Island Crest is just what the neighbourhood needs: a place to go for a slightly more fancy dinner or drinks into the early hours. The French windows that run the length of the entire restaurant allow diners to spill out onto the street, something we know Hong Kongers seem to love to do, particularly during cooler climes.
Inside, contrasting shades of light grey and dark brown lead you past the bar, into the intimate restaurant, adorned with ornate grey wallpaper and high fan-clad ceilings, evocative of a grand Italian dining room.
The menu, although predominantly Italian, given the Italian consultant chef behind it, takes inspiration from other European cuisines, therefore allowing it the broader classification of ‘southern European’ food. The first of our starters was a goat’s cheese salad with beetroot, green apple and caramelised walnuts, a gorgeous marriage of fresh flavours and contrasting textures. I took a particular liking to the crunchy layer of caramel atop the creamy goat’s cheese, adding an unusual yet very pleasant sweetness to the dish.
The pan-seared foie gras with apple puree, ripasso red onion and Port sauce lacked the richness usually associated with foie gras; perhaps this would make it tolerable for those who aren’t particularly keen on foie gras, but for me there was definitely something missing.
The Kobe beef carpaccio with rocket, Parmesan and black truffle was immediately appealing to the eye, given its beautiful presentation and vivid colours. Whilst the beef was wonderfully tender, on its own it didn’t score particularly highly on taste. Thankfully, however, the rich truffle, sweet Parmesan and peppery rocket worked to bring out the beef’s deeper flavours and created a winning dish.
One of La Viola’s most popular dishes is apparently the seafood linguini, and quite rightly too. The pasta was perfectly al dente, laden with fresh mussels, clams, king prawns and fish, and then gently kissed with a delicious seafood sauce, which had a hint of creaminess, whilst still remaining light and fresh, so as not to steal the seafood’s thunder.
From the daily specials menu, we ordered the seared tuna with anchovy sauce, olive paste and mashed potato. The tuna could not have been fresher if we had eaten it straight off the fishing line. However, although the olive paste was not unpleasant, I felt it overpowered the taste of the tuna and wasn’t 100 percent necessary.
Without a doubt, the dish that stands out the most in my memory is the grilled lamb rack with basil crust, tahini, confit tomato and char-grilled baby corn. The lamb was cooked to utter tender perfection, melting beautifully in the mouth, and each accompanying ingredient, particularly the smoky tahini, served to make it even more delicious.
Moving onto the desserts, the banana pudding with toffee sauce and chocolate ice cream was an interesting choice. Although the taste of banana was lost amidst the nutmeg and I couldn’t help but think of Christmas, it did have a lovely, comforting texture that would have benefitted from just a touch more toffee sauce.
The daily dessert on the night of our visit was a crème brûlée. Given the satisfying thickness of the caramel layer on the goat’s cheese starter, we were expecting something similar on this dessert, but unfortunately the layer was wafer thin and barely uttered a ‘crack’. The crème itself was delicious, however, infused with plenty of real vanilla pods.
Finally, although the warm chocolate fondant looked slightly shorter and wider than we are used to seeing, it had the perfect level of ooze to satisfy any fondant fanatic.
A three-course meal at La Viola, without drinks, costs around $400-500 per person. Service is efficient and friendly, where staff actually enjoy what they are doing, helping to make your dining experience even more enjoyable. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by La Viola and can imagine that, given both its enviable location and tasty food, it will continue to do well.
G/F, Island Crest
Sai Ying Pun
Tel: +852 2503 3325