SEN­SORY JOUR­NEY

New-look Cafe Zen brings out your in­ner child

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - Con­tact the writer at fea­tures@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Kennedy Town is Soho with­out the pre­ten­sion. It seems that ev­ery time I go west, I dis­cover a new restau­rant that makes the jour­ney worth­while. With the north­ern side of Davis Street now burst­ing with in­ter­na­tional fla­vors vy­ing for at­ten­tion, its south­ern side is un­der­go­ing rapid trans­for­ma­tions that will soon make it one of Hong Kong’s eat streets.

Half & Half opened last Au­gust and bills it­self as a neigh­bor­hood wine bar. Lo­cated on the leafy cor­ner of Davis and Forbes streets, it is per­fect for af­ter-work drinks, a ro­man­tic meal for two, din­ner with fam­ily or Sun­day brunch with friends.

The space is typ­i­cal of Soho restaurants: Long and nar­row, it is dom­i­nated by a bar and an open kitchen that takes up one rear cor­ner. A por­tion of the kitchen fac­ing the main en­trance is de­voted to a walk-in wine cel­lar, with its care­ful se­lec­tion by the restau­rant’s man­ager Shin Chan.

Chan, a chatty for­mer som­me­lier who worked at five-star ho­tels and wine bars be­fore Half & Half’s di­rec­tor Elle Lei hired him, stopped bymy ta­ble to in­tro­duce his restau­rant’s con­cept. “Our dishes are in­spired by the Mediter­ranean,” he says. “Our chef Tim Ho pre­vi­ously worked for Um­berto Bom­bana,” re­fer­ring to the three-Miche­lin­starred Hong Kong-based Ital­ian chef.

“All of our wine comes in half bot­tles, as we spe­cial­ize in wine pair­ings. We feel that wine and food each form half of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.”

I saw that al­most half of the restaurants’ ta­bles are barstools, and the menu of­fers a snack sec­tion with mouth-wa­ter­ing choices such as egg­plant lasagna, wagyu beef cheeks with roasted pota­toes, and a foie gras burger. There is a makeshift ta­ble con­sist­ing of wooden wine crates in front of the restau­rant pop­u­lar with the al fresco drinks crowd.

Un­like many wine bars where guests are ex­pected to be in and out within the hour and con­tain less than com­fort­able fur­ni­ture to fa­cil­i­tate speedy turnovers, Half & Half en­cour­ages guests to stay as long as they like. The heavy wooden ta­bles and chairs mir­ror a wooden-slat ceil­ing, while weath­ered red bricks on the walls, sealed con­crete floors and art deco pen­dant lamps pro­vide additional warmth and char­ac­ter.

The im­pres­sive wine list boasts some 25 whites, roses and sparklings and 40 reds avail­able in 375 ml bot­tles. As ex­pected, French la­bels dom­i­nate, but there was also a de­cent choice of Ital­ian, Amer­i­can, Aus­tralian, New Zealand, Por­tuguese, Chilean and Ar­gen­tinean vin­tages.

Chan also of­fers a few reds and whites by the glass, which he changes daily to give guests more choice each time they visit.

Those who han­ker for a beer or cock­tail­won’t fare as well, as there is only Stella Ar­tois and no other spir­its are avail­able. This is a wine bar.

Chan men­tions that Half & Half will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sum­mer edi­tion of Restau­rant Week HongKong from Aug 1-10, and that some of its best-sell­ing dishes will most likely make up the set menu. With his help, I de­cided that I would try a few of the chef’s sug­ges­tions.

I started with a com­pli­men­tary amuse-bouche of cherry tomato topped with basil cream that was lighter than air. I then moved on to a Parma ham with melon shot that was a novel way to en­joy the Ital­ian snack.

A thin, well-mar­bled slice of ham is fanned on top of a shot glass full of can­taloupe juice with small chunks of the fruit. As rec­om­mended by Shin, I kept the ham in my mouth be­fore down­ing the liq­uid: The stark con­trast be­tween the rich and salty ham with the cold and re­fresh­ing fruit juice was in­tox­i­cat­ing.

Next was baked av­o­cado with crab­meat. Served in a half shell of av­o­cado skin and topped with melted cheese, it was deca­dent. Chan poured a half glass of Bella chardon­nay from Chile to pair with the dish, and its slight fruity acid­ity help to cut the av­o­cado’s rich­ness.

As Half &Half spe­cial­izes in pasta, I then tried prawn lin­guine with lob­ster bisque. The pasta was de­li­ciously al dente, and I could taste a hint of the capers in the tomato sauce.

The roast­edMediter­ranean-style suck­ling pig wasmy fa­vorite dish of the day. Its skin was per­fectly crispy and yielded to ten­der morsels of pork belly. Chan paired it with a sweet and fruity Mosel Richter Es­tate ries­ling that went well with the meat’s salti­ness.

I fin­ished with an airy lemon par­fait for a sweet note af­ter all those sa­vory fla­vors, and promised my­self that Kennedy Town would top my list of din­ing des­ti­na­tions from now on.

PHO­TOS BY RE­BECCA LO / FOR CHINA DAILY

Parma ham with melon shot is a good way to en­joy the Ital­ian snack at Half & Half Wine Bar and Restau­rant in Hong Kong.

The roasted Mediter­ranean-style suck­ling pig is a sig­na­ture dish at the restau­rant.

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