Italian. 8/F, California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar St., Central, 3706-8567. Famed chef Jean-Georges’ Italian restaurant Mercato is a near-replica of the original Shanghai haunt—with cozy interiors brought to life again by Shanghai-based architects Neri & Hu.
HIT The one-page lunch set is easy to tackle, with two courses going for $198 and three for $238. We started with fried calamari, which boasted a large pocket of air between the squid and the batter, making for large, doughnut-like rings that crunched satisfactorily in the mouth, albeit they were a little oily. Our second starter, an endive salad, was a mound of dill piled upon a crisp endive leaf; mixed with a bit of coriander, softly sprinkled Parmesan, and a bed of thinly sliced sugar snap peas, it was at once a simple yet flavorful explosion of texture, acidity and freshness. For mains, the rigatoni and meatballs impressed with its web of melty parmesan and big, boulder-like meatballs. Mercato is probably best known for its pizzas, and ours boasted a puffy, chewy crust with spotted bits of char and a wonderfully fresh shaved broccoli and salami topping.
MISS The open, fluid layout of Shanghai’s Mercato has been replaced here by a packed, grid-like table formation—an unfortunate result of Hong Kong’s cramped real estate that makes for noisy acoustics and uncomfortable seating, such as tables which are actually in between seat cushions.
BOTTOM LINE Jean-Georges knows he’s found a winning recipe and sticks to it at both his SH and HK locations—and we can’t help but sing his praises.
Open daily noon-2:30pm, 6-11pm. $$