HK Magazine - - DINING -

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. $$

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