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Carnevino – Mario Batali’s steakhouse in Central

It’s getting a little hard to differentiate between all the steakhouses in Hong Kong these days… but here’s one that I’ll remember not only for its steaks but also its awesome appetizers!

Adding yet another quality steakhouse to their long list of restaurants, Dining Concepts has opened Mario Batali’s Carnevino, just a few floors above their other Batali collaboration in HK, Lupa. Though it doesn’t have a terrace like Lupa, Carnevino’s studded wooden setting and brown round couches cast a classy spell on the room, making it an ideal place for a private party or quiet date night.

While some steakhouses might focus too much on the main course and neglect making a good first impression, I found myself wanting to come back here just for the starters. The melt-in-your-mouth veal carpaccio went perfectly with its salted duck egg dressing; it was much more refined and smooth than a typical beef carpaccio.

The calamari was also a table favourite – whilst some restaurants make them soggy or too dry, this calamari was just the right amount of crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Being a fan of all things spicy, I found the spicy tomato dressing to be the perfect finish to this traditional fried appetizer.

Our final starter was braised and seared octopus with limoncello and chile – and even though I’m not a huge fan of octopus normally, this one wasn’t rubbery at all, with a sweet and sour dressing that made it a surprisingly light and fragrant starter.

But now onto the star of the show! We ordered the 18oz dry-aged T-bone to share amongst two girls and a guy… and between the tender filet and huge chunk of ribeye, it was certainly enough food for three! Made the old-fashioned American way, Carnevino’s steaks don’t come with sauces but are already well seasoned, with a further three types of salt (including charcoaled volcanic salt and everyone’s beloved Maldon) served alongside for you to add as you desire. You’d think meat without sauce might feel dry, but this lean beef maintained a delicious juicy soft texture and moisture.

The sight of this giant slab of T-bone didn’t scare us from ordering sides! We opted for the Tuscan fries (which look a lot more like potato wedges in our book), and the unanimous fave, creamed corn with lime salt. A simple blend of cherry peppers and lime brought out the lovely natural sweetness in the corn, whilst the cream aspect was kept to a minimum meaning it still tasted light and refreshing – it was so good I wanted to ask for the recipe!

If you’re there for dinner, you should also try the Guanciale mashed potatoes, which come mixed with mascarpone, crispy pork jowl and a poached duck egg – pure indulgence in a side dish!

There must always be a happy ending to a happy meal… so we ordered all three desserts that were available on the lunch menu of course! The peach coppetta was a yogurt mousse topped with walnuts and lemon-basil granita, which looked like a little garden with pretty pink and green swirls. Total summer in a bowl, this was light, refreshingly sweet and nicely understated.

Rach and I weren’t quite sure about the caramel panna cotta though. For me, it might be because I don’t like cooked fruits (it included a lot of sautéed apples), whilst Rach found the caramel taste somewhat lacking – either way, the combination of flavours felt a tad off.

Fortunately, we had a wonderful chocolate torte to save the day – a dark chocolate lava cake paired with cherry ice cream. The cake gave us the right amount of gooey unctuous ooze, whilst the ice-cream (studded with little crunches of candied cherries) was a surprise star – the cherry taste was not too strong, and the ice-cream was so light, almost more like a creamy fro-yo, that it perfectly balanced out the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate.

Service is swift and attentive (their manager Andrew Zimmermann, flown over from the States, is particularly great!) and the meat top quality – so the prices, though expensive, do come with the territory. My only regret of the meal was not trying the “vino” part of Carnevino… simply because going for lunch meant it was far too early in the day for me to walk around with a bright red flush! Never fear – when I come back for the carpaccio, corn and a slab of juicy steak (and I will definitely be back!), I will certainly be pairing my dishes with a dash of red ink!

Carnevino 5th Floor, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road, Central
2352 7700 www.diningconcepts.com.hk/Carnevino/index.php

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