The industrial area of Wong Chuk Hang is fast becoming somewhat of a trendy destination. It’s been home to a number of private kitchens for some time, but nowadays more commercial restaurants, art galleries and even retail stores are appearing in converted warehouses, where you’d least expect to look for them. Amongst these newcomers is Ovolo Southside, the first New York-style warehouse-to-hotel conversion and a member of Design Hotels.
The hotel itself, with 162 rooms, maintains its urban industrial feel by having kept the original structure, adding poured concrete floors and tactile walls, and accenting with mid-century inspired steel furniture and heavy duty fixtures and fittings.
On the fourth floor of the hotel sits CIRQLE, a ‘modern alternative bistro’ with a striking open kitchen and lovely outdoor terrace that serves Mediterranean style food. The design, again in-keeping with the industrial theme, is very simple with a canteen-style feel, large industrial-style ceiling lamps and light wood furnishings, giving it a relaxed, comfortable ambiance.
Chef Krzysztof Bandel, who trained in London before working at Lily & Bloom, The News Room and The Press Room, claims that his menu is a journal of his cooking and travel experiences, whereby every dish tells a story. Dishes are simple, yet flavoursome and are easy to share, tapas-style.
We started with a tasting portion each of the Gibraltar shellfish soup, a beautifully flavoured, deliciously spiced broth with chunks of squid, clams, salmon and shrimp that admittedly took me quite by surprise.
The spicy baby cuttlefish with San Marzano tomatoes, butter beans and parsley had a somewhat similar flavour to the soup, but since I loved the soup, this was not a bad thing.
Having loved the sound of the Lebanese goat’s cheese and fig salad, I unfortunately found the sumac and honey dressing a little too acidic, which I thought overpowered the delicious flavours of the other components.
My favourite starter was the Lomi Lomi salmon salad. This Hawaiian version of ceviche, made with raw salmon, orange tomatoes, coriander and Pacific soy dressing had deliciously fresh and exciting flavours, whilst the raw salmon simply melted in the mouth.
Even before it arrived on our table, we were hit with that fantastic aroma of truffle from the trofie pasta with maitake mushrooms and sugar snaps, laced with mascarpone and truffle oil. Interestingly however, it didn’t have that strong a truffle flavour and seemed a tad bland in comparison to the other dishes.
Both the broiled Alaskan black cod served with beetroot miso, tempura baby corn and fava beans, and the seared Saltbush lamb chops with orzo tzatziki, shallot salsa and marinated soya beans were excellent – so good in fact that I couldn’t resist picking up the bone and gnawing every last bit of meat off the lamb chop.
The winning main course in my opinion, however, was the roasted bone-in Galician pork loin. Cooked just right, so it was perfectly tender and not remotely chewy, the pork was served with a mixture of five legumes, granny smith apples and port raisins, all of which paired perfectly with the flavoursome meat.
Sides of strip corn with dill and saffron and French fries with truffle mayo were deliciously moreish, whilst the sumac tomatoes with Parmesan and pomegranate had an interesting sweet yet slightly citrusy flavour that worked nicely.
On the dessert menu, apparently the Pear Tarte Tatin serves two people; I can tell you now it serves at least four! Either way, this chunky pear tart had a beautifully flaky yet slightly chewy base, laced with sticky caramel sauce and came topped with pistachio ice cream.
The Champagne sorbet cup was definitely interesting, served as an upside down cone in a cup with peach cubes and crispy almond crumble. However, it was the passion fruit mousse that caused complete silence around the table. Not only was the mousse itself deliciously refreshing and fruity, but the mojito sauce added even more of a zing that absolutely wowed us all.
Prices are reasonable on the most part, with starters mostly under $100, desserts mostly under $60, yet mains around the $300 mark. Once you’ve realised that Wong Chuk Hang isn’t all that far away (a bus from Central takes 15 minutes on a good day), a trip to CIRQLE could be just what you need to get you away from your usual hangouts. Since I work in the WCH area and sometimes need a healthy alternative to my usual lunchtime menu, I will definitely be trying CIRQLE’s $98 set lunch.
Up on the 23rd floor of the building, Ovolo Southside also has a lovely bar that’s fittingly named ABOVE, with a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Southside, that’s perfect for a pre or post-dinner drink.
CIRQLE, Ovolo Southside, 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, Hong Kong, 3460 8100, www.ovolohotels.com