As the completion date for the new MTR stations draws nearer, the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Sai Ying Pun continues to draw in more start-up restaurateurs, eager to get a foot in the door before rental prices rocket. The newest kid on the block is La Viola, an elegant bar and restaurant specialising in ‘southern European’ cuisine.
The quaint little restaurant, located at Island Crest, is just what the neighbourhood needs – a place to go for a slightly more fancy dinner, or drinks into the early hours. The French windows that run the entire length of the restaurant allow diners to spill out onto the street, something we know Hong Kongers seem to love to do, particularly during cooler climes. Inside meanwhile, contrasting shades of light grey and dark brown lead you past the bar, into an intimate dining room adorned with ornate grey wallpaper and high fan-clad ceilings, evocative of a grand Italian palazzo.
La Viola’s menu, although predominantly Italian given the Italian consultant chef behind the restaurant, takes inspiration from other European cuisines, therefore allowing it the broader classification of ‘southern European’ food. The first of our starters was a goat’s cheese salad with beetroot, green apple and caramelised walnuts, a gorgeous marriage of fresh flavours and contrasting textures. I took a particular liking to the crunchy layer of caramel atop the creamy goat’s cheese, which added an unusual yet very pleasant sweetness to the dish.
The Kobe beef carpaccio with rocket, Parmesan and black truffle looked immediately appealing, given its beautiful presentation and vivid colours. Whilst the beef was wonderfully tender, on its own it didn’t score particularly highly on taste. Thankfully, however, the combination of rich truffle, sweet Parmesan and peppery rocket brought out the beef’s deeper flavours and created a winning dish.
One of La Viola’s most popular dishes is their seafood linguini, and quite rightly too. The pasta was perfectly al dente, laden with fresh mussels, clams, king prawns and fish, then gently kissed with a delicious seafood sauce, which boasted a hint of creaminess whilst still remaining light and fresh, so as not to steal the seafood’s thunder.
From the daily specials menu, we ordered the seared tuna with anchovy sauce, olive paste and mashed potato. The tuna could not have been fresher if we had eaten it straight off the fishing line! However, although the olive paste was not unpleasant, I felt it overpowered the taste of the tuna and wasn’t totally necessary.
Without a doubt, the dish that stood out the most was the grilled lamb rack with basil crust, tahini, confit tomato and char-grilled baby corn. The lamb was cooked to utter tender perfection, melting beautifully in the mouth, and each accompanying ingredient, particularly the smoky tahini, served to make it even more delicious.
Moving onto La Viola’s desserts, the banana pudding with toffee sauce and chocolate ice cream was an interesting choice. Although the taste of banana was lost amidst the nutmeg (I couldn’t help but think of Christmas!), it did have a lovely, comforting texture that would have benefitted from just a touch more toffee sauce.
Finally, although the warm chocolate fondant looked rather shorter and wider than the ones we’re used to, it had the perfect level of ooze to satisfy any fondant fanatic.
A three-course meal at La Viola, without drinks, costs around $400-500 per person. Service is efficient and friendly, with staff who actually enjoy what they are doing, helping to make your dining experience even more enjoyable. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by La Viola and can imagine that, given both its enviable location and tasty food, it will continue to do well.
La Viola G/F, Island Crest, Second Street, Sai Ying Pun
2503 3325 www.facebook.com/pages/La-Viola/569098153111797
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!