Ah, New York, New York… the land of Magnolia cupcakes, pastrami sandwiches (Katz anyone?!), boiled bagels and $4 pizza slices the size of your head. Hong Kong may quickly be becoming a food capital in its own right, but for this true-blue American girl, the New York nostalgia can get overwhelming at times! Thankfully, the amazing Black Sheep Restaurants group founded by our Man of the Month Syed Asim Hussain has teamed up with Major Food Group trio, Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick, to bring a generous slice of the Big Apple to Hong Kong that is bold on flavour, presentation and portion-size (super-size me? yes, please!). Serving up homey New York-Italian cuisine, Carbone has created a bit of buzz around town already, and is the perfect date night spot for getting woozy on a few glasses of vino and veal parm.
As Major Food Group’s first foray into Hong Kong, Carbone doesn’t stray far from its sister restaurant in NYC, the object of massive media hype (both good and bad) and foodie obsession when it first opened in early 2013. The Hong Kong establishment features the same brass chandeliers, tables covered in starchy white linens, old-school maroon tuxedos for the wait staff (designed by Zac Posen) and modern artwork from renowned dealer Vito Schnabel.
Yes, a restaurant with this type of over-the-top atmosphere in the middle of Central is pure pageantry (especially unsettling when you’re trying to reconcile a glasses-bearing, local Cantonese waiter with a 1950s Italian immigrant), yet, for those who’ve had the pleasure of sitting down to a homey meal at one of the old-school red-sauce joints in Little Italy (or those who come from a big Italian family and enjoy this type of feast on a regular basis!), it’s definitely a welcome addition to Hong Kong’s growing international food scene, and you just have to embrace it – and maybe loosen up the belt buckle a bit.
The food is exactly what you’d expect from New York-Italian cuisine done right: flavour-packed, family-sized platters of Italian classics, loaded with tomato sauce and melty mozzarella. It’s not for the carb-conscious, which I for one was thankful for – you can only have so much quinoa, kale and wheatgrass before you start craving a giant pizza or pasta. Ok – who am I kidding? I’ve never actually had wheatgrass, but hats off to the Sassy Mamas who stick hard to those diet regimes!
Another signature dish that you cannot miss is the Caesar Salad ($168), served table-side with a dose of presentation and flair! The salad itself is spectacular, with crisp leaves, a warm and tangy dressing with plenty of anchovy flavour (the more the better, in my opinion), notes of citrus and generous shavings of ricotta salata – a softer, milder alternative to Parmesan that added texture and contrast without detracting from the already sharp dressing. And let’s not forget about the croutons – be warned, these oil-soaked bread sticks are highly addictive…
Following the rigatoni, the Fettucine con Funghi ($198) that followed was a tad underwhelming, and could have benefited from more robust herbs and a meatier mushroom selection (which incidentally, can be found in the Funghi Trifolati ($88) roasted mushrooms side dish that came later!).
To top it off, we couldn’t resist trying the delectable Veal Parm, one of Carbone’s infamous dishes. Veal Parm and fine dining don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, but it’s been executed to perfection at Carbone, almost warranting its whopping $548 price tag. The bone-in veal chop is encased in an ultra-crispy crust and topped with melted mozzarella and a bright, just-cooked tomato sauce – a platter easily shared between 2-3 people.
At this point, the whole production reached a climactic finale, as the “Captain” rolled over the notorious dessert cart, featuring an elegant display of Carrot Cake, Lemon Cheesecake, Black Forest Cake and Tiramisu.
I have pretty high standards when it comes to my sweets, and I had zero complaints here. All the desserts we tried (five in total, including a tableside Banana Flambé!) were rich, satisfying and delicious, with standouts being the ultra creamy New York-style Lemon Cheesecake and the moist Carrot Cake, lined with lick-your-lips frosting and accompanied by a scoop of ginger ice cream.
Service was spot-on, with waiters grinning from ear to ear and happy to take part in the overall production, whether it was whipping up the fresh Caesar salad (our waiter looked like he had done this about 89 times) or flambéing bananas for the grand finale.
Aside from the fact that I rolled (yes, rolled) out of the restaurant like a giant stuffed potato, I would say Black Sheep has definitely hit a winner by introducing the Carbone concept – theatrics and all – to the Hong Kong dining scene. It’s going to be a wave of nostalgia for some and a brand new dining experience for others, but no matter whether you buy into the atmosphere or not, you’ll appreciate the New York-Italian classics served up with premium ingredients and festive flair. As for me, I’ll definitely be back the next time I want to splash out on a taste of New York – that is, until I can book my next HKG-JFK fanfare flight!
Carbone is now open for lunch from Mon-Sat from 12-2:30pm, and for dinner from 6pm to late. Closed Sundays. Call 2593 2593 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a table.
Carbone, 9/F, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, www.carbone.com.hk