La Villa 38 (CLOSED)
Time Out says
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We've seen this restaurant space go through several incarnations. About eight years ago, it was a private dining room called Poison Ivy, decked in minimalist white. Then it became Eden, which kept the same décor, but the owners draped silk flowers everywhere to create a ‘garden’ ambience. None of them survived too long. Now, this panoramic top floor of an office building on Jaffe Road has been relaunched as La Villa 38.
Located high above the nightclubs of Tonnochy Road, the space is a bit of an enigma. It has the most dramatic 180 degree view, from the hills of Kennedy Road to the gleaming masts of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. But it's also in no man's land, caught between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, with almost no pedestrian traffic. Judging by its history, once the initial thrill is over, people don't tend to schlep out there again. It's also a "private club" (according to the signage in the lift, anyways), possibly to comply with building ordinance, but fill in a short form and you automatically become a ‘member’.
We went on an especially clear day and were seated at a table near the floor to ceiling window, with the harbour practically at our feet. There are only three tables, so service was extra attentive – our purses were placed on a side stool, a basket of hot bread (garlic toast and French rolls) was delivered immediately, and there was no fuss about requesting tap water.
The dining room has been given a facelift since we last saw it, it now features black leather and chrome furnishings, and black granite flooring with tiny blue lights illuminating diners from below. Mostly, it reminds us of the interior of party cruise ships that sail down the Gulf of Mexico, the same ones we took during spring break at university.
The menu is continental fusion, with the seafood items and Wagyu steak ($320) definite highlights. Unable to decide, but tempted by the salad and dessert spread near the kitchen, we opted for an appetiser buffet followed by a main course. The selection at the buffet was varied, the coleslaw with smoked chicken breast had crunchy cabbage and carrot strips, although the chicken seasoned with paprika was a bit on the dry side. The Greek Salad, with various julienned vegetables and a pesto olive oil base, was spot on, with great texture in the mouth. While the smoked salmon looked fine on the serving plate, we would’ve preferred full condiments. Finally, we also took some classic Caesar, although it wasn’t the most luxurious we've ever seen (no generous helping of cheese and small croutons) but they do serve hearts of romaine instead of mixing in the ‘end bits’, so there was no cheating in that department.
Half full from the buffet and engrossed in our conversation, the waiter asked if we'd like to hold the main courses (pan fried sea bass ($178) and penne with Alfredo pesto and chicken ($148), until later. Impressed with their initiative, we continued to talk for another 15 minutes, but the good intentions were thwarted. The fish was probably already prepared in the kitchen and then placed on a warmer, so when it arrived on our plate, it was overcooked and had taken on a shredded texture resembling scallops. The penne fared better, it was still al dente, and the sauce was heavy with parmesan cheese.
Not quite full, we considered the desserts on offer, including chocolate mousse, cheesecake and floating island (meringue floating in a bed of crème anglaise). But we instead settled for their enjoyable baby brownies ($TK), which were dense and rich.
In Hong Kong's fickle dining scene, success is dependent on so many factors. A great view and attentive service is half the battle, but it still takes exceptional food to lure people out of their comfort zone and get hooked on a new establishment. La Villa 38 is almost there. Leslie Chan
38/F, Times Tower, 291-407 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, 3151 7125. Meal for two: around $500.