In Shanghai, Mercato is an institution in the city’s casual dining scene. Located in the beautiful neo-renaissance style Union Building on The Bund, the restaurant was the building management’s response to the various failed concepts – bar Jean-Georges on the fourth floor – that hadn’t succeeded in making the address a dining destination. Modelled after chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s casual concept ABC Kitchen (unrelated to the one in Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre) in New York, the prestigious address, family-friendly atmosphere and easy-on-the-wallet prices made Mercato an immediate hit.
That was 2012. Now, in 2016, chef Vongerichten returns to Hong Kong, long after his stint at the Mandarin Oriental in the 90s. Housed on the eighth floor of the city’s most centralised and restaurant-packed destination, California Tower, Mercato is a direct import of the congenial original concept. So much so that the interiors are designed
by Neri & Hu’s, the same company that designed the premises in Shanghai. Floor-to-ceiling windows face a forest of greenery and with natural light spilling in, you can’t help but feel relaxed.
Quoted as ‘sexy Italian’, the style of cuisine is best described as an interpretation of Italian that’s peppered by French techniques and influences. The menu is undoubtedly Italian – crudos, wood oven pizzas and housemade pastas demonstrate that – but items such as beef and tuna tartare crop up here and there. Whichever way you cut it, as long as it’s good, who cares?
In that spirit, we begin the meal with the beef tartare ($158). Mixed with a zingy mustard dressing and parmesan cheese, the crunchy bread provides a solid base for consuming the creamy meat. Hamachi ($118) seems to be the fashionable ingredient du jour and Mercato dishes up the fish freshly sliced and drizzled in crushed olives and dill. The tang of the dressing is sublime and whets our appetite for the rest
of the meal.
Just like on The Bund, the shining star of the evening is the spicy salami, broccoli and ricotta pizza ($158). The combination of ricotta and broccoli as a topping is surprisingly fresh and elevated by the crisp slices of salami. Evenly charred with a crust that’s the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy, we could eat the dough alone if given some plain olive oil. We polish this off with concerns about carbs thrown to the wind. Next to arrive is the veal Milanese ($258). Fried just right and covered in generous shavings of parmesan atop a bed of cherry tomatoes and arugula, there’s something extremely satisfying about getting the perfect crunch alongside juicy flavours of meat. This example is no exception.
It seems like every country has their own interpretation of Italian cream cake ($68), ironically making it the least Italian of desserts. Chef Vongerichten’s version is a single layer cake with thick cream cheese frosting balanced with raspberry sorbet. This creates a harmony between the richness and the tart flavours. It is a stellar way to
finish our meal.
Mercato isn’t bringing anything new to Hong Kong other than good honest food for a reasonable price at a great location. It’s not a restaurant necessary to save for special occasions, what with its budget-friendly prices. Rather, this restaurant is one you can visit three or four times a week without even noticing it. We’d happily return, whether for brunch with the family or pre-gaming with our friends.