There was a time, not so very long ago, when those looking for a classy and contemporary dining experience in Causeway Bay would gravitate naturally in the direction of JIA Boutique Hotel. But since the lauded Opia closed last year, the area seems to have lost some of its culinary cachet, forcing the glitterati to head back to Central and TST in search of sleek thrills.
Well, now they’ve got a reason to return in the shape of The Drawing Room, the casually elegant new dining concept from the Austro-Italian double-act of Roland Schuller and Bombana Umberto. The joint owners (executive chef and culinary director, respectively) have some serious form in the restaurant game, and it shows with a place that’s clearly the result of many well-spent hours on the drawing board.
Décor-wise, they’ve hit the bullseye with an interior that is both swanky and comfortable, combining an abundance of well-placed mirrored surfaces with tasteful soft furnishings decked out in a palette of creams, browns, copper, and bronze. A few carefully chosen pieces, such as Hong Kong artist Man Fung-yi’s signature chain-mail-tunic works, ensure the space also has a touch of soul to go with its ample swank. The main room isn’t huge, but the place seats 36 while there are also two private rooms and a separate chilled bar area.
Settling down into a natty chaise-longue-style couch, we were immediately impressed by the wine list. It wasn’t the selection of 300+ bottles that caught our eye, but rather the prices. We’ve got use to forking out upwards of $400 for a standard bottle of wine at most restaurants, but The Drawing Room has tipples as low as $220, with roughly half the list under $500 and the vast majority under $1,000. Their mark-up, explained the manager, is between 80-100 per cent, as opposed to the 200-300 per cent tacked on by most eateries at this price point, something which instantly earned them a stack of Brownie points in our eyes.
Moving on to the food, there’s a choice of a four-course ($580) or six-course ($880) tasting menu ($580), as well as the option to order any of the courses a la carte. Both menus are changed every day or two depending on what’s fresh (most of the produce is Italian or French, and their fish is flown in every two days from Japan).
We plumped for the four-course, which offered a choice of two starters and main courses, and a pre-meal palette-cleansing puntarelle salad. Kicking things off were the langoustine and clams served in a foamy tomato broth, served with a fragrant cup of tomato water, and some extra fresh tomatoes on the side ($170 a la carte). We’d previously enjoyed an almost identical dish at Aspasia at The Luxe Manor, which – not coincidentally – is one of Schuller’s old stomping grounds. The pan-fried foie gras ($160) was wonderfully soft and moist, with just a smidge of blood juicing out at the fork’s touch. It was accompanied by dried Muscat grapes, the sweetness of which was the ideal foil to the creamy meatiness of the liver.
Next up was a green tea risotto with morel mushrooms ($180), which was firmly al dente – as it should be (but often isn’t) served – followed by mains of John Dory ($280) and a trio of wagyu short rib, wagyu beef tenderloin and ox tongue ($330). The John Dory was a beautiful serving of fish, both in its attractive presentation, soft texture, and subtle flavour, and came with fresh spinach beet. In the beef trio, the tenderloin scored top marks for texture and flavour, closely followed by the marinated ox tongue, with the short rib a perfectly decent third.
Dessert was a refreshing affair, a citrus fruit salad with vanilla sorbet and fresh fennel ($90); the sharp zest of the fruit segments were nicely balanced by the sherbet fizz of the sorbet and the lightly aniseed-y fennel.
Sound like a perfect meal? Well, almost. The service needs just a little tweaking to bring it up to truly top-notch standard, but given this was based on a visit in their first couple of weeks of business, we’d put our shirt on them getting it perfect real soon. The other quibble: for a dining experience this good, we kept waiting for one dish to totally blow us away or send us into that rare toe-curling state of bliss. It didn’t quite arrive, but we felt confident it too will come in time. Even if doesn’t, The Drawing Room is certainly a worthy successor to Opia.
1/F, JIA Boutique Hotel, 1-5 Irving St, Causeway Bay, 2915 6628; www.thedrawingroom.com.hk. Daily 6pm-midnight.
Four-course tasting menu $580 per person
Ten per cent service charge $116