Having another Gaia or Isola wouldn’t be a bad thing, I decided as I was seated in the basement of Pacific Place at Gaia Group’s newest venture, Zelo. The first thing that strikes is the quirky design of the patchwork curtains, lost objects from the attic as artwork, and the enormous bird cage that divides the bar area from the dining room, which also serves as the central draw for curious passersby.
The restaurant’s pedigree is from a beloved Italian dynasty in Hong Kong. With earlier successes such as Isola, Va Bene, Joia and Gaia, this eatery is poised to carry the family legacy, but does it?
Well, at first glance the elements are there: the personable host of European descent, the high antipasti bar, the freshly baked bread basket and the whimsical sense of décor. The menu reads like a market report of the most successful dishes from their previous outlets with a heavy focus on pastas as mains, hitting around the $200 mark. This is a toned-down, premium-economy class version of their upmarket eateries, but in no way is service or atmosphere compromised.
Pastas here are listed as main courses, and priced accordingly. So we started with the duck ragu pappardelle ($178), a similar version of Gaia’s famed rabbit ragu. The pasta’s fresh and cooked a hair’s breadth above al dente. The duck meat wasn’t stringy and carried the flavour of the base tomato sauce, but it was very light on the seasoning. The portion wasn’t generous – more a secondi size.
Their seafood linguini ($208) was not all that dissimilar to the one Isola makes. Though for $208, I’d go elsewhere. Three shrimps, a scallop split in two and a mussel on the half shell topped a mess of over-cooked and over-sauced pasta. Really guys? For this amount, I expect a tower of seafood and pasta that bites back. And where was the octopus as promised on the menu? The pan-roasted salmon ($198) was lightly sauced with lemon-shallot-butter, slightly undercooked like we like it. We loved the crushed cucumber and fennel salad that accompanied this dish – simple, acidic, sweet and mouth-cleansing. The fish was slightly gamey and we’re hoping that’s its natural flavour.
Bottom line: Zelo is an inoffensive choice for business lunches. It will be a struggle to get in the dinner crowd, but then these guys have a track record of making it work. They say it takes at least five restaurants to make it in this business. Given they’ve got six successful restaurants in Hong Kong, it’s clear they are becoming an important player on the monopoly board.
LG, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, 2918 1028. Daily noon-11pm. Meal for two: around $750.
LG, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty