Last Friday marked my thirty-second year on this planet.
32 is to birthday’s what Harvey Weinstein is to a feminist book club; uninvited, unwanted and ignored to the greatest possible extent.
My friends weren’t going to throw a surprise party for such an innocuous occasion, and I wasn’t about to drop a week’s wages on a three-star meal. So, I resigned myself to a chicken madras, lamb biriyani and Netflix without the chill (third trimester…).
However, last Friday also happened to be the opening night of Theo Mistral, the first Hong Kong outpost of the renowned British chef, Theo Randall.
Lauded as perhaps the UK’s finest Italian chef, Randall was Head Chef and Partner at The River Café (a favourite of Chelsea yummy mummies and celebrities, alike) before opening his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in the InterContinental Park Lane.
So, I persuaded Mrs A to don a nice frock and we headed to that brutalist bastion of Hong Kong faux-luxury, the InterContinental Kowloon.
Upon entering, I was expecting to be directed to a prominent setting within the building, “second on the left, past the businessman and his two Russian ‘girlfriends’ but before Alain Ducasse”. Instead the concierge gave a light chuckle, “you want the Intercontinental Grand Stanford”. We were in the wrong hotel. I’d assumed that the man who had mentored Jamie Oliver to prominence would be in the InterCon’s flagship hotel. The property containing the Theo Mistral was in fact, thirteen minutes’ walk away towards the less salubrious end of TST East.
When we finally arrived, and descended to the windowless bowls of the hotel basement, we were greeted with a bustling and cheerful atmosphere.
Mistral offers a wide range of neo-classical Italian dishes, from pappardelle to pizza picante. The design of the menu itself – a laminated A3 sheet – was at odds to the price of the dishes. With a ribeye at $578 and Margherita pizza at $178, the prices were pretty punchy.
We therefore made sure we had our fill of the free bread basket. The breadstick was very good, with a strong sesame flavour and the chewy consistency of a Jewish bagel. The focaccia offered a nice contrast, being of a softer, more tender crumb. With a twist of salt and large slug of the very good extra virgin olive oil, both breads provided a most hospitable start to our meal.
We then moved onto an antipasti board. This contained prosciutto, roasted sweet red pepper bruschetta and a pair of Parma wrapped asparagus spears, all of which were perfectly delectable. The burratta should have been the star of the dish. Although it oozed with a lusciously milky consistency, it lacked the sweet and savoury depth of flavour you’d expect.
We also ordered the Sformato Di Fontina e Romansco (or baked cheese soufflé to you and I). I had high hopes. The cheese soufflé at La Gavroche is the finest thing I’ve ever eaten, defying the laws of physics, chemistry and theology, to create a Gruyère flavoured cloud. Randall’s is a little different, but not without merit. The texture is more akin to a muffin, both crumby and bouncy. An iron-rich sauce of cream, fontina and spinach provided an opulent moat around which the stumpy soufflé perched.
Randall is not the first British chef attempting to crack Hong Kong. But, unlike Messrs Ramsey and Oliver, Randall cannot rest upon his fame (he doesn’t have a lot of it). Instead he must rely on talent and technique. There is no better test of talent and technique than pasta. I’ve lamented the dismal display that is Hong Kong pasta in the past so we ordered two pasta dishes to put the talent and technique to the test.
My pappardelle was a little lacklustre. The flavour was there and the pasta was well cooked, with both the requisite bite and slipperiness. But, the dish really needed a more generous helping of the sloppy slow cooked beef.
The dish of the day was Mrs A’s Cappelletti Di Vitello, a bowl of rich, earthy, moreish morsels. Five plump ravioli were full to bursting with veal and pancetta and coated in a porcini sauce. It was as a fine a pasta dish as I’ve had in Honkers.
While we ate, Randal worked the room, charming the bored businessmen and British diplomats that occupied the tables. As affable as he appeared, I wish he had remained in the kitchen. Without guidance from a fatherly figure, the bastard child Mistral, could easy slip into wayward habits and a life of disrepute. I’m not entirely sure of the nature of Randal’s licensing agreement, but the ‘consulting arrangements’ of other English chefs should act as a cautionary tale.
For dessert, I ordered the seasonal sorbets. I expected multicolours and a tuile or two. Apparently only lemons are in season, as I received just two castrated balls of yellowy sorbet. In more ways than one, this left a very sour taste in my mouth. I’ve been self-flagellating ever since as punishment for not ordering Randall’s signature Amalfi Lemon Tart.
Having a chef of the calibre of Theo Randall adds cache to an otherwise unremarkable business hotel. However, the best hotel restaurants are not hotel restaurants, they are restaurants that happen to be in hotels. Theo Mistral has the potential to become the later. However, if it is to become a source of pride and profit much more refinement is needed.
How much? $1,483 for two
Where? Intercontinental Grand Stanford, East TST
Who goes? Businessmen and diplomats (at least on opening night)