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Afterthoughts – Carnevino Steakhouse

There is something bestial and lascivious about sinking one’s teeth into a succulent piece of steak, and feeling the juices release while savouring the robust texture of the meat.  Few foods can provoke my senses like a good slab of steak, and so, when the new Mario Batali restaurant – Carnevino, opened last month in Hong Kong, I was excited to walk through its doors.

I haven’t heard great reviews about his first restaurant in Hong Kong, Lupa, as it was hyped up beyond proportions.  And personally, I always remember Batali more for being BFFs with Gywneth Paltrow than for his culinary acclaims.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about Carnevino, although the one in Vegas received glowing reviews, so I actually cancelled my first reservation during their soft opening in favour of our loyal standby, Tango, because I couldn’t face disappointment.  Feeling braver two Fridays ago, I made a second attempt at Carnevino and was, surprisingly, rewarded.  

First of all, the location is fabulous for an after-work dinner for the finance crowd, as it’s located in the heard of Central in the new LHT Tower.  The decor is sleek with large steel framed windows and leather cushy booths – all the trappings of a great banker hangout.

We arrived at 8pm on a Friday night and the place was fairly empty.  The service was good, although the quality a bit unbalanced between the local and foreign staff.  But there are always hiccups in the first few months of any new establishment, so small misses can be overlooked.

We started off with an appetizer of wagyu crudo with Apician spices, which came to the table as medium cuts of sashimi slightly layered with spices and a sweet syrupy balsamic-like concoction.  I am a meat eater and liked it, although my dinner date was turned off by the raw, chewy texture.  (the picture doesn’t do the dish much justice either, but with the low lighting it was the best I could do with my iphone without carting a big SLR to the restaurant) 

I ordered the wagyu square steak because I wanted to try their hazelnut fennel side (it wasn’t anything to write home about), but the steak was beautifully cooked to a medium rare with a nice charcoaled crust and juicy, marbled inside.  I love meat, but in moderation, so the 8oz portion was perfect for me.

My dinner companion had the 8oz waygu filet, which was also incredible.  Carnevino may be on the higher-priced end of the spectrum, but you can really taste the quality in the meat, and is well worth the price.  

Despite the succulent steaks, what made the meal memorable was the Guanciale mashed potato, creamed into mascarpone cheese and garnished with wafer thin slices of pork jowl and crowned with a poached duck egg.  It was a genius combination – the oozy rich duck yolk melted into the velvety potato, punctuated by bursts of savouriness from the thin, yet incredibly flavourful, pork.  I was drawn to it like a crack whore to a long-awaited fix, and couldn’t stop eating heaping spoonfuls of it (knowing fully that each spoonful will cost me at least 2k on Bowen road).  

We also loaded up on carbs with the Tuscan fries, dusted with parmigiano and garlic.  The potato had a crispy shell and a soft center, and the garlicy saltiness penetrated through and through despite the very thick cuts.

Verdict:  Carnevino is definitely worth many revisits.  This is a place where quality cuts of meat are treated with respect, and cooked to specified perfection.  A meal does cost a pretty penny, but it won’t put you in the red and is way better in value, in my opinion, than the foam-filled pretentious concoctions prevalent in upscale Hong Kong restaurants. 

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