BACKGROUND Australian chef Shane Osborn has a rich pedigree working in Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK and Sweden, but he does not shout about it, preferring to let his food do the talking. When he arrived in Hong Kong he first took over Alan Yau’s St Betty in IFC, before leaving to open his own restaurant in late 2014. Osborn’s culinary philosophy is based around freshness – not only of ingredients, but of the combined tastes and styles of the dishes themselves.
LOCATION AND LAYOUT Although it’s about as central as you can get in Central, Arcane is tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac off Wyndham Street, on the third floor of a new tower block.
You pass high stools and the open kitchen on your way into the compact restaurant, which seats around 36 at fairly closely spaced tables – although this caused no disturbance for myself or my companion. A small bar is near the door to an alfresco area with seating for about 16 people. Potted plants and palm trees turn what might be a dreary spot into a pleasant, peaceful space.
It’s a modest interior – there are no grand views or exquisite detailing – but there’s a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere. Osborn has had a hand in every aspect of the restaurant, from the colourful modern art gracing the walls, to the comfortable seats and glasses that range pleasingly in shape and form, from delicate champagne flutes to angular red wine goblets and coloured water tumblers.
STARTER We began with a glass of light, crisp rosé champagne (Chartogne-Taillet) and rustic-style crispy bread before the starters arrived: pan-fried langoustines with roasted broccolini and shavings of crisp garlic; and green asparagus with truffle potatoes and hazelnut dressing. The latter was perfectly cooked and complemented nicely by its accompaniments, but the succulent langoustines stole the show, the garlic adding texture and flavour. We’d moved on to white wine by now – a clean, fruity 2014 Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Italy.
MAIN COURSE While waiting for our mains we perused the wine menu and chose to stick with Italy, ordering a 2013 Villa Antinori from the Toscana region – a well-balanced, slightly spicy wine that went well with both our Wagyu beef and steamed codfish mains. The beef – cooked medium rare – parted under the knife beautifully and melted in the mouth, a full flavour gently enhanced by onion jus and a Pommery mustard.
The fish, meanwhile, was delicate and flaky, and was married with spring onions and a light, white asparagus sauce. An extra dish of small gnocchi came covered in a stunning mushroom cream sauce.
DESSERT The chocolate tart with Guinness ice cream had intense flavour and the choice of ice cream was inspired, but our personal favourite was the outstanding yuzu and lemon posset with tangerine, mandarin and yoghurt ice cream– a real “flavour bursting in the mouth” moment. A rich Muscat dessert wine from Piedmont – Prunotto Moscato d’Asti, 2014 – added to the wonderful taste overload, and I ended with a decent latté and biscotti.
WINE LIST Not huge, but respectable for a restaurant of this size. There is a bias towards France, but Germany, Italy and the New World all get space on the wine menu, and it’s particularly strong on Burgundy. I enjoyed all four wines I ordered, and I got the impression the wine list is selected carefully so nothing overpowers the flavours on the plate.
SERVICE The maitre’d was friendly and discreet, offering recommendations but not being pushy about it. He engaged us easily in conversation when prompted, but retired as soon as the food arrived. The timing of delivery of each course – and table clear-ups – was faultless, the waiter described each dish briefly but confidently, and presentation was excellent. All the staff seemed genuinely engaged in their work – not always the case even in high-end restaurants.
VERDICT Highly recommended – make no mistake, this is European haute cuisine of the highest order. Although pricing is at the premium end of the scale, it is more reasonable than many of Hong Kong’s “top” restaurants, and in my opinion measures up to them in all other aspects. The food is creative, refined and fresh on the palate, the service personable and professional, and the location very convenient. I have already recommended it to four friends and acquaintances.
PRICING Expect to pay HK$2,000-$3,500 (US$250-$450) for a three-course meal for two with wine accompaniments, coffee and liqueurs.
CONTACT Open for lunch Mon-Fri 12-2.30pm, for dinner Mon-Sat 6.30-10.30pm; 3/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central; tel +852 2728 0178; arcane.hk