Restaurant check: Cobo House

Cobo House dessert bar

Background

Cobo House by 2am:dessertbar opened back in March 2016 as a collaboration with Janice Wong, a Singapore-based chef known for founding 2am:dessertbar and two-time recipient of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant awards.

The Cobo part of the restaurant’s name comes from “Community of Bohemians”, a phrase the establishment uses to, quite aptly, describe its concept and the clientele it looks to attract. The restaurant sees itself as an art hub in the Shek Tong Tsui district, an area a short distance from the city’s growing art district of Sheung Wan, with both the cuisine and design having a distinct artistic edge.

Tucked away on a quiet back street, the eatery brings a farm-to-table experience to guests. It houses a mineral-rich Okinawa sea-sand garden, growing organic herbs and edible plants, while other ingredients are procured fresh from local markets.

The Restaurant

Cobo House takes its artistic chops seriously. The inside of the restaurant features artwork from around the world curated by Adrian Cheng, founder of the K11 Art Foundation, with the pieces rotating every three months. Nonetheless, the restaurant still has notable Hong Kong touches, including brass chandeliers which take inspiration from the city’s historical trams.

While most of the cooking is done behind the scenes, Cobo House showcases its 2am:dessertbar DNA with a live dessert preparation bar. At the entrance, chocolates decorated in colourful designs are housed in glass cases, which guests can both peruse and purchase.

Meanwhile outside the restaurant is a small terrace area with an adjacent cafe, sporting an impressive coffee-making machine that looks like something out of a steam-punk novel. If you’re in the mood for just a coffee and a snack – the shop offers classic Hong Kong brand treats – the café is well worth ducking in to.

Crab starter at Cobo House, Hong Kong

Appetisers

We headed to Cobo House for its lunchtime set menu, which offers a selection of three starters, four mains and three cheesecakes, choosing one item from each section. The menu is brief and to the point, with dishes simply titled “Mushroom” or “Perch”, with a few words of description.

For starters, we chose the “Mushroom” and the “Crab”. The former consists of a king trumpet mushroom, egg tofu and herb butter, along with mushrooms, a pan-fried egg tofu cube and smashed potato. The ingredients and the sauce come together to produce a subtle flavour, intended to allow guests to taste the freshness of the food. A nice surprise was the hint of truffle mixed into the smashed potato, subtly upgrading the overall flavour of the dish.

The “Crab”, meanwhile, felt slightly like a misnomer. The key aspect of the dish is the cuboid block of tomato gelée (jelly) in which the few pieces of crab sit suspended. Add to this the six sizeable sections of Belgian tomato that come with the dish and the crab ends up playing second fiddle to a medley of tomato flavours.

Somen at Cobo House, Hong Kong

Mains

For the mains, we selected the pork and the vegetarian somen. The slow-cooked pork belly comes with potatoes and charred spiced pineapple giving the dish a slightly peppery taste, while the pork itself is very much reminiscent of the salty meat found in rice dumplings often eaten during the dragon boat festival.

The somen noodles, with its cooked, crispy basil leaves, grilled courgettes and roasted tarot cooked in a basil sauce, is a very light dish. The courgettes have an incredibly thin smattering of batter, even more so than traditional tempura, giving them the slightest bit of crispiness – a very enjoyable touch. Meanwhile the somen itself comes as a tight, wrapped bundle, and the simple addition of basil keeps the dish fresh and straightforward.

Cassis Plum dessert at Cobo House, Hong Kong

Dessert

While the lunchtime set menu includes a single dessert, Cobo House doesn’t shy away from offering a more robust menu of sweets. Its dessert bar background comes to the fore with its dessert degustation menu, offering three dessert dishes and complementing beverages for HK$298 (US$38.4). The sets are designed to enable guests to sample a number of the restaurant’s desserts rather than limiting themselves to just one. We ordered a set each.

Dishes in the menu rotate, but at the time of our visit the restaurant was offering a Memories of Childhood and a Hues and Colours of Taste sets. The former comprises: Popcorn, a combination of sweet and savoury popcorn-flavoured parfait; Kyoto Garden, a floral dish with orange blossom ice cream in a rock-like white-chocolate shell and all designed to look like a traditional Japanese garden; and Basil White Chocolate, a sharp, fruity dish with passion fruit, white chocolate and basil. The Colours of Taste set, meanwhile, includes: Strawberry Caprese, comprising fresh and vinegar-cured strawberries, sakura pearls and burrata cheese snow; Purple, designed after Wong’s first painting and including lavender marshmallows and a savoury purple potato puree; and Chocolate H20, a signature dessert from Wong’s 2am:dessertbar since 2009 with aerated frozen chocolate with an incredibly light mousse made using just dark chocolate and water.

The dessert degustation menus certainly deliver on their intended goal of offering the widest variety of desserts in a single sitting. That said, perhaps the most impressive dessert offered by Cobo House is its à la carte Cassis Plum. This is a signature dish of Wong’s that notably made an appearance on Master Chef Australia 2015 as part of the contestant pressure test. The spherical dessert combines numerous different textures, ranging from a crisp blackcurrant and white chocolate shell to a soft elderflower foam interior. The yuzu pearls that the spherical dessert sits on help to give the dish added sharpness, contrasting with the sweeter flavours of the fruit, foam and chocolate.

Chocolate H20 at Cobo House, Hong Kong

The drinks

Much like the cuisine at Cobo House, the beverages are carefully constructed with contrasting flavours. The pineapple juice, for instance, has an added sourness due to the touch of limejuice, intended to trigger the taste buds before a dish or refresh the palate afterwards. Meanwhile, the restaurant offers a list of artisanal teas, including the Bollywood Chai, a familiar yet also subtler variant of a traditional chai tea.

Verdict

The restaurant’s tucked-away location provides a quiet respite and an idyllic lunchtime culinary adventure for those willing to make the short journey away from Hong Kong’s city centre. A meal at Cobo House is undeniably indulgent, yet even after three courses and innumerable desserts, we exited the restaurant without feeling excessively full. The three-course lunch set is by no means exorbitant at HK$268 (US$34.6), though it is a little higher than your average week-day lunch set menu, and while the eatery is certainly geared towards sweets, Cobo House manages to make sure its savoury offerings don’t fall behind.

Price: Two-course lunch set – HK$198 (US$25.5); three-course lunch set – HK$268 (US$34.6); dessert degustation set – HK$298 (US$38.4)

Address: 8/12 South Lane, Shek Tong Tsui, Hong Kong

Phone: 2656 3088

Website: cobohouse.com

Valerian Ho and Craig Bright

Opening hours: 12noon-3pm and 6pm-12midnight


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