Emporio Antico is something of a curiosity. Not exactly a restaurant and not really a retail shop, it is, however, somewhere you can dine or, should you choose, a pick up a selection of fine foods, ranging from caviar to fresh truffles.
The brainchild of Country Fresh, an Australian wholesaler, the company bills this Wan Chai-set space as a ‘tasting lounge’, a setting that primarily showcase products prepared as largely Italian-inspired entrees. Upon arriving, the first impression is of something of an old boys club for bankers, complete with deep brown leather chesterfields and expensive spirits, all displayed in the style of hunting trophies.
By contrast, the limited menu – ably consulted on by Roland Schuller, the former Kee Club and Drawing Room chef – consists of uncomplicated and distinctly casual dishes. In truth, far from being designed for banqueting, this snug chamber was conceived more as a discreet hideaway for a leisurely bite.
It also has a very serviceable wine list. While there’s nothing too high end, it’s all eminently drinkable.
To begin, we have the plain crostinis, served with a range fine condiments – from truffled mustard and porcini creams, to whiskey marmalade. With the appetite suitably whetted, we move to more gourmet crostinis, notably sweet Japanese crab meat with cherry tomato and the Mediterranean intensity that is copita Spanish ham with melted French goat cheese.
A salad of Japanese cherry tomatoes – with a fragrant extra virgin olive oil and a hint of garlic, Parmesan shavings and baby herbs – is then presented beautifully, tasting just as elegant. Apparently, Country Fresh imports a substantial amount of fine produce, not just from the Antipodes but from across the world – including these little flavour bombs.
Without a large kitchen or an extensive number of staff, Antico relies on its prime ingredients to do the hard work. That’s certainly the case with the platter of Japanese blue fin tuna wrapped in crispy brioche with fennel that finds its way to our table. Although the belly meat is buttery, the slices of fish would benefit from a couple of extra salt flakes as a means of enhancing its unctuous essence.
More truly gorgeous seafood follows – very slow cooked Spanish octopus in the Catalonian style. A large tentacle is cut into bite-sized portions, accompanied by tiny cubes of chorizo, olives and a chili jam from Tasmania. With octopus you truly need a delicate touch, else you end up with chewy rubber. Thankfully, Antico’s kitchen managed skilful sous vide execution, rendering the cephapod nice and soft with just enough bite for texture.
Truffles are one of Antico’s marquee products and they come fittingly highlighted in a simple risotto using an Australian winter black truffle freshly sourced from Tasmania (they do promise white truffles by the time this review comes out). The Arborio rice is also from the Tama Valley area, served in delightful; packages with subtle mushrooms flavours. Here they take a minimalist approach to the rice, cooking it in butter with a dash of Parmesan. While it may have been a little too soft for el dente extremists, it was still truly comforting and filling.
Another wholesale item on the menu are the marron lobsters, especially imported from Western Australia. Better known as to Aussies as ‘yabbies’, they are slow cooked with swiss chard and fresh peas, then drizzled with hazelnut butter.
To date, marrons haven’t found too much favour in Hong Kong, perhaps because this fresh water meat doesn’t have the same sweetness as lobsters nor the richness of Mediterranean Carabineros prawn. Its appeal, though, lies in its subtle freshness – making it the perfect addition to Antico’s unfussy dishes. The hazelnut butter adds a little depth, while the soft chard and peas accessorise the flavours nicely.
The dessert is again characterised by style and finesse. The ultra-Japanese-inspired marinated honeydew with crispy brioche and sake ice cream, served with shredded coconut, is as elegant and simple as any zen garden. Light as air, restrained but substantive in doing a lot with very little.
While Emporio Antico’s wilfully modest dishes might not make it a Michelin candidate, there’s still seriously good food to be found here.
showroom & tasting lounge
18/F, 239 Hennessy Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2387 7168