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Isola in IFC has been there pretty much since the shopping mall opened and, nearly a decade later, remains one of the most popular restaurants in the area. One of its main selling points is the setting and location of the restaurant. Not only does it have a large alfresco terrace where you can dine pleasantly in the cooler months, with a front row seat of the harbour, but the inside is also a lesson in chic. With tablecloths, cut-out lattice awnings and chairs all done in stark white, the sheer curtains undulating gently and flickering candles provide some romance to what could otherwise be an impersonal restaurant.
Since our last visit a year ago, Isola, the perennially popular Italian restaurant in IFC has gained a new chef, Andrea Magnano, a jovial and gregarious chef whose previous experience in Hong Kong was at Sabatini. Chef Magnano arrived in February 2012 and while most casual visitors won’t really notice a difference in the menu, he has made a few additions. One of these is the lobster bisque. We thought it a rather pleasant and light starter: rather than finished with cream as the French do, Isola’s version is drizzled with olive oil. The mussels and clams also stay surprisingly tender in the steaming broth. We also liked our other appetiser, a 36-month Parma ham with burrata. The cheese is from Puglia, and the cream inside is a little bit more watery than we would have liked, but it is an excellent foil to the salty ham. For mains, we try the linguini with red prawns, and a stone-baked caprese pizza. The linguini is disappointing: the prawns themselves do not taste too fresh, while the sauce of the pasta is bland, needing more than a kick of acid to really make it shine. We love the Roman-style crispiness of the pizzas, but made an error in ordering the caprese, as here it is a white pizza with sliced cherry tomatoes, without any tomato sauce, which made it a touch more plain than it should have been. Next time we visit, we will definitely be ordering the margherita instead. Finally, for dessert, both the tiramisu and panna cotta are very good. The tiramisu is an impressive size, and contains a good proportion of mascarpone to biscotti. Our personal preference would have been for the biscotti to be soaked in a bit more espresso to make the dessert more moist, but it’s still an accomplished dish. The panna cotta, likewise, is good but could be better if it were a little less dense, and allowed to stand in its own right with less berries and sauce as garnish.
Sharing the same wine list as IsoBar upstairs, where workers from IFC all congregate after work, it’s not surprising that Isola has a very good wine by the glass selection. Exclusively Italian, it features not only the more impressive Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont, but also lesser known wines such as syrah from Sicily. If ordering by the bottle, Isola has both magnums of excellent Barolo and brunello, and even double magnums should the occasion call for it. All in all, apart from a few French champagnes, this is one of the more impressive Italian wine lists in town.
While certainly efficient and functional, the service at Isola lacks the final touch of finesse. Staff are helpful if not particularly full of smiles, but we did appreciate the timing of the dishes and the portioning out when we requested to share the pasta.
A meal for two comes to HK$1,800 with wine. This is admittedly expensive, but a prime spot in IFC with such a spectacular view cannot come cheap.