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Occupying an entire floor of Causeway Bay’s Midtown II Building, which also houses Shiki Zen and Jamie’s Italian, the Thai import promises a unique dining experience that begins with a drink at the lounge. The dining space takes up an entire floor, with colourful sofas filling the bar area. The elongated, dimly-lit dining room showcases floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, with two rows of well-spaced tables set along the semi-open kitchen. The extensive use of dark wood furniture finished with colourful silk cushions, combined with its dim lighting of the space, makes the restaurant even less lit up. The vintage feel of the décor, together with a customised fragrance and jazzy Asian beats made for the restaurant, comes together to create Issaya’s unique brand identity.
Chef Ian Kittichai has crafted two tasting menus – one seven-course, one ten-course, but we opted for a la carte options instead. We began with banana blossom and heart of palm salad, where textures reign supreme. The refreshing chilli jam dressing helps lift our appetite. Green papaya seafood salad fills up a hollowed pineapple, an old presentation trick we did not expect to see here. The seafood was fresh but dressing rather watered down, missing the kick we expected from chillies and lime. Spice-rubbed pork baby back ribs were well-presented, and the chilli-spiked paste basted on the ribs delivers depth to the fork-tender rib that almost fell off the bone on each bite.
We had difficulties choosing main courses, as most seafood dishes (except the salmon) are unavailable on our visit. The signature lamb shank in Mussamun curry sauce is juicy and tender, and served with cubes of pickled watermelon rind, crunchy with tartness that cuts through the richness of the curry. Two beef dishes: short ribs with chilli lime dipping sauce and simmered Australian veal cheek are both fork-tender, especially the short ribs, but both dishes suffered from over-seasoning. The southern style yellow chicken curry, however, is the best among the mains. The curry is rich with balanced blend of spices in it, making it great with steamed white or brown jasmine rice.
Desserts show more Western influence with presentation and execution. The young smoked coconut cheese is a winner. The staff opens up a lid at the table, releasing the smoke that adds flavour to the cheesecake, which is firm but creamy, and a passion fruit foam helps lighten the richness. The signature cold coconut crepe soufflé for two is a tableside performance on its own. We would not want to spoil the surprise element but it involves a blend of tropical fruit textures, coconut pancake, chocolate, and the addition of liquid nitrogen. The theatrical element in the preparation brings anticipation to the guests, but we would prefer other lighter desserts instead.
Issaya Siamese Club brings much focus on its signature cocktails with tropical elements added to classics. The transformation is working well, from a herbaceous twist in coriander mojito to sweet and sour Thai cosmopolitan, cocktail-lovers will enjoy their drinks before, if not during dinner as well. With plenty of wine by the glass options to choose from, bottles on offer are balanced between France, Italy, and New World origins.
Staff are energetic and welcoming, yet service can be confusing as most of them are relatively inexperienced and a better knowledge on the dishes and cocktails is much needed. However, we had no problem getting the staff’s attention and requests are tended to efficiently.
A three-course meal for two with one cocktail each and service will come to HK$1,300, which is a little high for the execution of dishes and service offered. We believe improvements are much needed to match the reputation earned by the original Thai restaurant.