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Since its opening in Shanghai in 2012, Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Mercato concept has been one of the chef’s most popular restaurants. When the French chef announced of his return to Hong Kong restaurant scene, casual Italian seemed like the right choice, and it showed as Mercato has been a popular restaurant since it opened its doors at Lan Kwai Fong’s Calilfornia Tower.
Designed by Neri & Hu, the same architectural firm that handled its sister restaurant in Shanghai, the Hong Kong outpost introduces a rustic surrounding with an abundance of concrete and metal to mimic the urban landscape of the city, while wood and greens on the terrace helps to balance the industrial touch of the interior. We suggest seating near the window on a sunny day, enjoying meal while natural light pours in, but a more intimate vibe can be had near the bar at night.
Mercato serves casual Italian at its best; the all-rounded main menu is divided into sections, each offering a modest variety to choose from. The abundance of starters invites guests to share among themselves.
We began our meal with house-made ricotta with strawberry, olive oil, and grilled bread, with strawberry compote adding depths of sweet and tangy to the creamy ricotta, which is ideal served on crispy toast.
Black truffle, three cheeses and farm egg pizza is the show stopper of the evening, where the crust is just firm enough to yield a crunch while the cheese filling is spread to the rim and flavoured with truffle paste. The addition of a molten egg enriches the overall texture.
With an extensive selection of mains, we chose the crispy beef short rib with polenta fries and smoked chili Chianti glaze. The short rib, roasted and glazed with a crispy topping, is best with a chili-spiked thick-cut polenta fries, which may seem substantial in serving size but fittingly serve two to share.
The dessert selection is modest. While panna cotta and tarts are popular, we opted for the house-made gelati and sorbetti. The vanilla is creamy and light, while pistachio is milder than store-bought varieties. The highlight lies in the apricot-white wine sorbet, also honey-sweet with slightly floral finish.
Cocktails are the popular choice for Mercato, as most of them are fruit-based, including the restaurant’s proud prosecco infusions. The wines by the glass menu is packed with versatile gems to match with menu offerings. The Pinot Grigio Colli Orientali del Friuli 2014 has a pale yellow hue, with fragrant hints of acacia blossom and stone fruits, a refreshing start to match with light starters and composed salads. Meatier mains can match well with the Merlot “Le Volte”: Toscana Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2013, its lightly spiced characteristics is matched with fresh notes of red fruits and mineral, rich enough to stand up against rustic mains such as crispy short ribs.
Service at Mercato is attentive, as members of the staff are stationed on both sides of the space, all ready to serve. Food and wine knowledge are adequate, although wine pairing and portion control needs extra effort to get it right. Staff is mostly friendly and helpful throughout.
A full dinner for two including one glass of wine amounts to slightly over HK$1,700. Prices are on point for a Jean-Georges restaurant and food quality is high, the main factor that merits future returns.