Unless something very drastic indeed happens, I will always be a carnivore. I simply cannot imagine life without the noble swine, the maritime thrill of oysters, the perfection of a cold beer with hot chicken karaage.
I am, however, married to a vegetarian of almost two decades standing. It makes for a great combination. At home I eat less meat, but it´s better quality because I´m normally buying for one. Ottolenghi, Honey and Co and Sabrina Ghayour have all broadened our vegetarian palate and lexicon at home with sensational dishes, largely from the Middle East.
But the thought of a vegetarian tasting menu doesn´t quite do it for me. Surely the crescendo has to be Mayura Farms wagyu or Mangalica Pork? Then again, there aren´t many chefs like Shane Osborn, a culinary magician with few peers in Hong Kong – or indeed much of Asia, come to that. His meat free Monday menu is six courses of the most inventive, beautifully-plated and delicious food I have had in a very long time in Hong Kong. With not an animal in sight.
This is my second review of Arcane. The first a few years ago spoke of brilliant food at lofty prices. In full disclosure, this time was an invitation: the six course menu runs $750. I defy anyone to find six better courses at this price point anywhere in the city.
Certainly the room seemed full of people with healthy bank balances or corporate cheque books, judging by the number of hedge fund guys greeting each other. Whatever one thinks of them, they are undoubtedly hugely smart – a fact borne out by their decision to eschew the Michelin-starred dining rooms across the city to come to one that is criminally-neglected by the Bibendum gang. Not that Osborn seems bothered. Far from it. He won two stars – dare I say two real stars – in London at Pied à Terre. He has nothing to prove and this, combined with a preternaturally relaxed and warm demeanour, make for the perfect host.
The room is elegant and clean lines, the service flawless, the tables quickly filled on a Monday evening.
To start, delicate thin discs of perfect Japanese tomato atop a smoked aubgerine puree that has the smoke of Ras el Hanout, but actually is, I’m told later, imam biyaldi, the best-named aubergine dish of all time. Herbs dance on top.
Crapaudine is also brilliantly-named, a French beetroot varietal honouring after a female toad. Here it is dotted with English mustard mayonnaise, tiny almonds of pickled black radish, wasabi-na (a type of mustard leaf) and sherry vinegar dressing. The gentle apricot notes in the wine only add to the perfect match, an outrageously successful harmony of flavours and textures.
Next a tunning Jerusalem artichoke velouté – the prep! Lightly spiced, cream. With black truffle, snow peas and hazelnuts, each popping individually but also as one, little surprises everywhere. Seriously one of the best soups I´ve ever eaten.
Perfect new season Vaucluse asparagus spears join diced cucumber and spring onion beurre blanc. Creamy but light, fresh but profound, more brilliant contradictions. How Osborn transforms cucumber into a thing of such delight is beyond me.
Then to the main of sautéed potato gnocchi with Parmesan black truffle and pinenut cream, spinach and chanterelles.
Finally a chocolate mille feuille with caramel cream, cherry gel, lemon curd and chestnut ice cream. The perfect end to a brilliant evening from one of the great unsung heroes of the city’s dining scene. Arcane means ‘understood by few, mysterious or secret’. Rarely has a restaurant been better named.