Cé la vi is a grammar purist’s horror-show, abridging ‘C’est la vie’ into three handy two-letter words and adding a random accent. The venue was originally going to be another abbreviated incarnation, ku de ta, a Hong Kong version of the spot that has rightly become one of Bali’s most enticing beach bars with its laid back tunes, great mixologists, surf and sunset views.
However lawyers got involved and ku de ta globally is now cé la vi. Anyway , the views from the 25th floor of California Tower are not of surf and sunset but the urban jungle of Central. The venue occupies two floors, a large bar and dining room, with the décor in both a smart and expensive-looking mix of Asian materials and motifs. It’s also pretty dark in the evening, lit mainly by candles for late night assignations before the lights come on like the end of a school disco. The outside terrace Skybar is enticing under red umbrellas with its rather random jacuzzi, while the tunes are of course, bang-on throughout.
The menu at dinner is ostensibly Japanese, a mix of sushi, yakitori and sides under ‘salads and small plates’, ‘raw and rolls’, ‘seafood’ ‘poultry and meat’ (I thought poultry was meat, but anyway) and ‘vegetables and rice’. The vegetarian and I tiptoed around it and stuck mainly to yakitori and tempura. I’d be intrigued to return to see the kitchen’s sushi prowess.
Anyway skewers were twofold, firstly chicken with Tokyo negi (a type of white onion). It was perfectly pleasant, but could have been left a little longer on the grill, both for more warmth and to take on more smoke.
Salmon skewers came lifted by everyone’s favourite Japanese citrus rub, yuzu kosho, a paste made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt which is then allowed to ferment.
Pumpkin tempura came with more yuzukosho and rocoto chilli and a soothing creamy number, deeply dippy.
More tempura, this time asparagus with a great truffle, soy and edamame puree.
Corn and manchego was just a bit bland when compared to the Mexican way with cotija cheese that can take off the roof of your mouth, in a good way. The ‘dry miso’ seemed MIA too. Last from the savoury side, beautiful scored and seared mushrooms which looked more like squid.Our delightful server Ramsey recommended desserts and was bang on the money with both. Toasted calamansi cake was soaked in lime and came with calamansi cremieux (I assume they meant cremeux) and a guava sorbet. I’ve already bleated on at CNN about how calamansi deserves a greater audience and this proved it once again, a gorgeous tang to the sponge, the cream sharpened by the little Filipino green wonders and a technically sound guava sorbet.
Chocolate is pretty much always ordered when it appears on a menu and here was no exception, a cylindrical bar with Passion fruit caramel, banana and shards of phyllo stabbing it. Their brilliantly-named pastry chef and nominative determinist Jason Licker should take a bow.
Dinner came to $1300 with two cocktails, c/o the PR team. Ce la vi is bound to be a hit with its prime location, views, bar and friendly but engaging service. A second visit may confirm that the food deserves another look on its own accord.
25/F, California Twr, 30-36 D’Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, +852 3700 2300 http://hk.celavi.com/restaurant-menus/