Just about everyone of a certain age brackets should remember the TV show ‘Cheers’. It was a half hour sitcom about a bar in Boston and the catchy theme song for the show was called ‘Where everybody knows your name’. If you’re not familiar with it, rekindle your memories or experience for the first time here.
Anyway, there’s a memorable line in the song that goes something like ‘Wouldn’t you like to get away? to a place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came’.
That about sums up my experiences when I visit Tosca in Hong Kong’s Ritz Carlton. Granted, the Ritz Carlton’s about as far away from a dive bar in Boston, but you get the drift.
I’ve been to Tosca many, many times now and there are a couple of things that keep drawing me back, the amazing setting, the incredible food but most of all, the impeccable service that only comes from a team that genuinely believe in what they’re doing and love to provide the best service imaginable.
Our last visit was an opportunity for the girl and I to share one last special dinner before I went traveling to the UK for work, a trip that would take me away for a couple of weeks (and lead to a series of food adventures!).
Upon arriving at the 102nd floor of Hong Kong’s tallest building, we were greeted like long lost friends and as we were shown to our table, were greeted warmly by (it seemed like) every member of the team. No sooner had we taken our seat than head Chef Pino Lavarra was over to our table with a warm smile and a short update about his recent holiday back to Italy.
It’s fair to say that by the time we’d placed our orders for the night, we were feeling pretty special.
Normally when we go to Tosca, we’re treated to a uniquely designed menu from Chef Pino, always a treat. Accurately sensing that we’d have preferred to just order from the menu, Chef Pino informed us that he would give us some respite from his imagination and would leave us to choose our meal from the a la carte menu.
We should have known that this was a clever ploy! While we did get to order from the a la carte menu, each ordering our own entree’s and mains, the team at Tosca through that turning our individual choices into a tasting menu would be a great idea. Funny enough, it was!
Kicking off our meal was an amuse-bouche of veal terrine sandwiched between some crisp tuile and served with a sweet almond milk. The contrast between the sweet terrine and the almond milk was interesting, with a similar level of sweetness playing off with different textures.
The first dish of the last minute tasting menu was a homemade fusilli with chicken tomato sauce and an 18 month aged provolone cheese, specially imported from Italy. This was Chef Pino’s take on the traditional bolognese but instead of using veal of beef with the sauce, chicken was used. I loved the rich meaty flavour from the chicken based sauce, which worked wonderfully with the little spirals of perfectly al-dente pasta. The dish was immaculately presented with the provolone cheese shaved over the dish at the table.
Next was the beautifully simple semolina pasta with spring vegetables carefully positioned on top and served with bufala cheese and pepper. The creamy pasta had a lovely texture that was just the right temperature, with a flavour that lingered on the palate after each mouthful. Bursts of flavour and contrasting texture were included in every bite, provided by the range of vegetables that included carrot, cauliflower, asparagus and tomato (just to name a few).
There was an intense vibrancy from the bell pepper risotto with charred onion and chunks of pancetta which lit up the table as soon as the dish was presented. The orange red of the bell pepper was clear to see but best of all, the harsh pepper flavour had been replaced with a light sweetness that was simply delicious. I loved the saltiness from the chunks of pancetta and the bitter sweetness from the charred onion. It was a super risotto, with rice that was cooked to perfection and full of intense, well balanced flavours.
I initially mistook our next dish for a piece of well cooked wagyu, but was actually the Tuna Ventresca ‘alla plancia’ with pickled vegetables (served on a separate plate) and a black garlic puree and a lemon curd. There was a dark caramelisation on the tuna that was sweet and crispy, with a centre that was soft and luscious. The contrasting textures in the same piece of tuna were interesting on the palate! The sharp hit from the lemon curd and the super sweet black garlic were wonderful accompaniments to the sweet tuna, each mouthful a complete delight.
Our next course actually was the wagyu, an Australian wagyu beef tenderloin cooked in charcoal with foie gras and potato puree. A sticky jus was poured at the table to finish off the dish. By this time we’d consumed more than our fair share of food, so we wondered how we would finish off the huge looking meat course! The tenderloin was cooked a perfect medium rare, and was like its namesake, very tender and had an interesting charred flavour from the cooking process. The round of foie gras was super tasty with an intense sweetness that was almost overpowering! However, try as we might, we could only get through two thirds of the dish.
We were so full in fact, that we couldn’t even opt for a dessert, of which there were many enticing options. When we were chatting to Assistant Manager Matteo about the meal and our inability to order dessert, with a cheeky grin he admitted to us that we’d actually been given full sized portions of the dishes, instead of tasting dish portions! No wonder we were so stuffed.
While there was no dessert, we did get the obligatory petite four, which was just enough satisfy our sweet tooth, without sending us into a food coma.
It had been the usual superb meal at Tosca. But more than that, throughout the night there had been lots of team coming over to say hi, and make sure that our total experience had been first rate. There were the other little extra touches that helped make our meal superb; Matteo racing upstairs to Ozone to secure me a dragontini, knowing that I love the sweet cocktail; the complimentary glass of champagne upon arriving for the girl.
It would be easy to think that I was getting special treatment because of my food blog, and that would be a natural assumption to make; but Tosca is the type of restaurant where they want to make every visit a memorable one. I’ve noticed Chef Pino visiting many tables, talking with the diners, ensuring that each meal was special; the wait staff and managers also visiting each table regularly throughout the night checking on each and every diner.
Tosca has been awarded a Michelin Star and it’s easy to see why, the food is superb and the service sublime. When you go for the first time, it’s memorable for sure. But what makes Tosca so special is their memory of your second and third (and so on) visits. They remember you, remember what you like and continually try to make each visit more memorable than the last.
The team at Tosca are unashamedly chasing down a second Michelin Star; I personally think it’s only a matter of time. Each time I’ve visited, the experience has only improved. More importantly, I constantly get informed by my readers about their wonderful experiences.
For your next special occasion dinner, you’d do well to think about Tosca; give them a chance to learn your name.