Cornerstone: Big flavours extreme value

Oh hey! Long time no see…

Can you believe it’s been 953 days since I last put pen to paper to talk about food? There’s been so much that’s happened in the last two and a half years and I’ve been a little busy and distracted.

Well, I suddenly find myself with a bit of spare time, so thought it would be nice to get back into the groove.

I wanted to tell you a little bit about one of my favourite places to eat in recent times. I’d become a little jaded with all of the fine dining, feeling a sense of sameness from dining out at so called top restaurants with Michelin Stars. But what can I say, I’m still a sucker for interesting and tasty food.

It’s why Cornerstone in Soho has become one of my most revered casual dining spots in all of Hong Kong. Set up by Shane Osborne, the Aussie chef that runs perennial restaurant Arcane and a guy that featured heavily in Netflix’s failed global cooking show The Final Table. Actually, featured heavily is an understatement as the guy was the eventual runner up with his Aussie cheffing buddy Mark Best.

The only thing you need to know about Cornerstone is that the food is always superb; while you can certainly see the inspiration and influence of Shane Osborne, it’s one of his protégés who is responsible for the seasonal menu. With an underlying philosophy of securing great produce to provide a contemporary yet modest menu that is value for money, Neal Ledesma does an outstanding job of providing one of the best meals in Hong Kong today.

The first thing you notice about Cornerstone is how small and intimate it feels; with a modern bistro layout that includes a slate grey colour scheme and comfortable seating, the dining room feels comfortable, light and airy. A bar area at the back of the smallish dining room feels subtle and doesn’t dominate the space and the kitchen is hidden out the back, so unfortunately you can’t see the magic happen.

One of the hardest tasks when visiting Cornerstone is limiting yourself to just a couple of menu items; believe me, you’re going to be tempted with all of the incredible options available. We solve this problem by coming regularly and rotating through the different options each visit; and while there are favourites, it’s worth choosing something different each visit.

Our most recent visit saw a menu that had a few notable changes and we started with a couple of newish entrées. The girl kicked off our lunch with a light and tasty vegetarian(ish) option. The roasted pumpkin came with toasted kale, sage, slices of almond and a delicious beurre noisette.. There was a nice amount of burrata cheese included, so it wasn’t really fully fit for a vegetarian, but it wasn’t a problem for us at all.

I started with the Yellowfin Tuna, generous slices of tuna came with a slight grill around the outer casing and was placed on strips of daikon bating in a clear dashi. Each slice of tuna had a think strip of pickled cucumber placed on top, which gave a sharp contrast to the subtle flavours of the tuna and dashi. It was more akin to a summer dish, so slightly out of kilter on the largely wintery menu, but given it was quite a warm day outside (25 degrees), the dish actually hit the spot nicely.

There was nothing summery about the main courses though; the girl chose the quintessential wintery dish of Braised Wagyu Brisket that came with an incredibly buttery and smooth mash, winter vegetables including onion, carrot and a red wine jus. The depth of flavour that came from the beef was insane, and as well as a deep rich flavour of beef, there was a creamy flavour to the wagyu also that was something we’d not experienced before. It was a show stopper of a dish, both beautiful and tasty. You can always tell a winning dish when those seated at tables nearby exclaim loudly “yep, that’s what I want”.

My choice was the Mushroom Spelt Risotto, which was warming and intensely flavoured. A dollop of mascarpone emanated from the centre of the dish and was hidden slightly by the shaved truffle and chestnuts. There was an earthy flavour to the risotto that was elevated by the creamy mascarpone, then hits of salty goodness from diced and crispy bacon. Given the risotto used spelt (a wheat grain) instead of rice, there was a slightly chewy texture that was really quite pleasant on the palate. Delicious, warming and totally filling.

While we loved the entrées and mains, both on this visit and our many previous visits, we’ve learned through experience that the desert menu does not reach the heights of the main show; so again decided that we’d get some chocolate on the walk home instead of partaking in the offered desserts.

Given that our visit was on Christmas Eve, it was unsurprisingly busy at Cornerstone with our sitting being the third sitting of the lunchtime period. Also unsurprising was that as we entered the dining room, we bumped into friends who’d just finished eating their lunch. I say unsurprising as the same thing happened the week before when we were seated next to some buddies who were just finishing up their meal.

Cornerstone is the type of ‘local’ restaurant where you’re likely to bump into people you know regularly; not though sheer coincidence, but because it’s the type of place that you can regularly visit and have an outstanding meal for a price that is unlike many great restaurants you’ll find in HK; that is, super reasonably priced. It’s not just our favourite casual dining spot, but a favourite for many!

If you’ve never visited Cornerstone, you’re missing out. My recommendation is do yourself a favour, get along and support this amazing restaurant. In these tough and unprecedented times, supporting those little gems of restaurants has never been so important.

Oh, if you’re wondering why it’s been 953 days since I had the time to write about my dining experiences…. I can tell you I’ve had a lot on my mind since changing careers and buying into a fitness centre. You can read a little bit about it here or watch a little bit about my Covid-19 experience here

Hope to tell you about some more dining experiences soon!

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