Tosca at the Ritz Sets the Bar Obscenely High

I was sitting in a plush chair, 102 floors above ground at the ICC (Hong Kong’s tallest building at 1,588 feet), watching my date look longingly at six blocks of very rare cheese being wheeled away by our server, ostensibly to give us time to decide between this and their famous Tosca Tiramisu. Looking incredibly pained and clutching his stomach, he says to me, “Looking at those cheeses was like looking at six incredibly hot women. … And now I can’t have them.”

Photo from dchome.net.

In normal circumstances, I would have said something mean (say, why doesn’t he love me as much as Barolo cheese?), but given the meal we just had and a few more delicious treats to come, I guess I understood what he meant.

Tosca, a Southern Italian restaurant, is luxurious in a way and of such high caliber that makes you hate anyone who can actually afford this two times a week (and judging by the gratuitous boxes of Hermes scarves and all the understated bling around, some people can).

We were only there because I wanted to celebrate a small work victory in the most aspirational way, and because I didn’t want to leave Hong Kong without experiencing sky dining. It was a quiet Wednesday, so my phone reservation five hours ahead was easily accommodated, though all the window seats were booked.

The receptionist cheerfully informed me the dress code was smart casual. So when we arrived and I sat down, and the female maitre d’ offered to take my coat to hang it up in their unseen cloakroom, I had to ask her in a whisper if the skin I was showing was inoffensive enough. (I saw a woman in a parka and sweats, so I’m hoping she’s as smart as she is casual.)

An ear-popping ride up the elevator.
Very dim lighting so I couldn’t take very good photos, but you get the idea.

We had taken the Tung Chung MTR line to Kowloon station (exits C or D), from where it was a short stroll through an upscale mall, past designer stores like Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton, and up several escalators and lifts to finally emerge on the 102nd floor of The Ritz. The whole prelude prepares you for the entry, past a dim-lit bar with couches that face out into the Hong Kong skyline, into a high-ceilinged, water-themed house of glass with a fantastic view, an open kitchen and pretty people.

Except for the snooty French couple next to us, the servers were so enthusiastic and friendly, and the rest of the diners so engrossed in their own little worlds that nothing really matters but you and the food. And the food was so. damn. good.

Even if they did come in those laughably measured portions and meticulous arrangements. There are exactly two French beans, for example, sitting diametrically across each other inside a wine-reduction halo that encircles a succulent slow-roasted pigeon breast. And there are exactly four morsels of white peach sitting atop a rectangular sliver of foie gras jelly.

Pigeon

The chef is Italian, but he was unseen, probably confident enough to leave the Chinese chefs silently slaving away in his kitchen without worrying about his standards slipping. The food menu is just two pages, encompassing Antipasti, Secondi and desserts, with each item written in Italian, English and Chinese. There is a five-course tasting menu that costs HK$1,500 per head, running up to HK$2,200 if you want a wine pairing with each dish. Pass.

The food menu paled in comparison to the wine list, which was several pages long and arranged by wine region. The cheapest bottle would be HK$500 and the rest ran up to around HK$12,000. We got a bottle of Chianti, which was enough to see us through most of the dishes without denting our wallets. If you ask, there is a non-wines menu of cocktails at standard bar prices.

What is it about turning things into gelato, jelly, cream or puree (consistencies you might otherwise associate with a child’s secret snack pile) that turns this class of food into haute cuisine? It occurred to me at one point that isn’t this a lot of effort for something that, at the end of the day, will just leave your body anyway? But you have to think less with your critical thinking skills and more with your mouth, which is actually guaranteed a good time.

Our “welcome starter,” was a very thin bread crisp wedged between white asparagus cream and salmon puree. The beef carpaccio (amazing) came with three different sauces: a white asparagus cream, green asparagus cream and a dollop of cheese-and-olive-oil gelato. And just in case you forget the peripherals, the servers will point out to you that there are two pieces of anchovies just on the edge of the meat, right next to the tiny stalks of arugula.

Can I just say, thank god for the bread basket.

Beef Carpaccio

Our mains were lovely, albeit no larger than the starters. I got the roasted tomato sea bass with two slivers of marinated red onion over spring onion potato puree with a little bit of buffalo cheese, which was great except the fish also came with a single bone that got lodged in my throat and then I had to eat a lot of olive bread to get it down. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a flourish.

Meanwhile, Joe got the roasted lamb, which looked and tasted sublime. My photo can’t do it justice.

All this time, the servers kept an eye out on our table, making sure they’d swoop in at the right time to refill our wine glasses or freshen up our florets of sparkling water. They’re the types to say, “Fantastic” or “Excellent choice” if you pick just anything from the menu, including (surprise) asparagus soup. And they’ll drop by unobtrusively to ask you if you’re having a good time and how you found their dishes so far.

They’re so enthusiastic, in fact, that they’ll take away your plate even if your companion hasn’t finished yet, and they’ll clear your table as you’re chewing — which Joe says is just not done in Europe, of which this Italian restaurant is a sovereign subject.

But the taller and wiser-looking of our servers, Kenny, redeemed himself with a surprise treat after we’d swooned from the tiramisu — which was not too sweet nor bitter from the coffee and dark chocolate shavings. It was buttery from the eggs incorporated into the cream, which gives it that unorthodox yellow color.

After we’d polished off the little fishbowl, attached to a black ceramic plate, Kenny presented us with a small, free cheese plate (ordinarily HK$70 a slice), with four of the six cheeses that Joe was heartbroken over.

He instructed us to work our way from a soft cheese to the truffle pecorino to the Testun al Barolo (which is aged in a wine barrel, with crushed grapes on its surface that gives it such a nice flavor. The best.) and finally to the Gorgonzola. The platter came with some honey, orange marmalade and walnuts on the side.

Very happy with the loves of his life.

We learned later that we got the cheese platter instead of a black mini-cabinet containing, along with your invoice, some pralines, chocolates and macarons. But given that we’d just finished a whole bowl of Tiramisu (my choice, because I was informed that the dessert is always the lady’s choice) AND a plate of amazing cheeses (for which he apparently had a boner), we were pretty happy.

So the question is, do you just get duped into loving the food because of the price? (Our bill totaled around HK$2,600.) No. They don’t scrimp on quality, although I do wish the portions would be more generous, commensurate to the debt you are accumulating with every bite.

And would we go back? Yes, if we win the Mark Six. And by then, maybe we’ll just skip everything else and tackle that sexy cart of cheese.

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