Cornerstone: Solid, first class offerings despite the razzmatazz (9.0)

Cornerstone’s brainchild Shane Osborn is the chef behind the better known Arcane. You might also recognize him from Netflix’s The Final Table, where he made it to the finals. Arcane has one Michelin star, and Cornerstone also made it to Michelin’s Bib Gourmand guide.

Michelin stars are hardly a foolproof guide to consistent, first-rate fare, and chefs who have gained some degree of fame tend to turn themselves (or be turned) into commercial ventures that, more often than not, seem to lead to disappointing dining experiences over time. Because, let’s face it, apart from the higher expectations that come along with an expensive check, when it comes to a dedication to deliver a particular culinary experience, the effort tends not to scale well. At least not easily so.

But Cornerstone has exceeded my expectations. The décor is modern and neat with clean lines, and the entire place has a relaxing vibe to it with its steel blue and white and light wooden colors. Waiting staff are attentive and professional. Behind the impossibly heavy door, it’s the place for a perfectly tranquil moment in bustling Central.

The menu is pretty compact, but still enough to cater to a wide range of dietary preferences. While many of the “main courses” were ostensibly rooted in British and American style cooking, there were a good many dishes and starters that were more globally inspired. We went on two consecutive weekends and tried a few of them, our favorite being the grilled Spanish octopus, but everything else was faultless, quite original and very delicious.

Brunch is at $298 for one starter and one main course. We liked the octopus so much from our first visit that we ordered another octopus separately on top of our brunch sets on our second visit. If it wasn’t for the sake of diversity, we joked that ideally we’d order three octopuses.

If I could make one complaint, it would be that tap water or hot water wasn’t available or complimentary. Only filtered water is available at $18 per person. It isn’t a matter of how much it costs, but the fact that a restaurant in Hong Kong wouldn’t offer water for free is almost offensive. That servers have to awkwardly point it out every time a diner requests for water is evidence of its oddity—especially in light of their no-service-charge policy. Otherwise, everything’s good.

Food Rundown

Yellow fin tuna, $168
This is the perfect starter for me because it’s so light and delicate. It comes with a bit of dashi for some flavor, while sesame, cucumber and daikon add a refreshing crunch.

Steak tartare, $168
This was memorably good. Truffle was there more than to impress, as it really lent some depth to the flavors of the tartare. The tartare also had celeriac and watercress to balance and some parmesan for extra richness. I can’t be certain about the magic ratio of shallots and mustard and herbs and various other condiments here, but we order steak tartare everywhere we go, even in France, and this was one of the best versions.

Roasted pumpkin salad, $158
Burrata and roasted pumpkin may be ordinary ingredients, but this was really an earthy, nutty and texture-rich dish that was much more satisfying than it looks. All the goodness rests in the skin of a pumpkin, add some beurre noisette to that and roast, and you have the most perfect starter. The kale and almond were also crispy and fun. I’d just prefer the portion size to be half of what it is now because it is an incredibly heavy dish.

Baked Taiyouran egg, $178
This was quite suitable for a weekend brunch, and quite very Anglo—other than the use of eggs from Japan. Baked eggs are hardly ever going to go wrong, and accompanying that with some Merguez instead of bacon was a welcome change, giving the eggs more flavor and excitement. While hearty, I thought the dish was again a little heavy overall, especially with toasted malt bread that was completely covered in grease.

Grilled Spanish Octopus, $208
The octopus was the star of the menu. It was super tender and the ends of its tentacles were grilled to perfect crispiness. The potato slices were buttery and very aromatic. The dish was more or less Mediterranean style, with a bed of Catalonian-style romesco sauce and olives and dried tomatoes as garnishes.

Wagyu steak sandwich, $218
Here you have wagyu that doesn’t disappoint (we tend to find wagyu a little too bland in comparison to other types of quality cows). While the ciabatta was filled with standard ingredients like mustard mayo, onion, and veggies, it was truly a treat with great flavors. Highly recommended.

Americano, $36
This was mostly fine, but nothing much to write home about.

G/F, Hilltop Plaza, 49 Hollywood, Soho, Central
$$, Western