Arcane: Lively flavors (9.0)

While I am known by friends and family to be the kind of person who sticks with the same dish at the same restaurant or at home about nine meals out of ten throughout childhood and university, I made a deliberate effort to be the exact opposite in 2015 and have stuck with that commitment ever since. Even during the pandemic, I score about ten new restaurants every month, but the effort is appearing to generate less and less good finds that are worthy of being written about. Forget about reviews on all sorts of online platforms or even the Michelin guide—which are hardly a reliable pointer to good restaurants—the reason for which industry insiders should know too well. I increasingly find myself doing repeats the way I used to do, so my updates have become less frequent.

But when I see how writings of my experiences are generating a meaningful impact for both diners and businesses, no matter how small the difference is, it rejuvenates me and reminds me why I started reviewing restaurants in the first place. Ultimately, it comes down to a willingness to keep taking risks to be able to spot the small handful of serious kitchens and catering teams that consistently strive to deliver a solid experience with originality, even if that effort isn’t profit-maximizing for the restaurants in the most direct way.

After our first visit to Cornerstone, we continued to lunch there once a week on four consecutive weeks despite a menu that never changed. How could we, then, not pay Arcane—also with Chef Shane Osborn behind it—a visit? It turned out to be a more than decent find. Though it was somewhat on the pricier side, I thought it offered something refreshing from repetitious and uninspired menus.

The generous use of herbs and vegetables and bold ventures in mix-and-matching cross-cultural cooking styles are a prominent theme that runs through the various offerings. Many a high-end restaurant experimenting with their version of nouvelle cuisine have descriptions of dishes showcasing a range of uncommon ingredients to impress, but at Arcane, I was surprised by how well they actually turned out. The flavors are lively and vibrant. Seasoning is light and playful. Plating is, naturally, carefully considered for maximum aesthetic pleasure.

While the kitchen is more or less open, tables are generally placed away from it and one would probably hesitate to walk up and enjoy the action. Nevertheless, being the only table served during the first half of our meal, and with dishes taking longer than usual, our restlessness was spotted by one of the chefs who kept looking in our direction to check on our status and it was evident that he was moving as quickly as he could to ensure a less painful wait for our hungry tummies. I very much appreciated that.

Hospitality was solid. Servers were amiable and polite. With a 10% service charge, tap water and hot water are freely available. The ambience was more or less formal with a touch of casualness that would suit most occasions. The terrace also offers a few tables for those who prefer dining outdoors.

Food Rundown

Lightly cured rainbow trout with charred lettuce, horseradish, lovage and smoked dashi, $268
This was my perfect kind of starter: lightly seasoned seafood, ideally raw. But it also looked gorgeous, and had a number of delightful ingredients. The lovage gave the fish a pretty unique flavor and the charred lettuce and broccoflower were a great companion for the delicate rainbow trout—sweet and crunchy. Horseradish and smoked dashi lent the dish an extra depth that was memorable.

Hokkaido scallops with coconut and coriander cream, courgette, capsicum and finger lime, $288
These scallops were more tropically flavored with a bit of spice and zest. Coconut and coriander cream gave the meaty scallops an even fuller and more pleasurable mouthfeel. It made me feel like summer.

Loin of venison rolled in parsley crumb, imam bayildi, caraway spiced carrots, dill yoghurt, $508
I love the earthiness and firmness of venison (oh no, am I eating Bambi?) and as it doesn’t make a frequent appearance on menus in Hong Kong, I have to get it when it does. The loin was nicely wrapped in a coat of parsley crumbs, the flesh still moist and not the least bit dried out, and the bed of imam bayildi that I don’t dare indulge in (due to its incredible calorie density) was dreamily scrumptious. I didn’t think I needed the dollops of yoghurt, but the whole make-up of the dish did seem to be a conscious adaptation of Middle Eastern flavors which, I thought, was a welcome attempt.

Braised wagyu short rib with celeriac, pea shoots, black garlic, onion jus, $508
This dish was somewhat less of a star, but the short ribs were still meltingly tender, accompanied by an intense jus and generous helpings of vegetables. I would like to think that a non-wagyu cut would be more flavorful, as braised ribs are going to be very tender anyway. But the dish was satisfying enough in any case.

3/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central
$$$$, Western