Restaurant Review: Central’s Zest By Konishi Runs Smooth But Lacks Surprises
On Lan Street remains the hidden gem of Central’s dining scene, with good restaurants on a single building, from Shane Osborn’s Arcane to kaiseki restaurant Kashiwaya to contemporary Japanese Ryota Kappou Modern. Lai Sun Dining Group’s Zest By Konishi has joined the fray, taking over two top floors where On Dining formerly resided. With a similar two-storey concept, where guests enter from the lounge on the top floor to reach the dining room one floor below, Zest by Konishi is the latest fine dining offering from the restaurant group which also runs Beefbar, 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo, and Ciak, all within walking distance from one another.
Taking the helm of the new restaurant is Mitsuru Konishi, who made a return to the Hong Kong dining scene after opening Wagyu Takumi, known today as Takumi by Daisuke Mori. Guests with a reservation at the dining room will be led through the narrow staircase to the floor below, revealing a rather small space. With an abundance of light tones of wood and thick carpeting throughout the dining room, the space is well-lit with warm lighting at night while welcoming city lights through floor-to-ceiling windows. Tables by the windows are accented with hues of green and muted pink, and they are the best spots in the restaurant as they are the most spacious. The middle row of sofas seemed a bit low and less private as they are lined right beside the kitchen pass. A semi-private room at the end of the space holds four two-top tables, but we do not recommend it as the room tends to be rather stuffy and very close to one another.
Zest by Konishi runs only one degustation menu, a five-course dinner with plenty of choices for guests. The upside of such arrangement is that guests in parties of two can all enjoy different courses to their liking and can share amongst themselves. The downside, was the amount of information and description needed to explain the menu doubles before the bread arrives.
We began with three amuse bouche items. Carrot cigarettes were laid on a bed of cardamom, its golden brown standing out from the muted green pods. The filo exterior was thin and crisp, revealing a creamy filling of carrot puree that was sweet but not cloyingly so. Deep-fried ayu fish with shiso and umeboshi was a tad oily with the bread crumb coating. The fish was tender, but the umeboshi, or preserved plum gelee, was so overpowering it masked the lightness of the fish. Akagai, or ark shell clam, with cauliflower and courgette was light, with a fine puree of cauliflower accented with a little too much garlic. Diced courgettes contributed to good texture similar to the raw shellfish though.
Our first course of Kawahagi fish liver with tosazu sauce was creamy and light. The tartness of tosazu vinegar helped cut through the richness of the fish liver. Green garden with tomato extraction was a beautifully-executed garden featuring a melange of ingredients from fennel to asparagus spears, lightened with a drizzle of tomato consommé with a burst of umami that lingers between bites.
Slow-cooked wagyu beef consommé was the right temperature, but the wagyu sirloin and braised short rib bites were a bit cold. The consommé, however, was impressive and had us wanting more. Mushroom risotto with broccoli, a vegetable-oriented second course, was refreshing. Earthy mushrooms played the central role of the creamy risotto, an al dente creation lightened with broccoli puree hidden underneath.
Kinmedai with spinach and enoki mushrooms were a little bit of a let-down: two thinly-sliced fish sandwiching an enoki mushroom-filled spinach roll with a chicken dashi. The fish was underseasoned and the broth was overly so. Shelled Hokkaido scallop with seaweed butter, however, stayed succulent with just the right hint of brininess from the homemade seaweed butter.
Konishi’s main course features red meats. The Iwate wagyu tenderloin with caramelised onion was overly simple and held little surprise; the wagyu tenderloin could benefit with a better seared exterior though. Challandais duck with sansho and mango was better. The crunchy skin and tender duck breast, a generous portion of the red meat, was perfect, if only the herbaceous Japanese mountain pepper, was more prominent against the fruity mango topping and the gamey poultry main course.
Desserts remain a light and fresh affair. Mochi yuba sheet with white sesame ice cream was simple but good. Multiple textures of soy bean from kinako powder to fresh and crisp tofu sheets are fantastic with the glutinous mochi. The plum, peach, and yomogi meringue was too simple, and lacking complexity with out-of-season Japanese white peaches and plums that were still a little too tart to be served at dessert, but citrus madeleines served at the end of the meal are warm with a soft crumb and impressive.
The wine list at Zest by Konishi is on point with a good selection of bottles from France, Italy and New World countries, the wines-by-the-glass options are adequate—if only they are served properly in the correct wine glass and temperature.
Service can be a hit-or-miss at Zest by Konishi depending on where you sit. If you sit inside the semi-private dining room you’re likely going to be sharing service with your neighbouring three tables also from inside the room, which can be occasionally confusing, but guests at tables in the main dining room will receive better attention and its service is more consistent throughout the experience.
Zest by Konishi is finding its feet in its ‘Japanese ingredients with French execution’ direction, one that is also relevant in fine dining establishments such as Amber and Arbor, but at this point it needs effort to polish its consistency in seasoning and service in order to become the excellent dining establishment it wishes to be.
A meal for two with one beverage and service: around HK$3,100
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.