Restaurant Review: Far From Being One Note, Mono By Ricardo Chaneton Is Already One Of 2020’s Most Exciting Openings
“Who doesn’t risk, doesn’t win,” a then-28-year-old Ricardo Chaneton told us, when he had first joined the team at Petrus in the Island Shangri-La hotel in 2016. The Italian-Venezuelan chef would spend the best part of four years toiling in the classic French restaurant, bringing a freshness and lightness to the old worldliness of the gilded dining room with his cuisine, one that was always immaculate in presentation and execution but never dull. We never quite understood how, given Chaneton’s pedigree (a stint at Spain’s Quique Dacosta, followed by seven years at Mirazur under powerhouse Mauro Colagreco) and technically brilliant cooking, the restaurant was snubbed by Michelin inspectors year after year. Until the end of 2019, when the team was finally rewarded with a star.
By that time, Chaneton had already hung up his apron at Petrus, embarking on his next adventure—taking a risk, one could say, by leaving the comfortable environs of a sturdy hotel group to launch a new venture, albeit with JIA, the award-winning hospitality group by Yenn Wong.
Is something considered risky if it ends up feeling more like a homecoming, or even destiny? Chaneton, surrounded by faded vinyls passed down by his music-loving father and tactile, handcrafted crockery, is the very definition of relaxed both times we’ve dined at Mono. The restaurant, which was designed by Wong’s husband Alan Lo, was done up in a way to encapsulate the feeling of a chic yet approachable home; a large chef’s counter mimics a kitchen island around which house guests might linger, chatting to the host, and a system of sliding walls out back means rooms can be configured to best suit groups both large and small. The ambience is warm, setting the stage for Chaneton’s multi-course feast—a mixture of influences coming together to present a meal that eschews many of the tired fine dining tropes we have become accustomed to in Hong Kong. Caviar, sea urchin and black truffle are still used, though in small amounts—but the most interesting dishes on the menu we found were those that made use of ingredients like Romanesco and garum, or the complex Latin American-style mole that is completed in front of you in a show of toasted spices.
Ultimately, what Chaneton is aiming to do is introduce—piece by piece—parts of his own Italian and Venezuelan identity that are intertwined with his French and Spanish culinary training, honed and perfected in a city like Hong Kong. Throughout the meal, you’re fed little nuggets of information that are, rather cleverly, designed to add delicious context to what you’re eating. Some of the more cynical will recall a study carried out by a local communications agency that suggested dishes are perceived to be more palatable when accompanied by a personal story or introduction by a personality; the more optimistic will see this as an opportunity to explore food in a way that is fully immersed in the unique cultural context of its creator. So when a dish of Icelandic Arctic char comes with Chaneton’s homage to beef tendons—the tiny batons are perfectly toothsome with a gentle stickiness, brightened up with the zap of fresh peppercorn—you can’t help but appreciate the thoughtfulness put towards its creation.
Each dish on the menu, currently, stands on its own as probable signatures. Romanesco cauliflower with sardines and garum (a Roman-style fish sauce) celebrates the finest of humble land and sea ingredients. On the more luxurious side, the Ocean Crudo, with its mix of plump Hokkaido scallops, Spanish Carabinero prawns and Brittany oysters and perfectly tart dressing sets the tone with its simultaneous simplicity and abundance of flavour. The same principle applies to the aforementioned mole, its glossy darkness concealing 21 ingredients (including spices, aubergine purée cooked with chocolate, nuts and activated charcoal, and chilli paste) cooked slowly and purposefully. It’s paired with a quintessentially French dish of Mieral pigeon, the deeply flavoured sauce adding “Latin American power” to the rare-cooked bird.
This confidence and slight irreverence is also found in the wine pairing menu, which successfully cobbles together wines, ciders, sakes and sherries to match the weaving narrative of Chaneton’s multi-genre menu. Highlights include a fresh Normandy pear cider by Eric Bordelet to open up the palate ahead of the meal, and a nutty, caramelly palo cortado playing well with lobster and vin jaune sauce. At the end of the meal, a soothing mate tea with desserts is a gentle hug that resets the richness and intensity of the feast.
With food this personal, Mono throws open the doors and shines a light on how chefs and restaurateurs can take a risk themselves by offering a different take on fine dining. Michelin or not, it seems the stars have aligned for this fine chef at last.
A meal for two including wine and service amounts to HK$4,000
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.