French and Italian
Date of review: November 6, 2014 | Reviewed by: Charmaine Mok
It’s easy to forget that Pak Tsz Lane park exists, that little courtyard flanked by small alleyways leading from Hollywood Road, Aberdeen Street, Gage Street and Peel Street. It’s the perfect little hideaway that places like Neighborhood were meant to inhabit – discreet, insider, and away from the well-trodden thoroughfare. The restaurant is small, with just a handful of tables, bar seating, and a comfortable banquet out front, done up in smart shades of grey with dark wood. Don’t be fooled by the homely name: Neighborhood is more Chelsea than Croydon, with a simple elegance that sets the scene for the food and wine. Our suggestion: book the hidden private room in the back. The acoustics in the main restaurant suffers from those sleek, hard surfaces, and it takes just one loud group to leave your ears ringing.
The menu at Neighborhood changes weekly, with seasonal ingredients and daily specials at the heart of it. Chef-owner David Lai (behind other successful restaurants such as On Lot 10, Bistronomique, and Kushiyaki Beco), is a champion of nose-to-tail dining, and his classical French training coupled with Mediterranean sensibilities shows through in a concise menu that showcases dishes such as artichoke barigoule, various homemade pastas, and an update on bouillabaisse. In an excellent charcuterie platter, we love the silky, melt-on-the-tongue curls of lardo (flecked with just a little bit of chilli flakes), while a mackerel crudo was fresh with peppery rocket, radishes, and tart nubs of pomegranate. The latter would have been better with a touch more acidity and salt, as the fish wasn’t quite flavoursome enough to justify the light amount of seasoning. We’d also say the same of the wagyu beef tartare; while the Cantabrian anchovies added the salty tang, we missed the zing and crunch from more traditional capers and onions. On a plus point, Lai is not afraid to cook items like pig’s feet and sweetbreads, and to tackle tripe in a city that gets evangelical about beefy innards is certainly a sign of confidence. Done Roman-style, the tripe gratin is flavoursome and tender, clearly a result of conscientious slow-cooking and copious amounts of tomato, garlic, and wine. There’s also trendy bone marrow in a textbook perfect risotto (over which we request pungent shavings of white Alba truffle), and crispy frog leg fritters in a tomato concasse, its sharp base mellowed out by a gooey onsen egg. Do not – and we repeat, do not – leave without trying the chocolate palette, a dessert that impressed even those ambivalent about cocoa. A crisp, slightly salty pastry base holds a luxuriously silky chocolate ganache filling that is perfectly balanced in sweetness.
Like the food menu, the wine list is kept small and changes frequently, with boutique labels and natural wines – all available by the glass and with reasonable mark-ups for Central. The minerally Pouilly-Fumé Domaine Lebrun 2012 was a muscular match for most of the dishes we had.
As expected of a restaurant with such a friendly name, the service is convivial and relaxed. Recommendations come keenly (though sometimes we felt we were being pushed a bit hard to go for the supplementary white truffles) and staff make an effort to explain the menu. For a small restaurant though, we would have liked closer attention to detail: none of our (small) plates were changed, problematic considering the many dishes that came with different sauces.
A meal for two with a glass of wine each will come to about HK$1,000 (service charge is not included in the bill). Portions are well priced and for the Central location the cost is rather reasonable.