Half & Half emphasizes its Mediterranean inspiration in dishes, and serves equal portions of half bottles of wine for pairing. Rebecca Lo gives it top scores.
Kennedy Town is Soho without the pretension. It seems that every time I go west, I discover a new restaurant that makes the journey worthwhile. With the northern side of Davis Street now bursting with international flavors vying for attention, its southern side is undergoing rapid transformations that will soon make it one of Hong Kong's eat streets.
Half & Half opened last August and bills itself as a neighborhood wine bar. Located on the leafy corner of Davis and Forbes streets, it is perfect for after-work drinks, a romantic meal for two, dinner with family or Sunday brunch with friends.
The space is typical of Soho restaurants: Long and narrow, it is dominated by a bar and an open kitchen that takes up one rear corner. A portion of the kitchen facing the main entrance is devoted to a walk-in wine cellar, with its careful selection by the restaurant's manager Shin Chan.
Chan, a chatty former sommelier who worked at five-star hotels and wine bars before Half & Half's director Elle Lei hired him, stopped by my table to introduce his restaurant's concept. "Our dishes are inspired by the Mediterranean," he says. "Our chef Tim Ho previously worked for Umberto Bombana," referring to the three-Michelin-starred Hong Kong-based Italian chef.
"All of our wine comes in half bottles, as we specialize in wine pairings. We feel that wine and food each form half of the whole experience."
I saw that almost half of the restaurants' tables are barstools, and the menu offers a snack section with mouth-watering choices such as eggplant lasagna, wagyu beef cheeks with roasted potatoes, and a foie gras burger. There is a makeshift table consisting of wooden wine crates in front of the restaurant popular with the al fresco drinks crowd.
Unlike many wine bars where guests are expected to be in and out within the hour and contain less than comfortable furniture to facilitate speedy turnovers, Half & Half encourages guests to stay as long as they like. The heavy wooden tables and chairs mirror a wooden-slat ceiling, while weathered red bricks on the walls, sealed concrete floors and art deco pendant lamps provide additional warmth and character.
The impressive wine list boasts some 25 whites, roses and sparklings and 40 reds available in 375 ml bottles. As expected, French labels dominate, but there was also a decent choice of Italian, American, Australian, New Zealand, Portuguese, Chilean and Argentinean vintages.
Chan also offers a few reds and whites by the glass, which he changes daily to give guests more choice each time they visit.
Those who hanker for a beer or cocktail won't fare as well, as there is only Stella Artois and no other spirits are available. This is a wine bar.
Chan mentions that Half & Half will be participating in the summer edition of Restaurant Week Hong Kong from Aug 1-10, and that some of its best-selling dishes will most likely make up the set menu. With his help, I decided that I would try a few of the chef's suggestions.
I started with a complimentary amuse-bouche of cherry tomato topped with basil cream that was lighter than air. I then moved on to a Parma ham with melon shot that was a novel way to enjoy the Italian snack.
A thin, well-marbled slice of ham is fanned on top of a shot glass full of cantaloupe juice with small chunks of the fruit. As recommended by Shin, I kept the ham in my mouth before downing the liquid: The stark contrast between the rich and salty ham with the cold and refreshing fruit juice was intoxicating.
Next was baked avocado with crabmeat. Served in a half shell of avocado skin and topped with melted cheese, it was decadent. Chan poured a half glass of Bella chardonnay from Chile to pair with the dish, and its slight fruity acidity help to cut the avocado's richness.
As Half &Half specializes in pasta, I then tried prawn linguine with lobster bisque. The pasta was deliciously al dente, and I could taste a hint of the capers in the tomato sauce.
The roasted Mediterranean-style suckling pig was my favorite dish of the day. Its skin was perfectly crispy and yielded to tender morsels of pork belly. Chan paired it with a sweet and fruity Mosel Richter Estate riesling that went well with the meat's saltiness.
I finished with an airy lemon parfait for a sweet note after all those savory flavors, and promised myself that Kennedy Town would top my list of dining destinations from now on.
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IF YOU GO
Half & Half Wine Bar and Restaurant
Shop 5, G/F, Sincere Western House, 42 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong. 852-2855-0528.
Average cost per person: HK$400 ($52).
Recommended: Parma Ham with Melon Shot, Roasted Mediterranean-style Suckling Pig .
Parma ham with melon shot is a good way to enjoy the Italian snack at Half&Half Wine Bar and Restaurant in Hong Kong. Photos by Rebecca Lo / For China Daily
The roasted Mediterranean-style suckling pig is a signature dish at the restaurant.
(China Daily 06/28/2014 page12)