It's been tough visiting restaurants this year, with the waves of the pandemic ebbing and flowing as the months go by. Back in September, when Hong Kong's third wave finally started to die down again, we had the opportunity to venture out on one of our first restaurants dates in a long time. Our friend Chef Agustin Balbi, who previously headed up Haku in Harbour City, had recently opened Ando Hong Kong under the JIA Group, the same group that oversees 22 Ships, Duddel's, and Chachawan.
Chef Agustin Balbi is from Argentina but his roots are Italian and Spain. His childhood food memories lean towards Spanish food because his Spanish grandmother raised him while he was young. He has also embraced Japanese culture. Balbi spent five years living and working in Japan (at fine establishments like Nihonryori Ryugin!). He speaks fluent Japanese and is married to a Japanese woman.
We were excited to see how Chef Balbi, now with complete free reign, would express his Italian and Spanish roots in conjunction with his Japanese training.
Ando Hong Kong - Our Meal
The dinner menu includes two different tasting menus, a six-course Presentation for HKD1288 (HKD1088 for the wine pairing) and Experience for HKD1688 (HKD1288 for the pairing).
Since it was our first time, we decided to get the Experience to fully "experience" Chef Balbi's new creations.
Amuse Bouche and Appetizers
"Que Raro Este Fan" literally means "what's wrong with this flan" in Spanish. This dish is a Japanese steamed egg custard, or chawanmushi, with flower crab, shimenji, chives, abalone gelee, celery, black seaweed salt, and sansho pepper leaf.
The abalone had a clean flavor and the celery notes were strong. The rich, unctuous abalone gelee balanced nicely with the paired sherry.
Our next course was an A4 wagyu beef tartare with white kombu, yuzu kosho, chives, and garlic. This was an extra course, not part of the regular Experience tasting menu.
The next course, Departure, included five raw seafood selections that varied day to day. They came artfully presented in a series of interlocking hexagons.
We each got to choose which beautiful hand-crafted chopsticks we wanted to use.
We traveled the world as we tasted these bites, from left to right:
1. Italy: white fish, caviar, and olive oil
2. Spain: raw shrimp served in a boldly flavored shrimp head sauce
3. Japan: hamachi (yellowtail), koji, and sansho pepper leaf
4. Japan: scallop (hotate) + served in a ponzu sauce plus a lily bulb
5. Japan: Akami (tuna) plus yuzu kosho took us back to Japan.
We enjoyed riesling paired with the shellfish dishes and a sake with the fish dishes.
I love bread, and the seaweed umami bread was fantastic. We enjoyed it with both Hokkaido miso butter and a Valencia special olive oil "El Poaig".
One of my favorites dishes was this brilliant almond white garlic soup "A LO DE ÑECA" which literally means to ÑECA’S house. This beautiful almond soup incorporates shrimp, toasted almonds, prawn oil, kombu (seaweed), razor clams, and sea grapes.
The traditional version of this dish uses sardines, but Chef Balbi modified the dish to suit Hong Kong palates since Hong Kongers would find the sardines too fishy.
We enjoyed this paired with an Italian wine with smoky ash notes.
Our next pairing involved and unusual orange wine that was fruity and aromatic but also dry. I could taste an orange peel bitterness that seemed almost herbaceous and “medicinal” (sort of like bitters).
We had the orange wine with Medio Mundo ("half world"), a perfectly cooked piece of kinmedai (golden eye snapper) with kombu and Romesco, burnt rose leeks and bonito, and herbs. The Romesco had a beautiful, intense red pepper flavor. The fish was perfectly cooked. All in all, it was a lovely dish.
Risas del Jardin (Garden's Laugh) was beautifully plated to look like a verdant forest but was actually predominantly a piece of Kumamoto wagyu A4 steak. On top were carefully placed chanterelle mushrooms, banana shallots, microgreens a roasted piquillo pepper sauce, and jus.
We dish was perfectly executed and the flavors were comforting and more classical (beef, mushrooms, and the like!). This paired very well with the burgundy.
The next course, Sin Lola (Without Lola) was our favorite dish of the evening. A beautiful blend of Spain and Hong Kong, this was the ultimate seafood congee "jook" 粥 or “pao fan” 泡飯 made with Spanish Caldoso rice. The seafood broth was fantastic due to its bounty of seafood inside, including espardenyas (a type of sea cucumber), scallops, and more umami from cured Spanish beef. We enjoyed it paired with a “soju” which was excellent
But first, a palate cleanser? This was a beautiful, very seasonal tofu panna cotta with Spanish nectarine and ume purple potato. I appreciated how it was not too sweet (tailored for the Hong Kong palate)/ Delicious.
Our second dessert was a perfect, beautiful flower-shaped wagashi (traditionally in Japan a mochi sweet). This wagashi tasted more like a bon bon or a European truffle chocolate, filled with a liquidy passion fruit caramel and 85% dark chocolate.
We finished with a Fuji apple gelee with a shiso leaf and a creme brûlée bon bon with a lovely dark chocolate liquid center. They warned us to "eat it all in one bite!"
Ando Hong Kong - General Thoughts
Visiting Ando was a lovely way to venture back out into society after hunkering down for a couple months. Chef Balbi was very welcoming and even found some time to say hello to us at the end, even though he has been very, very busy with many nights booking out completely.
The restaurant did a great job following safety protocols and keeping everyone social distanced. All staff wore masks and the entire time and overall I felt quite safe.
I really enjoyed trying Chef Balbi's many creative expressions of the culmination of his Spanish and Italian heritage combined with his extensive Japanese training. Spanish, Italian, and Japanese cuisines are among my favorites, so it's not surprising that I would enjoy Chef Balbi's creative fusion of those cuisine.
Our favorite courses were the almond garlic soup and the seafood Caldoso rice dish, though everything is very good. I'm not surprised that the restaurant was difficult to book, even in the midst of a pandemic. Highly recommended!
Ando Hong Kong
1/F, Somptueux Central,
52 Wellington Street, Central
This is one of many posts that are part of the Eating in Hong Kong During Covid Times challenge of writing 50 posts in 50 days, mostly about Hong Kong. Head over to that link to see a list of all posts in this series.
Haku Hong Kong
Haku A Second Visit
Amber Hong Kong - 2 Michelin Stars
100 Days in Hong Kong - Reflections and a New Challenge
Sushi Masataka Hong Kong
Sushi Nakamoto Hong Kong
IM Teppanyaki Hong Kong
ICHU Peruvian Hong Kong
Dos Palillos - Japanese Spanish fusion in Barcelona