Delish Eats: IO Italian Omakase, Intimate Seafood-focused Fusion Dining
June 02, 2023
Restaurant story: Part of Italian Club Hong Kong, IO Italian Omakase marries the cuisines of Japan and Italy by playing with new flavour combinations. The eight-seater omakase counter transforms into a whiskey-focused bar and lounge once the clock strikes 10 PM, continuing your journey into the depths of the night.
Chef story: The Italian Omakase kitchen is helmed by Executive Chef San Lam, who from his Robuchon-decorated training, gained a wealth of cooking experience in the realm of traditional European techniques. Every chef behind the counter was friendly and approachable, animatedly painting a picture of their inspirations and thoughtful input into the dishes they presented to us.
What’s the vibe and venue like: Reflecting the core focus of the menu, the ocean-inspired décor and deep-sea blue interiors swathed us in an ambience that swept away the busy bustle of Central’s streets. Spotlights hang over the dining counter to show all the gorgeous plating in full glory, while we sank into the cushioned navy seating.
How much does it cost: The dinner was an eight-course affair that cost HK$1,580 per person, excluding service charge. Cocktails came at an addition, and either sake or wine pairing options are available at an added package price.
What is the menu about: The precision and techniques gleaned over the course of the chef’ experiences have been mixed with internationally sourced ingredients, and a sharp eye for balance in the palate. The meal gradually ramps up in terms of intensity of flavour, building smoothly over the course of the evening.
What did we order: Amuse Bouche, Hamachi with Blood Orange and Sicilian Lemon, Red Prawn Gazpacho, Hokkaido Scallop with Daikon and Oyster Leaf, Langoustine with Caviar and Zucchini, Sea Urchin and Cauliflower and Potato with Yuzu, Blue Lobster Bisque with Seaweed, Wagyu with Pumpkin and Mushroom, Black Sesame Panna Cotta.
Amuse Bouche (Parmesan Ball, Edamame Bean Tart): Enjoyed in the recommended order, with the tart first, the meal began on a fresh note that set the tone for the deliciousness to come. The edamame provided a creaminess that was given an added complexity thanks to some mixed herbs and a tart balance of anchovies, sauteed onions, and vinegared seasoning. Plus, the crunchy tart shell gave a contrasting textural element. The piping hot parmesan ball was dabbed with a mix of mushroom sauce and mustard leaf. Crumbling upon the first bite, the sharpness of the parmesan shone through on the tongue.
Hamachi, Blood Orange, Sicilian Lemon: Aged for two to three days before being sliced and fanned beautifully, the fish retained a lightness that played well with the white sturgeon caviar layered (quite generously) on top. As someone partial to caviar with a somehow contradictory distaste for piscine flavours, this dish managed to encapsulate the characteristic marine taste of its star ingredients without it being overpoweringly fishy, nor did the jellied blood orange try to overcompensate.
Red Prawn Gazpacho: Prepped Sicilian style, the dish plays with prawn in different states – rough cut and in the form of prawn oil crisps – and pairs it with a delectably refreshing soup made from watermelon and red pepper. The prawn itself carries the flavour of the gazpacho well, and holds its own in its buxom quality.
Hokkaido Scallop, Daikon, Oyster Leaf: The anticipation for our first hot dish was dialed high thanks to the smokey smell wafting over from the flame torch cooking we scored a peek at. Playing with particles again, the daikon was transformed into an accompanying bite and into a foam that blanketed the dish. The foam itself served as a neutralizer for the oyster leaf and acidic sea caviar that gave the scallop an extra punch. If I could have my way, I could easily clean up a whole stew’s worth of the foam and dashi-flavoured daikon cubes.
Langoustine, Caviar, Zucchini: Draped over a bed of zucchini salad and puree, the fresh New Zealand-in-origin scampi was bright and light. The main attraction, however, was a decadently creamy champagne sauce spiked with sauteed shallots. It completely transformed the course into something with more depth.
Sea Urchin, Cauliflower, Potato, Yuzu: Stunning us upon presentation, the glass-like form cradling the uni and toppings was in fact a piece of toast crafted from potato starch and kuzu starch, making for a visual delight that looked like a futuristic canape from an aquatic world. A heavenly mishmash of differing textures and flavours, the earthiness of the kuzu shone through to complement the sweetness of the uni and the sour of the yuzu caviar.
Blue Lobster, Bisque, Seaweed: The preparation for this dish entices all onlookers, teasing for the meat to come. The bisque is deconstructed as a saucy accompaniment, with pickled leaf and seaweed powder for bite. Of all the shellfish dishes so far, this tops the experience on the umami scale.
Wagyu, Pumpkin, Mushroom: The wagyu was a standout dish, and not because it was the sole red meat item on the menu. Beginning with our noses, the fragrance of the beef is at once pleasantly fatty and salty, promising the luxuriant mouthfuls to come. The beef was first sous vide before being cooked, melting in the mouth almost instantly. Pumpkin puree and a vinegary salad were a sidepiece offering a bit of balance, along with a red wine glaze, the latter of which I felt wasn’t a necessity for the dish.
Panna Cotta, Black Sesame: Dressed in a heap of fresh raspberry sorbet, the panna cotta was a creamy treat that didn’t feel as overwhelming as it’s dairy counterpart would have been for a post-meal denouement. The sesame itself provided an intriguing taste without being too sweet, making for a great finisher to a meal that gradually ramped up in flavour. We were also given a digestif shot of yuzu and sake afterwards, leaving us invigorated and cleansed.
What we liked: Despite oceanic produce being served as the main component of nearly every course, the dishes felt far from trite, and has the potential to excite both lovers and those who avoid seafood. I also enjoyed that the meal didn’t feel heavy, and we were also excited to unravel every reinterpretation of Italian and Japanese elements that appeared.
What we didn’t like: Depending on the type of night you are looking for, the space can be limited for big groups or upbeat celebrations (unless you decide to book the venue). At times the music felt a little incongruent to the intimate setting, but DJ nights, slated for Fridays and Saturdays after 10 PM, may prove me wrong.
What you should order: As the meal is an omakase format, simply book your spots, get seated, and let the chefs take you on a multicultural culinary journey.
Location: IO Italian Omakase, 2/F The Plaza, 21 D'Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong
Contact details: +852 5808 0132 / [email protected]
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by IO Italian Omakase in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous Delish Eats reviews here
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