Arcane /ɑːˈkeɪn/ adjective
Understood by few; mysterious or secret
Despite the dictionary definition, I promise that you won’t need a degree from Hogwarts to understand the food at Shane Osborn’s new restaurant, Arcane. It’s simple – it’s stunning.
Having fallen head over taste buds in love with Osborn’s cooking, I was absolutely gutted to hear that he had left St Betty, the restaurant that brought him to Hong Kong following his award-winning stint at London’s Pied a Terre. But that sadness quickly turned into elation when I discovered that Osbourn was in fact opening his own restaurant in Central.
Located on the third floor of a brand new building on On Lan Street, the interior of Arcane is pretty unassuming – the décor is nothing exciting (although there is a lovely terrace garden where Shane grows fruit, veggies and herbs for the kitchen) – but frankly, you don’t need design tricks and kicks when your food is this good.
We started with cured Hokkaido scallops with spanner crab, butternut squash, yuzu and sesame – an almost summery little number that danced across my palate as effortlessly as Darcey Bussell jete-ing across stage. This dish was just so well balanced: the light sweetness of the seafood paired beautifully with those nutty sesame flavours, and all brought to vibrant life by the citrus buzz of yuzu.
If the scallops were Arcane’s pirouetting ballerinas, then the truffle gnocchi were more like the dancing mushrooms from Fantasia: velvety, earthy yet still graceful. This was like comfort food gone to finishing school – soft fluffy pillows of potato dumplings with a morel ragout, oh-so-moreish black truffle and a drizzle of cep puree. That’s a whole lotta fungi but boy, does it work; it’s light but rich but delicate but earthy and it hits every texture point en route. There’s some charred leek too… perhaps not enough, because that stuff is seriously tasty.
Next, pan-fried mackerel with Jerusalem artichoke puree and pickled mushrooms. Once again, the dish couldn’t be better balanced if Osborn actually owned some magical scales that tot up flavours and textures. The fish is dense and meaty with a perfectly crispy skin; the sauce is creamy but not too heavy, and invigorated with a hum of lemon; the pickles are an inspired umami-packed touch that I couldn’t get enough of.
However, it was the roast suckling pig that really had me making my best #foodgasm face. The term melt-in-mouth is totally overused but this stuff… well, I’m not sure a phrase has been invented for quite how achingly tender this meat was. The Iberico pork here has been combined with morteau (a French smoked sausage), and of course there’s that supreme layer of crackling; it’s smoky, salty, fatty, rich, juicy and drunk on flavour – like Richard Burton said about Liz Taylor, it’s “just too bloody much”… and yet it’s somehow not. It’s flawless. I absolutely loved the bed of choucroute (fancy word for sauerkraut), which acts as the perfect foil to the pork’s fatty wickedness, and it’s all brought to a standing ovation finish thanks to just-right amounts of root vegetable puree and carrot jus.
I’m such a chocoholic that it’s got to the stage where a meal doesn’t quite feel complete unless it ends with some cocoa. Chocolate and nuts (my favourite combo)? Even better! Arcane’s praline mousse was pretty much as good as mousses get – silky smooth, effortlessly airy but with a rich nutty flavour – whilst the accompanying chocolate feuillantine crunch provided an essential and delicious contrast of textures. My only slight quibble, and probably my first one throughout the whole meal to be honest, was that I found the crème fraiche rather too heavy for the dish.
If you’re not a chocoholic and need the perfect ending for your meal, then may I direct you to the yuzu and lemon posset? It’s as light, refreshing and sunny as Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (yes, I will mention that film in everything I write!). The sparky zest from yuzu, lemon and poached mandarins was flawlessly tempered by the mellow tang of yoghurt ice cream and the undulating smooth creaminess of the posset itself – and I all out adored the almost sherbet fizz of the foam on top.
But wait! That’s not all! Make sure you save a canele-sized space for Shane’s speciality petit fours. These are SO good. Caramelised crispy on the outside, decadently custardy within, and totally worthy of guttural noises of pleasure.
The prices at Arcane probably put it at “special occasion” level – a la carte starters are around $250, mains $450 and desserts $130 – but for food this wonderful, I think it’s wholly justified. There’s also a well-priced set lunch at $270 for two courses or $350 for three… just avoid undoing your economical ways with their loose-leaf tea, which is inexplicably priced at $100 per pot. Service was also fantastic on my visit – staff were swift and knowledgeable but unobtrusive.
Every dish I tried here was truly excellent – clean, sophisticated, refined, clever… but all whilst tasting absolutely bloody amazing too. In a city filled with gimmicks and bandwagons, what I love about Shane’s style is that, although the techniques within might be complicated (and don’t get me wrong, he really is a supremely talented chef), it actually boils down to pretty simple stuff – great ingredients cooked with confidence, great flavours balanced masterfully, and all delivered with real finesse.
So perhaps the real mystery about Arcane is how more chefs in Hong Kong can’t make things even half as good as this when Osborn just makes it look so easy. Classy stuff.
Arcane, 3/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2728 0178
Note: I know Shane from my previous job so he recognised me when I came in and was kind enough to send out a few extra dishes on the house (not intentional I promise, but much appreciated!); we ended up paying around $500 a head.