1/F Wo On Building, 8-13 Wo On Lane, Central
Common Room, Prive Group’s new gastropub venture, does exactly what it says on the tin: ‘classic, contemporary and molecular cocktails’, paired with ‘world-inspired’ tapas. I suppose with such a glorified menu of generalities, it’s not hard for whatever they produce to fit their rather abstract incarnation of a culinary bill. Although the notion of ‘global cuisine’, ‘global food’, or ‘world-inspired’ might seem anathema to foodie purists or, on the flip side, like a backpedaling restaurant strategy to cop-out from any serious food philosophy, at the end of the day I don’t believe Common Room really cares, and I guess neither do I. It is the Common Room of Lan Kwai Fong; anything goes after hours.
From my experience on a Friday night: drinks come first, food second, and when you’re situated smack bang just off the strait and narrow of Lan Kwai Fong – next to good ol’ grimey Baby Buddha, Oysters Bar with cheap, full-of-regret Long Island Ice Teas, and the amphitheater with artsy, hemp-hooved hippies who’d rather sit in the humidity drinking their Sols at whatever pace they please thank you very much – well, you’d be stupid not to. And the food that was served complimented our libations particularly well, in that drunken “damn, this is good munch, and shit! Is that truffle?” kind of way.
In all, Common Room is just far too casual, far too fun and far too well priced for a Central joint, to pass any damning judgement. I know: shock, horror! A chic new gastropub in Central that actually takes reservations, makes you full, and doesn’t turn your wallet skinny?! Hong Kong, I think I heard the food cherubs singing hallelujah! OK, fine – I would have, if Common Room hadn’t killed my earbuds with the incessant, loud, drunken chatter and that sick Funktion One soundsystem.
My friends and I drink a lot (we’re Hong Kong born and bred International kids, of course we do), but the Air Mail ($160) is one strong cocktail! And after a few sips, yes you are indeed throwing the paper plane around. And gosh, I was so happy about that little paper plane I don’t even know why! A real nice touch.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a rum and champagne mix, but after this, I will definitely be seeking out some more champagne cocktails that aren’t mimosas or bellinis. Slightly sweet, probably due to the honey and aged rum, but this is a nice, fun way to get smashed.
Another on the cocktail menu was the Hokkaido sake cocktail ($110). I didn’t have this myself, but A says it tasted like a light mojito, with a refreshing hint of cucumber. It was the opposite to mine in that he thought it was pretty light, but then again he could just be saying that because of some casual-alcoholic machismo. I did notice our other diner had 42 Berries ($110) – essentially vodka and a load of berries – and was on the same bandwagon of drunk as I was by the time we got the check.
I also completely forgot until this very line that I ordered the Young & Beautiful cocktail at some point.. mainly because I wanted to hear the server go ‘Young and Beautiful?’ and to reply ‘That’s me!’.. (of course I did). However, despite the name, it was lip-smackingly delicious- I loved the added ginger element to vodka, mango and lemon juice, and vanilla syrup. The candied/dried (I’m not sure) mango that sits on top of your glass too had a huge kick of chili that I couldn’t get enough of – it was sweet, salty and spicy. So chewy and so addictive.
For drinks, I think you’ll have a hard time faulting Common Room – this is what they’ve prioritised, and it shows. I would’ve loved to have had a healthy enough liver to try their Pornstar Martini as well as some more of their own inventions, but alas we were close to the tipping point. And I don’t just mean with our alcohol; our bellies were literally tipping us slightly forward.
We started with the Classic Mac n’ Cheese, CR recommended ($98) with four different cheeses – buffalo mozarelle, gruyere, parmesan and gouda – and breadcrumbs. The cheeses were mild, so it felt like comfort food for even those that are adverse to blue and other strong types . The parmesan crisp that sat on top wasn’t very crunchy, but added a nice bite to an otherwise soft, filling and homely pasta dish.
I wasn’t blown away by the Slow Braised Pork Belly ($108) with homemade apple maple sauce. Let’s face it: Hong Kong Canto cuisine has pork belly down. This doesn’t come close to siu yok texturally, although the meat was tender and was complimented by the classic flavour combination of sweet, warming, caramelised apples.
I notice Common Room has a thing for watercress (see above, poutine and steakbites), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but a little light-handedness wouldn’t hurt the dish either. Steak Tartare ($128) is not something I’d usually order, but I appreciated the homemade crisps that balanced out the overwhelming nose-pow of mustard from the tartare. The crisps were crunchy and well seasoned. Again, for both parts: classic seasoning – nothing exceptional, just reliable flavours.
The Scallop Ceviche ($136) was confusing – on the menu it states ‘marinated with Lime, Green Chili, Cilantro, Onions and Vinegar’. This sounds all well and good, but why did my palate only seem to taste olive oil? It felt like a film of oil had set up camp on my tongue, when I had been expecting bright, vibrant, refreshing, acidic flavours instead. You don’t need to add olive oil to ceviche; I have done ceviche many times at home and never once thought to tarnish that fresh flavour like they did here. Damn!
And then, perhaps, redemption. The Lobster Linguine ($148) was impressive; the pasta was cooked to my liking, not soft but cooked through, doused with a deliciously spicy vegetable tomato sauce, and chunks of tender lobster were caressed by the linguine around my fork for happy little bites.
It was the Grilled Shrimp Poutine ($75) that stole the show, like a dark horse, the underdog of the menu coming in at only 75 bucks, this was a winning flavour combo: fries, cheddar, shrimp and truffle – and don’t forget that watercress. Melted cheese and truffle stacked high on fries? This was demolished in a minute – ain’t no tower of fries tall enough to keep me from eating you. ♫
I’m coming back here for more of this, for damn sure.
The Wagyu Foie Gras Burgers ($98) were a treat as well. Compared to 22 Ships, the patty to foie ratio was higher, but the foie that I did manage to find through the seeming forest of arugula, caramelized onions and balsamic reduction was nicely done. The patty was also cooked well – still tender and juicy – and overall, was a filling bite-sized dish. I was feeling good about dinner, so we kept going.
And to be honest, despite feeling engorged with cheese and carbs, I’m glad we kept going – otherwise I would’ve never had the honour of trying CR’s Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Pate ($128), a surprisingly light yet flavourful combination seasoned with a slosh of sweet brandy, to be spooned and spread on a crunchy, homemade crostini. This is a must try – I could’ve just spooned this out of the jar and shoved it straight into my mouth.. but that would’ve been rather uncouth… I say as if we weren’t acting like rude galdem by the time we left.
To end, we went for the Sirloin Steak Bites ($128) with foie gras foam and Chimichurri sauce. These extra bits – the foam and the sauce – I do not see much at all in this photo, and I do not remember tasting… If the kitchen were going for an Argentinian gaucho-style steak with the Chimichurri, I did not taste it in the slightest unfortunately. What it did taste like was well-seasoned slices of steak, which isn’t bad – just not exceptional.
Although there were some hit and misses at Common Room, I’m a fan – what they’ve strived for is a place for everyone, anyone, to kick back and relax in a cosy, comfortable atmosphere. The drinks selection is more than satisfying and almost wondrous, the food is casual and most often homely, classically flavoured and filling. No more trekking up to Soho for your molecular mixology, and no more hitchhiking to Canada for a delicious poutine. See you there after hours.