California Vintage on Wyndham Street is a tiny, tiny drinking hole that tries its best to be a restaurant as well, but in reality, its diminutive size does not really allow it to be the fully-fledged eatery that it yearns to be. Be that as it may, I do love going there for a spot of Riesling, but I never linger long enough to have a substantial meal. However, since the fantastic renovation and transformation of the space near the Great Eagle Centre and China Resource Building in Wan Chai (by Victoria Harbour) into Brim 28, a number of restaurants, bars and cafes, including a brand new branch of California Vintage, have moved in, making that area a pretty funky, new hang-out.
The second CV wine bar and restaurant is MUCH bigger and here, the emphasis is definitely on making sure the food does not play second fiddle to the wine and has more of a equal partnership on the palates of its customers. Of course, it remains a place for wine enthusiasts- there are still the smartcard-enabled dispensing machines to go nuts over at Happy Hour and clever iPad menus to help customers choose their wines. The concept of CV is to introduce Hong Kongers to the wine culture and the taste of California and their wine list boasts a fine selection of over 100 wines produced by 22 family-owned wineries across the Californian state. The wines themselves are for retail sale, but if you are popping by for a quick sip or three, you can dispense yourself some wine by the taste (1oz), the half-glass (2oz), full-glass (5oz) or just buy a bottle.
A group of friends (a couple of whom who hail from/ lived in California- we needed Cali tastebuds!) and I went round last Saturday evening for what became a very relaxing meal of small bites paired with wine. The construction of Brim 28 means that each of the restaurants has an al fresco dining space outside the establishment, which makes the new CV even more appealing than the ‘flagship’ in Central. Inside, there are high tables surrounded by emptied wooden wine barrels, a display of wine bottles and the dispensing machines taking centre-stage. There’s also a lovely fresh seafood bar area that is slightly elevated and off to the left-side of the restaurant.
We were having their Seasonal pairing menu that night (which feature wine-inspired Californian cuisine) and our first dish was the deep-fried calamari with a tangy tomato dip. Frankly, it is quite hard to go wrong with deep-fried calamari unless it’s caked in batter (which this wasn’t), soaked in oil (which it also wasn’t) and not fresh (this wasn’t.. you get the idea). I was starving and also in much need of a glass of wine after a rather trying day at work, on a Saturday, ugh, so I positively beamed with delight at the first glass of wine that appeared- the 2011 Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County. This crisp white had pleasantly fruity notes with a refreshing finish and paired well with our starter dish.
My favourite ‘dish’ of the night were CV’s Gilroy garlic fries with homemade aioli and tomato ketchup. OMG those fries are good. I had them in the original CV many moons ago, and it was love at first bite and I knew I had to stay away to save my waistline. But on Saturday, all diets were off as I chomped my way rather rapidly through them, and it was only when my friends shoved their cone of chips at me, that I realised I had had one golden stick too many. I’m easy to please, clearly!
The San Fran sourdough bread with Marin Camembert cheese and green apple, served with a side of sweet tomato soup for dipping was nicely toasted, though the cheese could have done with a few seconds more under the grill to attain perfect meltiness. The Camembert itself was a little too mild, and the green apple did not have the acidity to make this a completely balanced dish, though dipped in the tomato soup, it was still very tasty. My friend and I tried to drink the soup on its own, but it was far too sweet- strictly for dipping only!
Next, were the California sliders with fried soft-shell crab. I love soft-shell crab and these mini burgers were rather sweet, with the crab legs sticking out awkwardly like they were attempting to escape. The crab was slightly bland on its own, but dipping it into the homemade chipotle aioli made all the difference. I would have liked the battered crab to be more heavily seasoned with salt and pepper, but that is just personal preference.
Served alongside these dishes was the white Flying Nymph 2010 Paso Robles. This blend of 56% Viognier, 32% Marsanne and 12% Roussanne may be too sweet for some, but I enjoyed it immensely. The fruity flavours emerged after a while in the glass and the taste lingered long enough to give a nice end to our second round of dishes.
Our third round of dishes began with the California Tacos with Baja Fish. Here, the white fish were battered and served on shredded cabbage and topped with pico de gallo and cumin-enriched sour cream. The California taste-buds may like it mild, but these tacos were far too meek in taste and could have done with some punchier, more robust flavours. Not entirely sure what was missing from this recipe.. perhaps some Tabasco sauce would give it a kick.
The Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta topped with a walnut, was a simple dish but a far more flavoursome combination than the tacos. For some reason, the camembert here worked better, perhaps there’s just too much bread in the previous sourdough sandwich to give the cheese justice. Our wine for this round was the Anaba Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a fairly intense red with a smokiness that was not entirely to my liking. We also had the pork quesadillas made by shredding pork and combining it with green chillies and melted jack cheese. The house-made guacamole was very sweet and resulted in a few grumblings at our table.
Our last round of savouries came with a glass of Stuhlmuller Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon- California Sliders with Angus Beef Burger and Bravo Farms Cheddar Cheese and the California Tacos with Grilled Flank Steak and Chimichurri Sauce Steak. The juicy Angus Beef burger sliders were the best dish of the night together with those addictive fries! The soft corn tortillas topped with Harris Ranch flank steak were fine but again, something was missing with the flavours.
Their house-made taco chips with salsa were excellent and I have to say, as carb-heavy as CV’s menu is, they do excel at the fries and the chips. Perhaps a few more salads or some Californian-taste inspired ceviche would be good additions to the menu to balance it out.
A meal is not complete without dessert. The manager suggested we just have the Chocolate Pot de Crème- a gorgeous, smooth chocolate pudding generously topped with whipped cream, but at the mention of a new dessert- apple tart with vanilla ice-cream, there was no way I was leaving CV without sampling some of that. Of course, that just meant that we had both puddings, each of us having our own pot de crème and then sharing two plates of apple tart.
The pot de creme was extremely rich and gave me a massive chocolate and sugar high. I have had this before at the flagship and as delightfully satisfying as it was, after four or five bites, it was too much. However, the apple tart was divine and demolished within minutes by our group. It was beyond yummy, the pieces of apple nice and chunky and the all important pastry was perfectly crumbly and not too thick. I am an apple crumble/ tart fiend and this was one of the best apple tarts I have had in HK. I only hope the preparation stays consistent, when I return, or I will be most disappointed. They served our desserts with a glass of R & B Cellars Fortissimo Port Dessert Wine which I did not care much for; it was far too strong and medicinal in taste, so I abandoned my glass and opted for a glass of Moscato mmmmmm.
So what did I think? California Vintage Wan Chai has a great location and the space is fantastic. Their Happy Hour is a good deal, (I can’t quite remember the details, sorry! But I know I will definitely be heading there for a glass), but with their dishes priced between $68 (for their fries) to $148, for relatively small bites, it is on the slightly expensive end for what it is. I have no idea what ‘the taste of California’ should taste like, but I was assured by the Cali lot that the menu can afford a few tweaks here and there.
Chopstixfix rating: 3/5
California Vintage, Shop 110, Brim 28, 28 Harbour Road, Wan Chai Tel: (852) 2511 4028
Set lunch is $88-$128 + service charge depending on what you order for mains.