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Commune Lab “test kitchen” in Soho – overpriced for average

I should theoretically really like Commune Lab as it nearly does a lot of things right but I somehow left it feeling poor, hungry and vowing to avoid Soho for a while.

To look on the positive side:

Uno, it’s set in working kitchen which during the day makes bread for various kitchens around Hong Kong (including Lily & Bloom and Shore etc.) so your setting is, excitingly, the industrial background of kitchen production.

Due, it is intended as a “test kitchen” where the Posto Publico’s chefs gets to try out new things and experiment with sous vide machines.

Tre, it is serves food from Posto Publico’s own organic farms in Sheung Shui which avoids air miles and means seasonality (rare in Hong Kong).

Quattro, it is hosted by the chef who comes out and introduces each course and gives you a bit of background about the ingredients.

However, translated to the plate there are a few problems with this:

, the food is not good or exciting enough for a “test kitchen” and especially at these prices. Our menu comprised of a beetroot based root vegetable salad, tomato soup, raviolli and some fish (cooked sous vide I think). None of it innovative and nothing particularly remarkable to taste. Home cooks now do sous vide cooking in beer coolers and zip lock bags. Salads have been refined by chefs like Nuno Mendes and Isaac Hayes it to texture led masterpieces. Commune Lab is nowhere near this.

Er, the use of local ingredients is laudable. However, the problem is these ingredients weren’t anything special. Posto Publico/ Commune Lab might make their own mozzarella but it is pale imitation stuff compared to the real stuff from Italy. Only one bit of produce stood out, some locally grown strawberries, the rest were like you could buy from Wellcome/ Asda.

Sān, the price is ridiculous. Normally Commune Lab is HK$1,488 for food only. We had a cut down menu for HK$800. For that price I could guarantee brilliance at any number of Western restaurants in Hong Kong (Amber/ Caprice) and have about a 1,000 Chinese (of any region) meals. I spent the same on the food at El Bulli in Seville.

, there was no understanding or concession towards “local” or “Asia”. The world has moved on from serve average Italian food to expats in Soho in Hong Kong. Commune Lab half understands this as they are using local ingredients. However, they have gathered no inspiration from the genius of Asian cuisine or the fusion mess that is Hong Kong. A basic tomato soup for starter…. In a dai pai dong you would at least get it Hong Kong style with some beef.

, the execution of the food was average. For instance, our (pre-prepared) pumpkin raviolli tasted limp. Our menus told us that we were all having the sous vide fish for mains. However, half way through the meal the kitchen filled with smoke, windows got opened and half the table ended up with a beef main instead. I presume in finishing the fish they managed to burn half of them?

Maybe we went on a bad night, maybe in comparing this to similarly priced meals I have had in Europe or elsewhere I am judging unfairly. Still, at half the price and twice the ambition it would be good.

  • Price – HK$800 for the food and another HK$400 for the wine and that was the cheap menu
  • 1/F, 28 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong (2577 7160)

PS it is worth noting that the ex head chef who used to run Commune Lab (before I ate there) –  AJ Bellarosa – is no longer affiliated with Posto Publico/ Commune Lab and has moved on to do secret things not yet announced.

11 Comments

  1. Great photo at the top – shame it didn’t live up to expectations.

  2. Charmaine

    It really irks me how enthusiastically priced these private kitchens/labs/whathaveyou are. Which is why they still haven’t tempted me through their doors. That and reviews like this that just seem to confirm the attitude of places like these: running before they can walk.

    • Apparently there is some scandal with the head chef quitting blah blah blah. I still get the feeling that whoever the chef was, whatever they thought – that it is was always a lot of money for something that was pretty average compared to what you could get for equivalent money.

      Never again.

  3. Great photos, but sadly looks like another restaurant that is punching well above it’s weight.

  4. I like the concept of the place with all its ideas – very sad they didn’t manage to materialize them. If you would have only posted your photos, I would have thought it was *THE* place – great photos!

    • What is strange is that people love the photos on this one and this was with my crap camera, half way through the meal, just bored by the food. I wasn’t even goign to blog it :)

      Show’s you never can tell how things will turn out!

  5. Damn but that looks like some fine eating. Even if it is overpriced…

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