Hungry Lawyer: The Steakhouse at the Intercontinental, well done if no longer rarefied

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

For many years, when I have been asked for the best steakhouse in Hong Kong I have reflexively answered The Steakhouse at the Intercontinental, now formally known as The Steak House Winebar + Grill. It felt like the right answer: not too obvious like the American chains Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris, not too trendy like the latest offering from one of the big restaurant groups and, with its location in the venerable Intercontinental in Tsim Sha Tsui, not as accessible as the usual haunts on Hong Kong Island. Most importantly, I have truly believed it to be the best place to get a Western-style steak in the special administrative region.

Time seems to speed up as you age and it occurred to me recently that I hadn’t actually dined at The Steakhouse since 2003; a problem I sought to rectify. I remembered the restaurant fondly for delivering a rarefied experience (at a rarefied price). It was quiet, classic, understated, elegant, simple, and served perfect steak. Sadly, it appears that not all of these qualities remain. Upon my recent return, it was surprisingly loud with families, a crying baby, tourists, and grating business conversation masking the smooth jazz that was gently piping through the sound system. Perhaps this creeping change is simply a sign of the times, but it also seemed a product of the more closely spaced tables and brighter lighting.

The food in general – and the steak in particular – nonetheless remain excellent. The prices of course remain rarefied. The updated menu contains a wide variety of beef: prime US cuts, on or off the bone, Japanese and Australian wagyus and even a selection of hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. In one of the more welcome updates, the menu is softly backlit by an LED light for easy reading. On top of the steaks and long-running salad bar that dates back to 1982, there are also a wide variety of raw and cooked appetizers, seafood plates and side dishes on offer.

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

On my recent visit, we selected the four-ounce beef tenderloin steak tartar (HKD380) and the Alaskan king crab legs (HKD490) to start. The tartar is split equally between a traditional and an “Asian style” preparation. The traditional version was a very good mound of roughly minced beef spiked with salt, pepper, mustard, oil, and pickle for a smooth and satisfying taste. The waiter promised that the Asian version would be more citrusy and flavored with Japanese yuzu. The yuzu, however, was not detectable and the meat itself seemed mushy rather than minced. If I order this appetizer again, I would request the traditional preparation only.

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

The Alaskan crab legs were excellent, as they should be for that price. The portion was generous, fresh, and well prepared with the crab meat which was easy to detach from the large steamed legs. They were served with a traditional cocktail sauce of blended fresh horseradish and ketchup, nicely piquant as it should be. The alternative spicy soya broth did not go as well and was not particularly spicy.

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

The steak is where The Steakhouse rightly shines. I ordered the 16-ounce US bone-in filet mignon (HKD980), as I firmly believe that meat cooked on the bone delivers extra flavor in comparison to boneless cuts. The thick filet arrived well charred – but not burnt – on the outside whilst perfectly medium rare under the surface. It was rich and well-seasoned, with a buttery texture which proved to be fully satisfying. The steak is accompanied only with a spare skewer of vegetables, so it is wise to choose from one of the many vegetable side dishes for a more balanced meal.

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

We tried the seasonal special white asparagus with black truffle hollandaise (HKD280). White asparagus season is a major event in Germany from its commencement in April, when the first spears are hand-picked from the earth, to its conclusion in late June. The white asparagus at The Steakhouse were of the highest grade, thick and gently steamed to a silky texture with a much subtler taste than more pungent green asparagus. My only quibble with the dish was the choice to serve the soft spears on a trendy piece of slate so that the cutting process was literally reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Nobody wants that.

Photo: Marc Rubinstein

Speaking of trendiness, before the steak arrives, the server offers you a choice of eight salts, 12 mustards and a selection of knives from amongst a variety of jurisdictions. I thought that these offerings in their totality came off gimmicky; seemingly designed more for tourists than the refined environment I recalled. As it was, the steak barely needed additional salt and, call me a philistine, but I can’t quite describe the difference between the various artisanal offerings of sodium chloride. At least with mustard, one can easily distinguish spicy English from a smooth Dijon and the various other iterations.

All in all, I think The Steakhouse still serves as an excellent steak but the dining experience seems to have been cheapened while the price has not. I don’t think I would go there for a special romantic occasion, but it would still work well to entertain out-of-town guests, family, clients, or simply when you want a good steak (and are willing to pay for it).

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