The latest examples are the Italian eatery 8 ½ at Alexandra House and British gastropub Alfie’s by KEE in the Prince’s Building next door. Both are in the central business district, connected by sheltered walkways to the HSBC Holdings Plc building and the International Finance Center, immortalized on film by the 2008 Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.” Both were converted from stores that previously sold non-food items.
A prime challenge for these restaurants is to offer cozy, warm venues that remove diners from the neon and hubbub of the shopping arcades. Both succeed in that.
That’s quite a feat, especially for 8 ½, which is squeezed in a corner retail space next to the landing of a busy escalator.
Food at 8 ½, helmed by Italian Umberto Bombana, a local celebrity chef who previously headed Toscana at the now-defunct Ritz Carlton Hotel, was excellent and helped me exorcise a few long-held prejudices I’d had about Italian cuisine.
The first was that Italian soups are awful, a bugbear I’ve had courtesy of a childhood that featured lunches of tinned minestrone and after being served a bowl of sour and tepid bean sludge at a Genoa restaurant 12 years ago.
So when my wife ordered the Ligurian artichoke soup, I blanched. I needn’t have; the delicate flavor of the root combined well with a shaving of sweet pecorino and chopped mint, relieving me of an unnecessary grudge.
I was on firmer ground with the king-crab spaghetti with orange zest. Though the dish was modest in size, the richness of the sauce made for a filling start. Full marks for the crab too, which came in large, tender chunks.
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