Cover Zahir Mohamed, chef-patron of Acme (Photo: Courtesy of Acme)

The South African chef-patron of Baked is set to bring a contemporary take on the cuisine to Soho

Having developed a loyal customer base at Baked over the last two years, Zahir Mohamed will open a new Middle Eastern restaurant this December. The South African chef-patron of the Elgin Street brunch hotspot will delight the Soho dining district with his next project—a casual fine-dining version of a Middle Eastern restaurant, with contemporary dish presentations and a laid-back vibe.

Middle Eastern cuisine has yet to be fully represented in Hong Kong. Habibi once graced Wellington Street with Egyptian mezze, while celebrity chef Greg Malouf’s Dining Concepts restaurant Olive first introduced contemporary Middle Eastern fare to Soho. The popularity of Francis, Bedu, and Maison Libanaise rekindled Soho’s love for the cuisine, while Mama Malouf and Aziza chimed in to showcase the best mezzes in town.

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Acme takes over the Elgin Street restaurant space that formerly housed the original Tate and the short-lived Steak On Elgin. The 34-seat restaurant is designed by Sean Dix, a restaurant interior design veteran whose projects span across Hong Kong from Yardbird to David Lai’s Neighborhood, and various Black Sheep Restaurants including Crown Super Deluxe, New Punjab Club, and Hotal Colombo. Acme is Dix’s newest Hong Kong project. Inspired by earthy sand dunes in the Middle Eastern deserts, the new restaurant will predominantly take on sandy earth tones and an abundance of light wooden shades. Dix borrows elements from Middle Eastern cultures, such as the oil lamp, and artistic patterns from the region’s artworks, and transforms them into patterns that embellish the space through marble floor tiles and coarse, gritty textured walls.

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Acme’s menu will feature the familiar flavours and textures of the Middle East, with a contemporary approach to presentation. Chef Alfonso Portillo, formerly at Ovolo Hotel Group will take the helm of the Acme kitchen, where he demonstrates his new take on Middle Eastern fare, with many dishes meant for sharing. Charcoal grilling will be a highlight at Acme, with the aroma of meats charring and caramelising set to entice guests. Acme’s highlights include a rich Challah bread with honey and spied butter; corn falafel with saffron aioli; kataifi fried shrimp with pomegranate jam and tarator sauce; and octopus harissa cassoulet with fava beans and nduja. The charcoal Josper grill will finish off Acme’s colourful main dishes such as seven Lebanon spice lamb chops, whole lobster with lemon sumac cream and lardo, and cauliflower three-ways.

Unlike Baked which sports a more casual dining approach, Acme is more structured and formal but is far from the classic fine-dining format. Guests are encouraged to sit back and enjoy Middle Eastern-inspired cocktails and wines from the region, sharing mezzes and main dishes together—highlighting the importance of relaxing in small groups without the strict format of fine dining. The previous tendency to refine in order to make a dining experience more worthy and important is slowly losing momentum in the local food scene, with the recent growth of new openings of smaller, less formal restaurants. Acme will join this new league, with more focus on the experience and sentiments it brings, and less on the formalities. As the name Acme suggests, a concept like this can truly be the best of its kind.

Acme, G/F, 59 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong;