For today’s review, we venture over to a place we’ve never been before – Hangzhou Tower 501 shopping mall in Hangzhou’s CBD – to visit Max Sonia Café Express. The restaurant serves bistro style dishes with a Japanese-French flair injected by Japanese chef Toyo Koda, whose food we last had the pleasure of eating at Le Passage Mohkan Shan.
Prior to Le Passage, Chef Toyo was the head chef at Franck Bistrot in Shanghai, which is regarded as one of the best French restaurants in Shanghai. He had set up the kitchen, designed the menu and the food philosophy for Franck and in 2013 was voted one of the Top 35 chefs in Asia by San Pellegrino Restaurant Awards. Before coming to China, Chef Toyo had 13 years of experience working in fine restaurants in Japan and France.
Here at Max Sonia, Chef Toyo continues his high standards from fine dining but in a casual setting and public-friendly prices. At the low-end of the price spectrum, you can get a Pork Katsu Sandwich with Salad for only 38RMB, and even the most expensive dish, Grilled Australian Wagyu Steak, tops out at just 198RMB.
Foie gras is a signature item for Chef Toyo and a must-order if you love it. The ingredient appears in several dishes, including Foie Gras Confit (88RMB), Foie Gras Risotto (78RMB), Foie Gras Green Bean Salad (48RMB) and a decadent sounding Foie Gras Wagyu Beef Hamburger with Salad and Chips (78RMB). We had the Foie Gras Confit, a slice of porcelain pink foie gras confit with a quenelle of apple compote, thick brioche bread, flaked salt and hand-ground black pepper. The foie gras had a delicate, light taste and was buttery smooth. A few drops of truffle oil on top played up the luxury effect.
That truffle oil is liberally used throughout Chef Toyo’s dishes and was also on the Wild Mushroom Soup (38RMB). This soup really impressed us with its completely smooth texture which was as soft as velvet. The sautéed mushrooms retained their firmness and individual flavour. Truly fine dining quality and a steal at that price.
The brunch section features eggs benedicts and we choose Beef Potato Croquette Benedict (78RMB). The croquette contains ground beef stuffed in a mashed potato croquette that Chef Toyo hand forms and deep-fries to order. The crunchy, Japanese panko-breaded croquette made a nice base to soak up the egg yolk and hollandaise sauce. Wilted spinach tucked under the eggs helps you meet your daily vitamin needs.
Lastly, for the quintessential bistro dish “Steak Frites”, we tasted their Australian Sirloin Steak with Chips (128RMB), where flavourful sirloin steak meets thick-cut fries sprinkled with truffle and parmesan. It comes with a sweet peppery cream sauce with a boozy element that could very well be whiskey or cognac.
Not to be overlooked, the coffee selection at Max Sonia offers some inventive creations like the soft and sweet Black Sugar Osmanthus Latte (25RMB) and the tropical zen Coconut Matcha Latte.
Desserts are beautifully plated and you can order a la carte desserts (28-68RMB) or choose a tart or cake (28-38RMB) from the cabinet.
Max Sonia is brightly decked in colour blocks of canary yellow, black and white which creates a cheerful atmosphere. A big, spacious rooftop patio makes an ideal setting to enjoy the outdoors during brunch. Hangzhou Tower 501 is located on top of Qingchun Square metro station on Line 2 providing easy access from all over Hangzhou. Just that wild mushroom soup alone is worth a visit.
In addition to this restaurant, Max Sonia has a café on Binjiang’s Star Avenue that serves coffees and simple food like sandwiches and burgers.
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