The Southern European cuisines of Spain, Italy and France involve one common ingredient: love. And plenty of sauce. Aroma at the Conrad Guangzhou is home to these three cuisines, termed loosely under the ‘Mediterranean’ umbrella. And with open arms, it welcomes you with a caveat: arrive hungry like you would at Mama’s, and be prepared for the authentic, communal pleasure of sopping every last drop of those insanely good homemade sauces. Service is a cornerstone here, and if you happen to arrive when sommelier Alan Zhong is making his rounds, you can expect to be treated as one would expect.
Dips, ranging from black or green olive and artichoke, tomato and hummus, start you off in the deliciousness department. Dip in some freshly baked bread; it’s divine, and pairs well with a platter of finely sliced Joselito Iberian cold cuts (RMB238). Soups and salads feature too, and there is a play using a touch of local, such as soft-centered jasmine tea quail eggs basking on a bed of romaine, parmesan and homemade Caesar dressing (RMB60).
Flavorsome as the appetizers are, the show-stealers are undoubtedly the mains. Generous homestyle portions are the norm here: the parmigiana (RMB108), layered with baked eggplant and cheese, and drizzled generously with tomato sauce, pesto, fresh basil leaves and sun-dried tomatoes, is truly delightful. Boston lobster (RMB298), on a bed of tagliatelle, crab meat, chili, coriander and plenty of irresistible cherry tomato sauce, will have you hankering for more.
Whilst the more exotic like rabbit ragout (RMB160) might appeal to some, this succinct menu has a smattering of red meat and seafood favorites like New Zealand lamb chops (RMB238), squid ink risotto (RMB180) and fresh French oysters (RMB48/each).
Now you might ask, what makes this restaurant so much more than just your run-of-the-mill hotel outlet? For starters, portion sizes offer you bang for your buck and that is saying plenty, as most places of this caliber often serve up large plates with bits of food the size of birdseeds.
If tipples are desired, the wine menu goes beyond the coastal waters of old world Europe to the new world of the Americas, and again, all priced well. For cocktails, try the Sangre de Spain (RMB68), a nod to tradition with rich, spicy, warm flavors. And if space permits, pick a sweet treat, served up multiple ways in a variety of zests like strawberry (RMB78).
Normally, one would applaud at the absence of over-the-top tack, but it doesn’t work for such a cozy space, especially when the view that faces you is that of construction covered up with plenty of bright green tarp. We’re also not impressed by the servers donned in gondolier striped shirts and straw hats. A near five stars for the food, but we’ll take half a star away for those ridiculous getups and lack of homely Mediterranean charm. Head over after the sun sets, get a bottle or tall glass that suits the mood and indulge yourself with Aroma’s home-style nosh – you won’t even notice those wannabe gondoliers, lest they break out in song.
Who’s going: those who can spell ‘Mediterranean’ – if you can spell it, you’ll enjoy every bite
Good for: robust flavors, hearty mains, saucy southern Europeans (on a plate)
Nearest Metro: Liede (Exit B), 5 minutes
Open daily, 11.30am-2pm (lunch); 6-10.30pm (dinner). See listing for Aroma.