There’s a new kid on the block in the high end restaurant scene in Jax. Hobnob opened a few weeks ago in Unity Plaza, right next to the still-new Sbraga & Co. Hobnob offers global inspirations with local intentions, which means you will find flavors from different cultures, with an emphasis on locally sourcing ingredients as much as possible.
The restaurant itself is a beautiful space. It is mostly crisp and clean with textural design touches. The ceiling has white vertical curved panels, reminiscent of water or wind patterns, there are blown glass light fixtures in the bar, and one entire wall of the restaurant is glass windows and doors, overlooking the plaza. Even though it is a pretty good sized restaurant, it isn’t loud and it does not feel overwhelming with a mostly packed house. Some of the tables are set up side by side with a small space between them. In this sort of setup you often feel as though you are having dinner with strangers, but that wasn’t our experience at Hobnob. The side by side tables are actually attached with a wood tray in between them, which is a great place to put a small handbag or a phone. It’s off the table, the floor, or your lap, but still nearby. The design and use of space inside Hobnob makes it an easy place to enjoy a meal.
The service at Hobnob matched the ambiance. We were well taken care of at each visit: our water glasses remained full, our food came out hot, and there were plenty of staff in the dining room for any additional needs. Every single detail wasn’t perfect, but we didn’t expect it to be. There will always be small oversights throughout an entire dinner shift. But the restaurant should respond graciously and quickly, which was exactly our experience at Hobnob. The staff pays attention to their patrons and they work together.
In a few visits to Hobnob, we have had the opportunity to try a variety of dishes. Some of the dishes we tried are: Shrimp Kilawin (topped with sweet & spicy peppers and a purée of fresh avocado, inspired by a raw dish, native to the Philippines, much like ceviche, $11), Steamed Pei Mussels with Housemade Fennel Sausage (sustainably farmed mussels served with saffron aoli and garlic and herb croutons, $14), Citrus Segment and Fennel Salad (orange and grapefruit segments, shaved fennel, hearts of palm, watercress, and baby greens in a sweet mustard vinaigrette, blue cheese, and spiced pecans, $10), Five Spice Infused Peking Duck (wok charred baby bok choy and mushrooms in a duck jus, $32), Ahi Poke Tuna & Spicy Lump Crab Tacos (served with Vietnamese Banh Mi style pickled vegetables and mini grilled corn tortillas, served deconstructed so it can be assembled to taste, $18), Creamy Ricotta Filled Fritters (Served with blackberry coulis and vanilla bean crème anglaise, $7) and Dulce de Leche (Leche chocolate caramel mousse, shortbread crisp, with a caramel mirror glaze, $8) and the Pimm’s Cup cocktail (Pimm’s No. 1 gin, strawberry syrup, lemon, ginger beer).
First off, a tip of the hat to Hobnob for a well thought out gin cocktail. Frequently cocktail menus are all rum and vodka in all the same ways. C’mon. There’s more to a good cocktail than this. The Pimm’s Cup sounded perfectly fit to my taste, but I was concerned the strawberry syrup would be a bit too sweet. This is a fun and interesting cocktail with a sort of strawberry lemonade ginger beer thing happening. It’s not light tasting; the flavors are slightly concentrated. Would I order it again? I would ask for splash or two of club soda to be added to help dilute it a bit, but I would have a hard time skipping it. A well done gin cocktail is not happening everywhere.
The Shrimp Kilawin was a lot like ceviche but with a bit more flavor. This is a dish anyone who likes shrimp should be able to enjoy. The mussels appetizer is a “don’t miss”. It is a generous size and it is full of flavor. The saltiness of the saffron aoli and fennel sausage along with the sweetness of the mussels is a perfect marriage of flavors in your mouth. If I went to Hobnob and ordered one thing, this would be it. And I probably wouldn’t share. These might just be our favorite mussels in Jax.
For the citrus segment and fennel salad, we totally cheated. We ordered it without bleu cheese and spiced pecans. This is a sin, but someone at our table was trying to cut calories. The good news is even without the bleu cheese and spiced pecans there is still a lot happening in this delicious salad. The dressing had been added a bit heavy handed, but we’re chalking that up to the restaurant still working out the kinks. Now onto the Peking Duck. For some reason duck seems to be either really good or really mediocre. Hobnob does perfect peking duck. This dish is fabulous. The duck was crispy on the outside and the jus made you want to lick the bowl. We refrained. This was just as good reheated in the oven the next day. If you like duck, you will not be disappointed.
The Ahi poke tuna and lump crab tacos were a real stand out. When I saw this item on the menu I thought $18 for tacos? Seriously? After trying them I get it. Real lump crab, perfectly seasoned ahi poke tuna and pickled vegetables all come together to create a truly killer high end taco. And they are served deconstructed, so you can fashion your perfect taco to your taste.
The only miss of any of our visits to Hobnob was the ricotta fritters dessert. You really couldn’t taste the ricotta cheese so they just tasted like balls of dough. The dulce de leche dessert, on the other hand, was crazy good. The caramel mousse was over a shortbread crisp and there was a scoop of dark chocolate sorbet to go along with it. The thing that was remarkable was that each aspect of the dish was done to such a point that if you only had that one part – the caramel mousse, or the shortbread crisp – you would be completely satisfied. In fact, this was a theme in our meal from start to finish at Hobnob. Each component of each dish is done so well that it could stand on its own. But it doesn’t; it comes together with other perfectly done components and makes something even more impressive. The result is every bite has a host of flavors to explore.
The one aspect of Hobnob that we haven’t yet discussed might just be the most impressive aspect of the restaurant. That aspect is plating. Each dish is like a mini work of art. At Hobnob you’re never served a dish that isn’t meticulously plated. Every time something new comes to the table it looks like the chefs have spent time thinking out how each aspect of the item being served should be presented. If we ranked the best plating in town, Hobnob’s would rank among the best.
In Hobnob I think we’ve found a new favorite. Hobnob is not just up and coming on the food scene. It’s already making a splash! If you try one new restaurant this year this should probably be the one.