Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong

208..not so great

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Hype sometimes works in your favour, but for 208 Duocento Otto, it definitely has not.

Opened by Yenn Wong of JIA Boutique Hotels (one of which is by 208 on Hollywood Road), Chef Vinny Lauria promises New York style Italian food, specialising in Neopolitan-style pizzas.

D and I went lastnight and when the taxi pulled up in front, I saw a building that looks a bit like a solid bar of dark chocolate..so far, so intriguing. Walking past the the outdoor seating area and up the steps into the ground floor bar, you first get the impression that you’re entering a gentleman’s club from the Tudor/Renaissance period with all the dark browns encapsulating the interior: wooden panelling on the ceilings, dark wood flooring, seating, shelving behind the bar.

Then, I noticed the walls. Floor to ceiling, downstairs, upstairs and in the toilets, it seemed like the whole restaurant had been infected by bathroom tiling and I felt like I was sitting in a bowl.Tiling overdose aside, what matters is the service and the food. After being told on Monday that there were no tables available, and we would be wait listed, D was then told yesterday that a 7pm slot was free.

When we arrived, we were ushered upstairs, only to be greeted by the manager who demanded if we had a reservation (hmm obviously we had one otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten as far as upstairs) and then, we were told to go back downstairs as we were early (it was 7.01pm) and wait as they were still having their staff training! I understand staff training is important, but don’t open the restaurant at 7pm if you’re not going to be ready, and definitely don’t have your staff meeting AT 7!

As we waited at the bar, more people arrived and soon there was a cluster of “7pm people” waiting at the foot of the stairs. We perused the bar menu and I spied my favourite pizza- the Capricciosa, so D and I decided we would order that as one of our mains.

When we finally sat down upstairs (ambience was quite lovely, still had that bathroom feel to it!), we realised the restaurant was pretty empty, even with all the other diners. Tables all fully booked and suddenly one free at 7pm? Lies!!

Back to food; we had heard mixed reviews, especially about their pastas but their starters have gotten a big thumbs up from our friends. D and I decided to share the “Pomodori Uovo”- poached japanese egg, pecorino romano and garlic fett’unta (lightly greased sliced of bread) and ‘nduja (soft, spicy hot spreadable salami, mostly produced in Calabria). It was quite a hefty portion and the chef was a bit heavy handed with the tomatoes and salt, but overall, it was good. I loved the ‘nduja and the runny egg, and it was deeply satisfying heaping a spoonful onto my “fett’unta”.For mains, I tried to order the Capricciosa pizza, which wasn’t on the restaurant menu (the pizza selection on the main menu has fewer selections than the bar menu), but the manager informed me that they could only make it for those eating at the bar and they couldn’t make it for those eating in the restaurant. I thought this was ridiculous and completely illogical. If you can make it for downstairs, why can’t you make it for upstairs?! Slightly incensed by this, I ordered, with a huff, the Prosiutto e rucola pizza which, by mine and D’s calculations, had more ingredients and therefore, would be more worth our money. It was also the only pizza that had parma ham.The pizza base was chewy and cheesey and there was a generous topping of parma ham and half a forest of rocket. After consuming most of the crisp bread that came at the start and the fett’unta, I had gone into a carb coma and couldn’t eat the crust.We also ordered the Fazzoletti “Bolognese Blanco”, a braised rabbit, pancetta and mushroom pasta in a cream sauce with a horseradish gremolata (a chopped herb condiment consisting of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest). Despite friends saying that their pastas were drab, I must admit, this pasta was good, good creamy consistency, the rabbit was tender and the horseradish gremolata offset the saltiness of the pancetta well. We did, however, object to the pieces of celery that peppered the dish. While the purpose of the celery is to lighten the pasta and add a more refreshing taste, many people, D included, are not keen on seeing or eating visible slices of celery, so it would have been better to finely chop the celery and incorporate it into the sauce.A typical selection of Italian desserts awaited us and we opted for the vanilla panna cotta with peach “cobbler” and extra vecchio balsamico. This was very disappointing. The panna cotta itself was neither rich nor sweet enough and fell flat with no balance from the peach cobbler which did nothing except merely tickle the palate, rather than add a pleasant sour zing to the creaminess of the panna cotta. I also couldn’t taste the vanilla. The balsamic vinegar was an unnecessary and poor compliment to this pudding let-down.

Sad and unsatisfied, we ended with pots of fresh mint tea, but mine was more like mint water as I had a paltry 3 mint leaves to D’s 6 in hers.

Will I be returning? Not any time soon! You will see me instead at Pizza Express noshing on some dough balls.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

208 Duocento Otto, 208 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan. Tel: 2549 0208.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$    Dinner was very expensive at $370 per person, for one main and one starter/dessert each, without any drinks except our mint tea at the end!

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Author: chopstixfix

Michelle Ng is a Brit born Chinese-Malaysian who has loved food since time immemorial. She is a firm believer in "Live to Eat, not Eat to Live".

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