Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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A Night Celebrating Ms. Pearl Kong Chen’s Recipes at Kin’s Kitchen

With my customary slowness with uploading, as I am prone to being when work and play get in the way, I have finally gotten round to posting about a fun evening last month with fellow foodies at Kin’s Kitchen in Wan Chai. This evening was particularly interesting and special because the menu was dedicated to the recipes created by the legendary HK food authority Ms. Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠), whose cookbooks and instruction have long captured the hearts and stomachs of many the Cantonese food aficionado. Having never heard of her until the dinner was arranged by the lovely Little Meg and Janice of e-ting, I was quite fascinated to learn about her history and how her dishes showcase the evolution of Cantonese cooking and the techniques, some quite laborious, needed to master some of these dishes.

Our menu had 9 courses which presented classic Chinese banquet and homey dishes following Ms. Kong’s recipes and techniques. These traditional recipes, long abandoned over the years, were just amazing and I’m not going to even attempt to explain her background, except to say that Ms. Pearl Kong is the granddaughter of a Qing dynasty archivist and the legacy of her grandfather’s recipes was passed down to her. Instead I am going to directly quote Janice, which I stole off FB from when she posted on another friend’s pic of the night haha- thanks love!

 “Kong (Jiang in Mandarin pinyin) Kong-dian was Mrs. Chen’s grandfather’s full name, although he was known by his position in the court (Taishi, ie. official court archivist/historian). He had cooks in his (supposedly grand) household and was fond of working out new dishes with them, and hosting other bigwigs at his house. As the Qing Dynasty crumbled, the family gradually had to supplement their income and it is said he ran his house as a bit of a private kitchen. He’s the one who invented snake soup as we know of today (often called Taishi snake soup as a result). Another random bit I read – he loved food so much he bought his own orchard and kept bees and stuff. And another random bit – the reason why Tim’s Kitchen is so well known is because chef Tim was trained by one of Kong Taishi’s chefs, and learned these crazy techniques and recipes.”

All in all, it was a beautiful evening with beautiful people, remembering and honouring the past and emphasizing how important it is to preserve tradition. For it is remembering our history that we can learn and move into the future. Enjoy the photos! 🙂

Ms. Pearl Kong Menu

Stir-fry imitated shark-fin with eggs

Stir-fry imitated shark-fin with eggs

Soup of Fish Head- expertly done. An impeccable dish.

Soup of Fish Head- expertly done. An impeccable dish.

Deep fried custard of chicken broth- this was pretty sensational, having never seen anything like this before. Firm chicken broth in a light batter, pretty addictive.

Deep fried custard of chicken broth- this was pretty sensational, having never seen anything like this before. Firm chicken broth in a light batter, pretty addictive.

Steamed Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste- a dish of hot discussion! How on earth do they do it? I loved this. Silky, rich chicken skin and chicken meat replaced with a smooth shrimp paste.

Steamed Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste- a dish of hot discussion! How on earth do they do it? I loved this. Silky, rich chicken skin and chicken meat replaced with a smooth shrimp paste.

Steamed Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste Steamed Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste

Stir-fried finely sliced pigeon

Stir-fried finely sliced pigeon

Stir-fried finely sliced pigeon

Braised Mustard Green with Ham sauce

Braised Mustard Green with Ham sauce

Stir-fried noodles with assorted mushrooms

Stir-fried noodles with assorted mushrooms

Smoked Chicken with rose stems and sugar cane- a Kin's Kitchen signature. We ordered a plate as an extra! Fantastic and aromatic.

Smoked Chicken with rose stems and sugar cane- a Kin’s Kitchen signature. We ordered a plate as an extra! Fantastic and aromatic.

Steamed grouper fillet with fermented soy bean

Steamed grouper fillet with fermented soy bean

Sweet pumpkin and almond soup with glutinous rice

Sweet pumpkin and almond soup with glutinous rice

Kin’s Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, HK. Tel: (852) 2571 0913
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Classy Catalunya

It has taken a while to sample a taste at Catalunya, but now I understand why this restaurant took Hong Kong by storm at its opening early last year. Serving contemporary Spanish cuisine and headed by an impressive team of culinary experts from restaurants such as el Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca and Arzak, Catalunya has garnered high praise from many a foodie and celebs flock there to dine on Catalan inspired dishes in the confines of the private dining room (via the VIP back entrance of course).

Tree-lined Oi Kwan Road with its schools, hospital and swimming pool is an unlikely location for such a restaurant, but the quiet environment is appealing and adds charm to Catalunya. The grand interior is decorated with Spanish-inspired elements and decked out in mahogany and warm red hues and sits 140, the private dining room 16.Catalunya Catalunya Catalunya

Rach and I were nestled in a booth in the main dining room and had a good view of the comings and goings, including the dishes that were heading our way.

The menu is varied, with a large selection of seafood and meat, but everyone’s eye is on the tapas. We began with the excellent Travelling Oysters, so called because the oysters feature flavours from a different country every week. We had Gillardeau oysters dressed with a Japanese sauce of ponzu and ikura.Catalunya

Travelling Oysters

Travelling Oysters

The thinly sliced 48-month Jamón Ibérico was not too salty and had a lovely nutty flavour. This was a great accompaniment to the Pa Amb Tomàquet, a traditional Catalan toasted bread topped with a tomato ‘’De Penjar” spread and a dash of olive oil, which salt lovers will also enjoy with the moreish Cantabrian Anchovies.

48-month Jamón Ibérico

48-month Jamón Ibérico

Pa Amb Tomàquet

Pa Amb Tomàquet

Cantabrian Anchovies

Cantabrian Anchovies

The Catalunya Tomato Tartar, an elBulli dish, is unusual as it is completely made out of tomatoes but resembles a steak tartar in appearance. The ‘tartar’ had layers of rich tomato flavours and I was impressed by the meatiness of the texture.

Catalunya Tomato Tartar

Catalunya Tomato Tartar

The most enticing dish had to be The Bikini, a downright sinful and luxurious sandwich filled with Iberian ham, mozzarella cheese and truffle. The truffle smell hits you first and breathing and tasting it at once can be a little heady, or perhaps it was just the sheer delight of scoffing it.

The Bikini

The Bikini

My litmus test at any Spanish restaurant is their Tortilla, and Catalunya’s Tortilla De Trampo got my seal of approval. Their Catalan version made from potato, onions, eggs and red sausage was slightly wetter than others I have had before but was thick and velvety especially smothered with their allioli sauce.

Tortilla de Trampo

Tortilla de Trampo

Other favourite dishes were the Bombas De La Barceloneta- pork and beef meatballs covered in potato puree then breaded and deep fried, and the Octopus A Feira, a creamy combination of potato foam, octopus and grilled pork belly. The Green Peas with Blood Sausage may be slightly less palatable for some depending on your penchant for both ingredients, but the green peas were fresh and the sausage had an intense earthy taste.

Bombas De La Barceloneta

Bombas De La Barceloneta

Octopus A Feira

Octopus A Feira

Peas with Blood Sausage

Peas with Blood Sausage

 Of the desserts we sampled, I enjoyed the Torrija the most. This simple pudding of brioche bread soaked in vanilla milk and then pan-fried was decadent and I was intrigued by the smoked ice-cream. The Chocolate in Different Textures with Passion Fruit felt short of my expectations and was too sweet for me to have more than a couple of bites. The Catalunya Fruit Salad was definitely an interesting finish, with fruits infused with different flavours, such as Watermelon infused with Sangria.

Torrija

Torrija

 Chocolate in Different Textures with Passion Fruit

Chocolate in Different Textures with Passion Fruit

Catalunya Fruit Salad

Catalunya Fruit Salad

Catalunya is by no means cheap, (to eat well costs around $500-600 a head), but if you are seeking a near authentic Catalan gastronomic experience without funding the air ticket to go to Spain, then it is worth it for the high quality ingredients and careful execution.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

$$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Catalunya, G/F Guardian House, 32 Oi Kwan Road, Wan Chai  +852 2866 7900

http://www.catalunya.hk

This review can also be seen at Sassy Hong Kong. This lunch was by kind invite. 


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Serge et le Phoque- C’est Magnifique!

Wan Chai market is not a location that springs to mind for a French restaurant, but Serge et le Phoque is like a chic tourist quietly taking in the local culture. Strange as the setting may seem at first, interior designer turned restaurateur Charles Pelletier did make a good point when he remarked to me that it was like having a giant TV in their restaurant- all day entertainment and people watching. Their floor-to-ceiling windows give the space a lot of light and coupled with the muted blend of wood, white walls and pistachio green leather booths create an airy, relaxed atmosphere.IMG_9197 Serge et le Phoque

Together with Mr. Pelletier, the other powerhouses behind Serge et le Phoque are Chef Frédéric Peneau, former co-owner of famed Le Chateaubriand with Iñaki Aizpitarte and Café Burq and Chef Christophe Pelé, formerly of La Bigarrade. Serge et le Phoque (Serge and the Seal) may be a random appellation, but it was named after and by Peneau’s son Serge, who thought it made sense as another of Peneau’s ventures is Le Dauphin (the Dolphin).

The kitchen produces beautifully plated contemporary French cuisine and Mr. Pelletier explained that they did not want the portions to be too big as their vision is for diners to enjoy their food “with their mouths not their stomachs”. Don’t worry about going hungry though, their 3 course set lunch menu ($250pp) allows you to feel utterly satisfied without being stuffed to the rafters. You may even avoid the dreaded food coma.

Their menu is seasonal and changes once a month, with all ingredients flown in from Japan or Europe, but all their meat is from Hugo Desnoyer, the famous Parisian butcher.Simplicity and elegance

The eventual presentation of each dish belies the actual complexity of technique that has gone into it which makes the meal even more of a gastronomic enjoyment. We started with a lovely amuse bouche, a sensational mouthful of toro with raspberry and shiso dressing. For starters the Asparagus with Mizuna and Orange was a heady blast of citrus which could be a little overpowering for some, but the asparagus was crisp-tender.

Amuse bouche- toro with raspberry and shiso dressing

Amuse bouche- toro with raspberry and shiso dressing

Asparagus with mizuna and orange

Asparagus with mizuna and orange

We loved the thickly sliced Red snapper ceviche which was fresh and bouncy in texture but the real star was the hen egg with squid ink, grilled corn kernels and fried fish. It was one wonderful, gooey mess of deliciousness.

Red snapper ceviche

Red snapper ceviche

Hen egg with squid ink, girlled corn kernels

Hen egg with squid ink, girlled corn kernels

IMG_9212

Fried fish- too addictive!

Fried fish- too addictive!

Our surprise middle course had me longing for more. Two pieces of chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe were spot on tender and slightly caramelized.

Chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe

Chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe

For mains, the choice is simple but vague- Meat or Fish. As there were two of us, it was only sensible to have one of each. The fish main course was a Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt.  For Meat it was Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring. Both dishes had to be admired for their aesthetics but Rach and I felt the pork belly had the edge in terms of a complete taste. The pork was fantastic, its crackling prepared to crunchy perfection and I liked the kick of the Harissa paste. The Red snapper was lovely too but its flavours were less punchy.

Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt

Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt

Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring

Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring

To end we had the chocolate lover’s Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts and the Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine which I was most excited about. I love Dacquoise which is traditionally a dessert cake with almond and hazelnut meringue and cream. In their amazing mini bite-sized version, the Vanilla cream and Nougatine made it irresistible and we tried our best to convince them that opening a little shop selling these would be met with much enthusiasm. We also had a taste of their Brie from Alléosse, Paris which was creamy and rich and served with a plum and lemon compote.

Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts

Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts

Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine

Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine

 Brie from Alléosse

Brie from Alléosse

It has been a while since I was truly excited about a French restaurant in Hong Kong, and now that it has been open a few months, I think most of the initial hiccups some may have encountered with service have been ironed out. They are sticking to a set menu for both lunch and dinner, where a 4-course dinner set is $550pp or you can have the 3-course Hugo’s menu for 2 which gives you the option of sharing a 1kg Cote de Boeuf ($1450) or a 700g of Quasi d’Agneau ($1250). Lunch is definitely great value and I do think the food and attention to detail, the hospitality of Pelletier and the Wan Chai market entertainment, will make Serge et le Phoque anyone’s regular hangout.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Serge et le Phoque, B2, G/F, Tower 1, The Zenith, 3 Wanchai Rd, Wan Chai, 5465 2000.

Mon 7pm-10.30pm, Tue-Sat noon-2.30pm, 7pm-10.30pm.

This review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong. This tasting was by invite- many thanks team Serge et le Phoque!


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Healthy Eats at Maya Cafe

It is still early enough in the year for people to be stalwartly sticking with their usual New Year’s Resolution to be fitter, leaner and healthier. Come April, that resolve slowly dies, replaced by a longing for hot cross buns, chocolate Easter bunnies and basically anything slathered with butter. Yay for Easter hols! If you are the type to give up something for Lent- you have strong willpower my friend.

So, before your resolve begins to waver, let me tell you about Maya Cafe on Moon Street in Wan Chai, that is stocked with rather delicious looking and tasting vegetarian dishes. I was impressed by the substantial number of dishes which caters to all types of health-conscious beings. Vegetarian, gluten-free and raw dishes grace their menu and they even have organic wine.

Maya Cafe

Maya Cafe

Tina Barat and Mina Mahtani are the two creative friends who decided that in light of a lack of healthy options in HK, would open their own establishment offering what they themselves sought. Tina Barat, in quite a career change from jewellery designer to chef, has taken inspiration from her French-Moroccan background, to create a lovely Mediterranean menu. Tina has been mindful in producing dishes that are nutritious and healthy but without compromising on flavour and both cooked and raw foods are 100% organic. It’s clear when you chat to her (both her and Mina take the time to serve and speak to their customers), that Tina is extremely passionate about healthy living and she informed me that this lifestyle is ingrained in her as her mother herself only cooked such dishes when she was a child.

The cafe has Mediterranean elements in its decoration with Turkish lamps hanging peacefully from the ceiling, white walls and an outdoor terrace that I imagine will be lovely to sit on in the summer.Maya Cafe

When I visited, they were just promoting their special Chinese New Year menu and I got a chance to sample a couple of dishes from this menu as well as dishes from the a la carte. Their dishes will change seasonally, so I look forward to visiting again soon to see what’s new.

I was off to a good start with their CNY Amuse Bouche ‘Joy & Beauty’ which was a duo of Yellow and Red Bell Peppers on a crostini. The bread was nice and fresh and the bell peppers sweet. Following that, I had their Life & Peace Salad, made up of kale and avocado in a lime and hemp seed dressing. This was surprisingly yummy, despite its ‘greenness’ and the hemp seeds added texture and bulk.

Kale and Avocado Salad

Kale and Avocado Salad

Duo of Red and Yellow Pepper

Duo of Red and Yellow Pepper

I then sampled their Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup which was rich, wholesome and quite filling. During this time I noticed a group of four well-dressed young men had come in on their lunch break, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that these guys had chosen Maya instead of Pizza Express, or TED’s Lookout or even Oolaa. Just goes to show that men are increasingly becoming health conscious. I wonder when my group of male friends will start to willingly go into a vegetarian restaurant instead of having to be dragged there like petulant children!

Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup

Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup

I thoroughly enjoyed the next two dishes which can be found on the a la carte. Meatless Balls in a Rich Tomato Sauce is one of their customer favourites and I could definitely understand why. Made of mushrooms, oatmeal and Parmesan, the texture and the feeling of satisfaction is akin to eating real meatballs and I really enjoyed them on the bed of red and brown rice.

Meatless Balls in Tomato Sauce

Meatless Balls in Tomato Sauce

Up next was the Raw Vegan pasta which was fettuccine shaped courgette (Zucchini) with a creamy cashew-truffle sauce. I have to say I thought this was quite delicious and I allowed myself a moment of smugness that I had joined a well-being and goodness foodie club albeit temporarily. Obviously there is no substitute for the mouth-watering, decadent, full-fat, carb-loaded version of this pasta, but I could get used to eating courgette fettuccine as a guilt-free option.

Fettuccine shaped courgette with creamy cashew-truffle sauce

Fettuccine shaped courgette with creamy cashew-truffle sauce

For dessert, I chose the the Chia Cream with Berries. This was interesting to me as I didn’t realise that soaking chia seeds would bloat to that extent and these were soaked in coconut cream then blended with berries and raw brown sugar. A delicious little treat.

Chia Cream with Berries

Chia Cream with Berries

If, like me, you are someone who doesn’t normally frequent vegetarian outlets, Maya Cafe definitely presents a lovely option if you want to eat out but cut back on the rich and calorific foods of normal establishments. It certainly doesn’t feel like you are force feeding yourself vegetables and I thought all the dishes I tried were well thought out and satisfying. If you are a vegetarian or need gluten-free dishes, then Maya Cafe may well be your new haven.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

$$$$$$$$$$

Maya Cafe, G/F, 5 Moon Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2529 3319. Open Mon-Sun 0800-2200

This was by kind invitation- many thanks to Tina for having me!


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Stone Nullah Tavern- a stone’s throw from reinvention

There have been a few places that have popped up in recent months (think Restoration, Catalunya, Mayta), but I haven’t really been following the new restaurant scene avidly, as frankly, my wallet needs a rest and the turnover is making my head hurt a little! I mention my wallet as it seems to be somewhat of a trend for these newest establishments to be a tad pricey (something that friends and I have been discussing of late) and the food isn’t necessarily completely worth the moolah though I can commend their efforts and in most cases innovation.

One such place is Stone Nullah Tavern, a liquor bar and eatery which specialises in ‘New American’ cuisine which essentially means taking classic American dishes and adding a modern pizzazz to them. Positives first- the desserts are the winners on the menu (more on that later) and the location is great. So named after Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai, it was opened by IHM, the same group that brought as Linguini Fini and Posto Pubblico. It is in an area of Wanch that is fast-becoming an alternative hip hangout: opposite the Zenith and near the Hopewell Centre and round the corner from a little eatery that sells excellent dumplings. Eclectic collection of places, but somehow it works. The open glass-fronted entrance greets patrons and the liquor bar entices the weary. The casual dining area lies behind the bar and with the timber panelling, framed old maps and low lighting, I felt as if I was at sea on a ship, minus the watery surroundings, (and the swaying).2013-05-08 20.18.52

When friends and I visited Stone Nullah it happened to be an amber rainstorm which did add to the ‘ship at sea’ ambience and it was loud inside. Wooden panelling is not conducive to good conversation, so we found ourselves taking twice as long to complete dialogue. The menu has a layout of 7 sections of íncreasingly biological terminology: ‘vegetation, fungi and tubers’, ‘legumes, grains & pulses’, ‘crustaceans, cephalopods and bivalves’, ‘swine’, ‘bovine & fowl’, ‘pickled’ and ‘confectionary’. Whilst this is quite quaint to those who understand the terms cephalopods, bivalves (octopus, squid and shellfish respectively) and tubers (potatoes), this may be quite puzzling for others or just a tad pretentious?

Complicated names aside, the dishes we sampled that night were all quite rich and salty, which was a shame, as the menu does offer some interesting combinations.

First up, the Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing with sage, sausage and foie gras gravy, sounded irresistible and the initial few bites were enjoyable and savoury, with a hint of the foie gras coming through. One too many bites though and you will fill yourself up!

Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing

Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing

The Mac & Cheese with egg yolk and sharp cheddar, as yummy as it seems was underwhelming. The egg yolk did nothing to combat the runniness of the dish and the sharp taste of the cheese gave it an almost sour taste with none of the melted, creamy deliciousness.

Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

The meat dishes fared better, with the scrumptious, finger-licking Chicken Wings with chili, honey, garlic and ranch disappearing as quickly as they arrived. Stone Nullah’s version of the Filipino Pork Sisig- the Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig, was crunchy , the calamansi lending it flavour with its delicate, sour edge.

Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings

Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig

Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig

The Crispy Pig’s Head with lobster salad and chili citronette was rather lovely with a textural contrast between the battered, succulent pig’s head and the salad. Too much citronette was added but our group approved of the dish overall. The ‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin which is in fact tender rare beef within the batter, was comforting and evoked noises of approval.

Crispy Pig’s Head

Crispy Pig’s Head

‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin

‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin

To end we had the desserts which were the highlights of the night. Their famed Fat Kid Cake confused us at first as it is served with a lit candle, and we thought they had mistakenly brought a birthday slice. Unfortunately, the candle kept blowing out (amber rainstorm + candle do not mix!) despite the valiant efforts of the waitress to relight it. Four cakes in one is rather dangerous and I certainly felt my stomach heave in protest against the sinful combination of red velvet, cheesecake, creme brulee and chocolate mousse.

Fat Kid Cake

Fat Kid Cake

However, the Ovaltine Ice Cream with bruleed banana, chocolate cremoso, peanut butter fudge and cereal crunch was a piece of artwork and textures played an important part in keeping our palates amused. The ice-cream was divine, the bruleed banana perfectly done and the fudge added a sweeter note to the dessert.

Ovaltine Ice cream

Ovaltine Ice cream

Service and puddings are the two aspects that Stone Nullah should be proud of, but overall, at nearly $400 per person for 6 dishes (of not overly huge proportions), between four people, it seems a little steep. The menu, dominated by fried, rich dishes, will induce thirst, so make sure you have a glass of water handy.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5 

$$$$$$$$$$

Stone Nullah Tavern, G/F, 69 Stone Nullah Ln, Wan Chai; 3182 0128


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Piccolo Pizzeria & Bar

Wan Chai is choc-a-bloc with a variety of tasty eateries lately, from the swanky to the modest and cool.

Piccolo Pizzeria and Bar is one of the latter, and after successful branches in Kennedy Town and Tai Hang, a third restaurant has now opened at Tai Wong East Street. If you enjoy their Roman-style pizzas and satisfying pastas, but found Tai Hang and Kennedy Town just that little bit too far to get to, then the Wan Chai is nicely in the middle to sort out your needs.

Homey and family-friendly were the two things that sprung to mind when I stepped foot inside one Saturday evening. The premises are thankfully larger than their Tai Hang branch which, despite my best efforts, I could never get a seat at. The word ‘friendly’ persists, with happy, helpful staff who showed me to my table and were just on the right end of chatty to talk me through the menu and their specials.

Piccolo Pizzeria

Piccolo Pizzeria

I had a good view of the restaurant, gazing up at their muted tin lights with different shaped tungsten filaments lining the centre of the ceiling and their open bar. 70s and 80s music washed over me, and I had to stop myself from showing my age and busting out some karaoke warblings to The Police and Spandau Ballet.

The menu does not try too hard with too many dishes or anything overly fancy. The focus is on the freshly-made pizzas and pastas with the addition of a daily special.

I started off with a basic Beetroot and Rocket salad, which was nicely dressed but could have done with a slightly more generous helping of beetroot to what was a forest of rocket on my plate.

Beetroot and Rocket salad

Beetroot and Rocket salad

I tried a small portion of the special that day which was an Italian seafood soup called Cioppino, with Red Snapper, squid, shrimp, clams and lobster. The shrimp were sweet, the broth full of flavour and quite clearly the result of a good amount of reduction with half the sea in it.

Seafood Cioppino

Seafood Cioppino

The staff recommended I have the Nduja de Calabria pasta with live prawns tossed with chilli. This was by far, the most delicious pasta I have had for a long time. The Nduja, which is the Calabrian version of salami, is spicy and typically used as a spread on breads or served with cheese. In this pasta dish, the chorizo-like piquant sausage lovingly coated the pasta and the prawns were so fresh and sweet, that I clean forgot I had pizzas to look forward to and tucked into this dish with gusto.

Nduja de Calabria pasta

Nduja de Calabria pasta

I was able to sample two of their pizzas- the signature Pizza Pancetta with bacon, tomato sauce and a soft egg and the bestselling Prosciutto di Parma with Parma ham and rocket. Both were excellent though I especially loved the Pizza Pancetta. The pizza bases were crispy and thin and the cheeses melted and bubbled to perfection. I stopped at two slices from each and excitedly asked to have the leftovers to take-away, a brilliant decision on my part as my lunch at home the next day was amazing. The Pizza Pancetta was, I think, even tastier and I had it cold. Not that I would encourage this, but I am definitely ordering this pizza again and saving some for leftovers.

Pizza Pancetta

Pizza Pancetta

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma

Although I was on the verge of bursting, no meal would be complete without some dessert. I had to try the Tiramisu which was lovely and light and child-friendly. The portion is just enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a sweet ending without being too cloying. The Panna cotta was smooth and full of vanilla pods which I love and I was pleased to note that it was not overly rich or sweet and the fruits were a refreshing complement.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Panna cotta

Panna cotta

I can see exactly why Piccolo Pizzeria is able to open a third branch. With reasonable prices (around $120-180 for mains) for hearty, unpretentious but well-executed food, it is somewhere that I know I will be finding my way back to for a tasty meal with solid service and a friendly atmosphere.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5


$$$$$$$$$$

Piccolo Pizzeria & Bar – Wan Chai, 22 Tai Wong East Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Reservations: 2824 3002

Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday: 12pm to 10pm; Friday to Sunday & Public Holidays: 12pm to 10:30pm

 This review was done on behalf of Sassy HK and can be read here.


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Italiano at DiVino Patio

Funky Brim 28 in Wan Chai, the recently renovated behemoth of alfresco space, is home to several bars and eateries including the new California Vintage (see the review here), Frites and Chez Patrick Deli. One restaurant that is doing relatively well is the DiVino Group’s DiVino Patio, (I tried really hard to come up with a pun-tastic title but could not think of anything to rhyme with ‘patio’- will do better next time!), a rustic rotisserie and pizzeria restaurant that serves up traditional Italian fare and lures customers with its comfortable outdoor dining area and the promise of capturing the ambiance of rural Italy. I initially paid a visit when it had newly opened its doors and I have been back since to re-sample some of the dishes I tried the first time round as well as trying a couple of other dishes, and I am quite pleased to report that their food has remained consistent, (an oddly difficult level to attain at most restaurants!) even if the service is a little patchy.

There is something about red brick walls and chalkboards that I find very appealing to the eye and although DiVino Patio’s attempt to create provincial Italy is a little on the pristine side, it does the trick. Meat slicers and exposed shelves lined with wine bottles add to the setting and booths and tables get a good view of the outside as well as the rotisserie that takes centre-stage.

DiVino Patio

DiVino Patio

Wine bottles as decoration are very useful!

Wine bottles as decoration are very useful!

The menu is fairly extensive with platters, antipasti, main courses from the grill and skillet, pastas and pizzas. Their sharing plates are particularly good, especially their monstrous 500 Grams Buffalo Burrata cheese- absolutely delish and the Salumeria of 5 types of cold cuts.

Salumeria of cold cuts

Salumeria of cold cuts

The Eggplant Parmigiana looked a little forlorn on the plate, and seemed as though it had been a tad overdone, but, the presentation was all that was lacking in this dish as the flavours were fantastic. The thickly cut eggplant, melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella and the lovely, rich tomato sauce all came together to make a highly satisfying antipasti dish.

Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmigiana

The main that followed- the Braised Wagyu Beef cheek with with beefsteak tomato risotto, was my favourite of the meal. The fun presentation of beef-jus and tomato infused risotto nestled in a beefsteak tomato meant that I was only too eager to tuck in and somewhat childishly destroy the carefully assembled dish. I loved the bite of the risotto; DiVino Patio successfully not over-cooking it to a soggy mess and the rich, succulent wagyu beef chunks dissolved divinely in the mouth.

Braised beef cheek with beefsteak tomato risotto

Braised beef cheek with beefsteak tomato risotto

The second main course was the Spit roasted Italian piglet “Porchetta” style served with potatoes and artichokes. While I love Porchetta, ESPECIALLY the crispy skin, (when its done right of course), this particular version fell flat, as I was mostly consuming fat. Obviously I have no real problem with eating fat. Fat tastes good. But a lot of fat, can be rather distracting and greasy when the meat should be prize. Perhaps our little piggy was a porker, but this dish would have been so much better if there was more meat to be had and the skin had a better crunch to it. The potatoes were ace though.Slow Roasted Porchetta

Another dish that I have tried is the large pappardelle with Tuscan wild boar ragout which was very good. The ragout may be a bit on the saltier side for some, but I felt the flavours came through well with the meatiness of the wild boar complementing the eggy homemade pappardelle. Definitely a go-to dish if indecision strikes.

A dessert that I sampled was the Trio of Chocolate- chocolate pudding in three ways, though I confess, I have absolutely no recollection of what exactly each way is, except for the melting chocolate pudding which, as it stands out in my memory, must have been the yummy one. In any case, I did not think that it was a stellar dessert offering, but it was still executed competently. Their chocolate biscotti however, was wonderfully crunchy and if I had a hot chocolate to hand I would have loved to have dunked it in. 

Trio of Chocolate

Trio of Chocolate

Chocolate biscotti

Chocolate biscotti

DiVino Patio is a fab place to go if you want the alfresco dining and fairly traditional Italian cuisine. But, with prices for all their dishes, including starters and antipasti, (salads discounted) hovering between $108 to $288, I find it on the steep side. For a decent meal of two courses plus drinks, you are looking at $400 per person minimum. Be that as it may, there are some solid dishes on the menu that I would eat again.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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Shop 11, 1/F, Causeway Centre, No. 28 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong Tel: 
2877 3552