Opened recently at the lofty Police Headquarters block within Tai Kwun in the space that was previously occupied by Statement Cantina is Aqua Restaurant Group’s latest baby. Named after the Italian word for “canteen”, Cantina features modern Italian cuisine presented by Chef Luca Schiavonen, a Sicilian native who was formerly the head chef at Cecconi’s in London’s Mayfair and head chef at Michelin-recommended Zafferano and Shoreditch House, also in London.
Cantina’s interior hasn’t changed much from its Statement days, showcasing rustic wooden floors, high ceilings and expansive windows.
To whet our appetite, we sampled a quartet of small bites, ranging from baby octopus with peas in spicy tomato sauce ($148) to seared tuna belly with spicy apple dressing ($428), followed by a refreshing watercress and endive salad with green apple, goat’s cheese, quinoa and walnuts ($108) and crunchy chickpea fritters with truffle ricotta on crispy focaccia ($108). Of the four, the chickpea fritters were our favourite, with the rich, aromatic truffle ricotta melting into the hearty fritters. The seared tuna dish, which features only four thin, tiny morsels of tuna, is flavourful but fails to justify its hefty price tag, and the watercress and endive salad is rather scarce on the latter ingredient. The octopus does pack a spicy punch, although we thought the texture was on the mushy side and would have preferred a bit more bite.
Cantina’s pizza dough is made with minimal yeast, giving the base a crunchier, flatbread-like texture. The Incontro ($148/$268) pizza features this crunchy base topped with mozzarella, mortadella, burrata and pistachio. Partly because of the lack of sauce and partly because of the texture of the base, this doesn’t resemble a classic pizza, although it’s still a delicious one.
The Isola ($268/$488) pizza, made with squid-ink-infused dough, a smidgen of yellow cherry tomato sauce, Sicilian prawns, bottarga, rocket and lemon zest, is enjoyable, although not enough to warrant the high price tag.
The linguine with clams and mullet bottarga ($258) is packed full of rich, umami notes – delicious.
With much fanfare, the salt-baked sea bass ($438) arrived at the table under a thick crust of salt and, after a swish of alcohol, mesmerised us with a halo of fire. The fish itself, however, had a lot of bones and was quite a task to eat, with us picking out bones from each bite. The fish is accompanied by a rustic caponata that resembles French ratatouille.
The Sicilian-style chicken legs with carrot, celery and green olive ($288) is tangy and sweet, with the flavours strangely reminding us of Filipino cuisine.
The tiramisu ($118) is constructed tableside.
These espresso-soaked lady’s fingers, paired with the silky mascarpone and a generous dusting of cocoa, were a sweet highlight of our meal.
The cannoli ($78) is a crisp pastry shell filled with ricotta and pistachio and, because of its richness, is best shared.
There were hits and misses during our meal at Cantina, and we feel some dishes could be rejigged. We also found a disconnect between some of the dishes and their price tags, making the weighty bill a bit hard to swallow.
1/F, Block 01, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, 2848 3000
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.