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Einstein sought it. So did Stephen Hawking. At last, from the roiling filaments of existence, experts have extracted the holy grail of science, a unified field theory of everything. It comes in three parts, and due to its boggling complexity, you hope you’ll be excused for colloquially expressing it:
- Love is all.
- Dogs are the superior species. They’re watching us. Be good.
- Excellent pizza crust is utterly critical.
Apparently, number 3 is the linchpin that holds it all together.
All is for naught without a crust of heft, flavour, distinction – not so easy to find in Hong Kong. A great crust is one you long to eat even by itself, nicking it from a friend’s plate with no twang of conscience. It must come puffed, browned, blistered from its oven sojourn.
Babacio’s got it! It’s Neapolitan style, a bit thicker than some, a bit chewier, a bit less crisp, tugging back like a scamp when you yank a bite. Its scent is the open door of a bakery on a spring morning. Of critical importance, it has the structural integrity for the essential New York Fold. Many people don’t know this, even New Yorkers, but that’s the lengthwise fold you make (or try to make) that allows you to eat the slice with one hand, no droop. It’s the test that tells if your pizza crust has vigour or needs Viagra.
The sauce on their piccante pizza (spicy salami) is mild and minimal as it should be, not calling attention to itself like spaghetti sauce (a common pizza error). Too much cheese is fondue. Too little is punishment. The cheese coefficient must harmonise with the essential resonation of the universe like a tuning fork, and this does. The salami is proud to be salami and holds its salami head up high in thankfulness to the salami gods who gave it salamihood. It wants to be eaten by you, fulfilling its salami dreams. It comes in small rounds, flavoured tightly, sizzling when it arrives. This pizza is elementally delicious.
Their tartufona pizza is no less prodigious. Porcini mushrooms have a particular mushroom taste, brooding, redolent of dark earth. Concentrated by the heat, this comes across distinctly. Though you’d have loved fresh truffle, they were out. Truffle paste was no slouch alternative. The fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) gave off little moisture, sparing the dish fatal sogginess.
On the opposite side of the universe from the apostasies of Round Table and, God forbid, Domino’s, these are pizzas from a true chef who truly understands. The gods – when not chasing dairymaids or turning nymphs into laurel trees – eat these pizzas, delivered by foodpanda.
Pizzas one muon better do exist. They may be based on house-milled flour, sauce reduced from fresh tomatoes, house-grown herbs, house-made mozzarella or burrata, distinguished Parmesan, sourdough perhaps. Yet they’re much more expensive and, in a way, almost not worth it, like a Lambo on a speed-restricted street. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
To speak the truth that few dare speak, the truest test for pizza is if it utterly satisfies you eaten cold for breakfast the next morning. This is crucial. Everything hangs in the balance. Both Babacio’s pizzas ace this test.
You had a burrata pomodoro (burrata and sweet little tomatoes, basil leaves)...
... a Nordica salad (rocket, smoked salmon and shards of tangy cheese)...
... and tagliatelle with frutti di mare (fresh clams, shrimp, squid, calamari, white wine).
The salads were fine, though you think that hot-smoked salmon would have been better than cold. The tagliatelle, not house made, was cooked a precise al dente (not easy with fresh pasta), the sauce utterly fresh. You wanted a little Parmesan to sprinkle over. Best as you understood your server’s explanation, the kitchen considers Parmesan on seafood pasta transgressive. It was not to be had. In total, these dishes were quite good, if not standouts compared to similar dishes slung elsewhere.
Yet, in your view, all these dishes are tangential to Babacio’s divine mission: pizza.
You sat on an outdoor patio with alarmingly spongy decking. The furniture was a bit scuffed. The five-storey view scooped up an engaging street scene and mountains in the distance – pure Hong Kong.
It had its own Aperol cocktail machine, either a sign of mankind’s advancement or imminent self-destruction.
It would be the perfect place for out-of-town guests or late-night revelry.
The service was good, friendly, kind, though you sensed that the servers might not have been looking at their jobs as careers.
You had a number of cocktails, all good but not epiphanous. The pisco ananas and pompelmo tonic stood out.
Your wife tasted the two reds by the glass and enthusiastically endorsed the Luigi Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo 2016.
The salads came with grissini that were great, though not house made. You harp on house made because it’s the difference between cooking food and curating food. You simply prefer the former. By your lights, it’s a restaurant’s raison d’etre.
Tiramisu is a serious hit of coffee custard and needs a determined lady’s finger force to hold you back from toppling in, your body to be identified years later by forensic experts. In your view, Babacio’s lady’s finger factor needs dialling up – more of them and crisper – for proper balance.
The noble heart of Babacio is pizza. You know of no better pizza in Hong Kong. It’s the best you’ve had yet.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Food overall: 3.5
Ambience (on the deck): 4
Overall greatness: 3.5
Overall pizza greatness: 4.5
Restaurants are intuitively rated within their particular realms. So Michelin restaurants, pizza places and stand-up sandwich joints are judged against other like restaurants, not against each other. A 5 for a high-end restaurant is not meant to be the same as a 5 for street food.
This meal (ample for six), which was comped, would have cost about HK$2,000 including drinks and service charge – a fine deal.
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