I recently decided to pamper a dear friend with a birthday meal at one of the finest Italian restaurants in town, one that I have long had on my wish list: CIAK – In the Kitchen.
Centring on traditional Italian craftsmanship and capped off with the coronet of one Michelin star, the restaurant has ditched the sumptuous decoration. Instead, it extends a welcoming ambience in its gargantuan space at the LANDMARK in Central, with amber lighting under a wood-panelled ceiling, open kitchen stations on one side and bookshelves on the other.
As soon as we cruised along the open kitchen strip, the freshly baked aromas enticed our palates. When we were seated, a bread basket, comprised of crispy breadsticks, ciabatta and wholemeal bread, was served. When it comes to appetisers, nothing much beats a warm basket of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
We eased into the menu, reading all the exuberant descriptions while sniffing and peering around. After several minutes of indecisiveness, we chose a pizza, a pasta, a dish from the charcoal grill and a dessert to share:
- 2 gusti pizza – pesto and Norcina ($280)
The restaurant is considerate enough to offer an option of choosing two flavours in one pizza, so we picked pesto with sun-dried tomato for one half and the Norcina (homemade sausage with mushroom) for the other half. Committed to presenting authentic Italian flavours, the pizza reined amongst the best I have ever had in Hong Kong.
The crust was simply perfect – well blistered with an agreeable char. Thanks to 36 hours of natural fermentation that gave the dough the finest pliability, the base was on point – thin yet faultlessly chewy – and presented complex and nutty fragrances from the use of different Italian flours, which went harmoniously with the robust smokiness. In a word: SCRUMPTIOUS.
I was particularly fond of the pesto sauce, with the powerfully aromatic basil resonating with the smattering of creamy mozzarella and sour sun-dried tomatoes. The other half with sausage and mushroom felt a bit bland in comparison.
- Classic carbonara ($190)
Up next was the classic carbonara, made with tagliolini, a thin, cylindrical pasta that works best with cream sauces.
Playing hard on the “stay Italian” game, this carbonara distinguished itself from those we ordinarily eat – the creaminess, instead of being achieved by using cream and whole eggs, was mostly attributed to egg yolks. The dish was on the monotonous side though with its custardy egg flavour and was not very much to my liking.
However, I was obsessed with the tagliolini, handmade egg pasta with a uniquely al dente yet springy texture.
- Ibérico pork neck ($290)
The slight falter with the previous dish was soon slashed out by the pork neck. I am not really a pork person, or even a meat person, so I always resist ordering meat when eating out. However, the irresistible porky aroma from the dining tables nearby coaxed us to have a try, and this dish ended up being the best of the night!
When the pork neck was first served to our table, it kept oozing divine aromas of fat intermingled with the meaty savouriness from the pork, and we couldn’t wait to snap another Instagrammable photo before taking a bite. The pork had already been cut into pieces, revealing streaks of delicious marbling in the succulent flesh.
- Lemon tart ($140)
We were satiated, but a special meal out can’t be deemed perfect without dessert.
We were definitely risk-takers with this dessert, for lemon tart is always the best single gauge of a bakery’s quality – it’s either sublime or a complete failure; there’s no mediocrity with this baked treat. Thankfully we were brave enough to make this move, bringing ourselves this heavenly pastry.
There was a perfect balance between the sweet and tart flavours; the filling, which wasn’t too buttery or eggy, contrasted nicely with the crispy praline on the side. A dollop of vanilla ice cream gave the final punchy touch to the dessert.
All in all, CIAK presents a delicious line-up of skilfully executed Italian classics. At these affordable prices, we can’t think of many other restaurants serving up dishes with the depth of flavours found here. I would definitely return for another traditional, laid-back Italian dining experience.
Shop 327–333, 3/F, LANDMARK ATRIUM, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2522 8869
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