KONTRASTO is Chef Fabiano Palombini’s first solo venture, with a bit of guidance from the talented folk at F&B group LUBUDS
Chef Palombini, an Abruzzo native, has quite the fine-dining pedigree. Most recently at the helm of Piedmontese stunner Castellana here in Hong Kong, over the past 35 years the chef has cut his chops at three-Michelin-starred establishments around the world – including La Pergola in Rome, Hof van Cleve in Kruisem (Belgium), Maaemo in Oslo and Eleven Madison Park in New York City.
KONTRASTO’s bright, minimalistic space on the ground floor of Hollywood Road beckons diners with its soothing elegance. The large open kitchen is the focal point of the nearly all-white space, accented with gold and marble.
The restaurant’s name is Esperanto for “contrast”, signifying both diversity and unity in the chef’s eyes. KONTRASTO’s dinner tasting menu (HK$1,280/person for 6 courses; HK$1,680/person for 8 courses) showcases Chef Palombini’s modern, creative interpretation of Italian cuisine. Wine pairings (+HK$720 for 6-glass pairing; +HK$960 for 8-glass pairing), curated by sommelier Leo Fernando, are available from a 260-strong list of top bottles from Italy, Austria and Germany.
The dining experience at KONTRASTO gets off to a cracking start with this lovely bread basket – sun-dried tomato focaccia, potato sourdough, carta di musica (thin crackers originating in Sardinia) and taralli (ultra-crunchy Puglian breadsticks) – accompanied by a selection of four regional Italian extra-virgin olive oils, ranging from a delicate cold-pressed oil from San Giuliano to a robust and peppery Tuscan number. Our pick goes to the Puglian oil (third from left) with its distinct spiciness.
Before the formal tasting menu even commences, diners are presented with this dazzling Benvenuto prelude; otherwise known as amuse-bouches, these are six inventive welcome bites, a great introduction to the diverse flavours of Italy. Our bites included fishbone-shaped crackers sandwiched with anchovy butter, burrata tartlet sprinkled with bottarga, chickpea disc topped with prosciutto, mini tuile with mushroom purée, Parmesan croquette and Japanese firefly squid with salmon roe resting atop a squid-ink sponge.
The first course was this Seppia dish, perfectly encapsulating the flavours of spring. It features the classic pairing of green peas (both whole and puréed) with mint and basil. Cuttlefish dices and seaweed butter add both oceanic richness and textural contrast.
Next up, Trippa. Based on a traditional dish from Rome, veal tripe is matched with a comforting sauce spotlighting Piennolo cherry tomatoes, which are grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and have a unique sweet flavour with a slightly tart aftertaste. The tripe stew is topped with a thin Parmesan cracker, adding a modern touch.
The two pasta courses come next. Virtù – KONTRASTO’s most talked-about dish – is first, striking in both conceptualisation and presentation. It takes its backbone from a historic dish from Abruzzo, the home region of Chef Palombini. Served traditionally on Labour Day (1 May), the dish symbolises the start of spring; it showcases a medley of Italian noodles (fusilli, rigatoni, ziti, pipe rigate, mafalde) in a single pasta dish served alongside a platter of fresh seafood from around the world. At KONTRASTO, the chef has transformed the dish into an exquisite work of art, with the seafood (sea urchin, red prawn, caviar, lobster, cuttlefish, firefly squid) plated like an artist’s palate. The idea is to mix the pasta, which is swimming in a rich, tomato-based sauce that’s flavoured with a complex jus made from the shells and off-cuts of the seafood, with the bits of seafood. We urge you not to waste a drop of the sauce, using the bread to mop the plate clean (known in Italy as scarpetta).
The second pasta dish might not be as eye-catching as Virtù, but it’s just as delicious. This Spaghettone is made with artisanal pasta sourced from Vicidomini, a producer in Naples, which is exclusively available in Hong Kong at KONTRASTO. Served gricia style with loads of aromatic Pecorino Romano, black pepper and guanciale crumble, the luxuriously thick and creamy sauce coats every inch of the al-dente pasta strands.
There’s a choice of three main courses. We sampled the Faraona, or Racan guinea fowl breast, accented with the earthiness of red baby chard and kohlrabi purée.
Dessert appeared in the form of this Crema Caffè, a sophisticated alternative to classic tiramisu. The contrasting textures are key to the dish’s success – airy mascarpone cream, coffee-infused meringue shards and a sponge centre that bursts with an intense coffee gel.
Offering some of the prettiest petits fours we’ve ever encountered, the menu wraps up with a selection of piccola pasticceria – in this case, Earl Grey tartlet, strawberry choux, hazelnut-flavoured chocolate and a mini cannolo flecked with candied orange.
KONTRASTO is a worthy addition to Hong Kong’s Italian fine-dining scene, expertly melding authenticity with innovation. In particular, Chef Palombini’s pasta dishes are standouts, and the Benvenuto welcome course is an unrivalled meal opener.
Where: G/F, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1–13 Hollywood Road, Central
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.