Black Sheep Restaurants founders Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark have gone back to the group’s roots with the opening of classic Tuscan trattoria Associazione Chianti on Ship Street.
And why the connection to Tuscany? Hussain and Mark first bonded over steak and Chianti at Florentine steakhouse Bistecca here in Hong Kong, and the connection to Tuscany has continued over the years, with the pair making annual trips to the Italian region to source ingredients and inspiration for all of Black Sheep’s growing group of restaurants.
At Associazione Chianti, the simple, honest ingredients are indeed the focus, and Executive Chef Josh Stumbaugh strives to capture the essence of Tuscany’s cucina povera – literally meaning “cuisine of the poor”, this is interpreted as using the finest local, seasonal ingredients to create dishes that are packed full of soulful flavour. Chef Stumbaugh is best known for working under Jonathan Waxman at his iconic Barbuto restaurant in NYC’s West Village.
Chef Josh Stumbaugh
Premium proteins are the stars here, and there are even two counters near the eatery’s entrance displaying these meaty butcher’s cuts, with the Black Angus beef sourced from ranches in Idaho. All the meat is dry-aged in-house.
Wine is also a big part of a meal at Associazione Chianti, and many of the vinos showcased here are available for the first time outside Italy.
While perusing the succinct, one-pager menu, we tucked into complimentary plates of warm bread knots studded with prosciutto, fresh, crunchy crudités and a smooth almond dip. A lovely, generous beginning.
First up for the antipasti was the pecorino al fieno, or pecorino with fresh pear and thyme-infused honey ($168), which provided a punch of sweet, salty and savoury in one bite.
Of the three crostini misti ($118), we most enjoyed the earthy chicken liver pâté and traditional Tuscan purée of braised cannellini beans.
The carne cruda, or Tuscan steak tartare ($178), is mixed tableside. We liked the rustic texture of the raw beef, which was seasoned to perfection. It was a great match for the accompanying grilled carta di musica crackers, which imparted a subtle smokiness along with a cracking crunch.
From the primi section of the menu, we tried two homemade pasta dishes: the seasonal tagliatelle with butter and Alba white truffle ($218) and the garganelli omaggio a Cammillo ($188). Though it’s hard to go wrong with silky strands of pasta drenched in butter and truffle shavings, the garganelli – a dish created in homage to Florence’s revered Trattoria Cammillo – was the winner for us. The slow-cooked beef ragu showcased in the garganelli is divine – fork-tender meat heady with herbs and red wine.
There’s no doubt the bistecca alla Fiorentina ($1,198; serves 3–4) is the headliner of the mains. This monster 1kg T-bone steak is minimally seasoned with salt and pepper and a dry rub of herbs and chargrilled to medium rare – and only medium rare. If you like your steak cooked medium or well done, you’re out of luck at Associazione Chianti (it takes guts for a kitchen to be this bold with their customers). We enjoyed the robust flavour of the tender, rosy meat in contrast to the savoury blackened crust.
Take your pick of the desserts ($78–88), presented on a sweet old-fashioned silver tray. Although we can’t fault the restaurant’s almond cake and tiramisu, it was the meringue cake that stole our heart. Gorgeous to behold, the textural combination of the luscious freshly whipped cream and chewy meringue is one we’ll be trying to replicate at home.
Black Sheep Restaurants have done it again with Associazione Chianti. The space is welcoming, the staff charming and the food authentic and delicious. We’re very impressed by the reasonable prices for food and service of this calibre. Open Tuesday–Sunday from 6pm.
15 Ship Street, Wanchai, 3619 3360, book online
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.
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