121BC is not your average Italian restaurant. Upon entering their brand-new underground Hollywood Road location, you may think you’re heading into a wine bar or cool new speakeasy. The interior pays homage to Tuscan wine cellars with its washed brick walls, minimalist seating arrangements and dimly lit lighting fixtures. The wine selection is, in fact, one of the most attractive things about the restaurant as it boasts an in-house sommelier and one of the largest and most comprehensive wine lists out there, featuring all-Italian wines from a variety of regions.
121BC first opened on Peel Street around seven years ago as a sister restaurant to the (now closed) 121BC Cantina & Enoteca in Sydney. They quickly became known for their unique Italian fare and impressive wine list. With all the restaurant closures of late, we were certainly worried when we found out that 121BC had shut its Peel Street location but were then thrilled to learn that they were reopening just a few streets away. Now they’re back in business with some new seasonal dishes and past menu favourites.
Australian-born Fabio Nicotra joined 121BC as the head chef in 2017 and leads the team in this new venture. Chef Nicotra explained that as he is inspired by fresh, natural ingredients, he plans to introduce new menu items every few weeks, while some popular items will remain on the menu throughout the year. The seasonal dishes that we sampled with be available over the next couple of weeks during their opening period, and a fresh spring menu will arrive shortly after.
The à-la-carte menu is short, simple and divided into three sections: sharing, tapas-style plates, primi (pastas) and secondi. There is a separate dessert menu featuring some enticing dolci. On reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay always recommends a small menu that focuses on a chef’s strength and the quality of the ingredients, and that’s exactly what’s being done at 121BC.
The first dish of the evening was a light and refreshing spanner crab salad ($160) with quinoa, aubergine and pickled beetroot. While not the most memorable dish, it certainly contained fine ingredients.
The first dish to really wow us was the Jerusalem artichokes, Parmesan custard, tomato ($150), served alongside freshly baked sourdough bread. While the bread lacked a bit of flavour, that did not stop us from using it to wipe up every last bit of that dreamy, rich custard.
Upon the sommelier’s recommendation, this dish was paired with the Falerno del Massico Bianco DOC of Villa Matilde. From the Campania region, this wine was born out of a wine expert’s desire to uncover grape varieties that had given birth to Falerno in Roman times. lt is a truly delightful, smooth wine with floral and fruity notes.
One of our absolute favourite dishes that we had the pleasure of sampling, the pumpkin and Pecorino purée, portobello mushrooms, sage ($145) was deliciously creamy, with a strong combination of sweet and savoury flavours. The mushrooms were cooked to perfection.
The lamb ribs ($170) with balsamic and rosemary are one of the chef’s signature dishes that will remain permanently on the menu – and thank goodness. These crisp (thanks to being lightly fried), fall-off-the bone ribs are simply too good to not be available all year-round! The balsamic and rosemary sauce added just the right touch of umami.
This was paired with the Falerno del Massico Rosso DOC of Villa Matilde, a finely balanced, fruity red counterpart to our earlier white.
There are currently only four pastas on offer at 121BC, further highlighting that this is not your average Italian spot. We sampled two out the four, the first of which was the homemade ricotta ravioli ($190) with lemon, pea shoots and fermented chilli. Chef Nicotra was inspired to use pea shoots as the sprouting of these green buds is usually the first sign that spring has sprung. The ravioli casings were perfectly al dente, while the filling and sauce were light and full of flavour with a touch of warmth from the chilli, making it an ideal dish to ease you out of winter.
The next pasta dish sampled was the tagliatelle with prawns, ‘nduja and peppers ($195). This rustic dish focuses on the quality of the ingredients, which were incredibly fresh and plentiful. We particularly enjoyed the juicy prawns. Personally, I found the actual pasta slightly overcooked, but the rest of the table preferred this consistency to the ravioli.
The Australian Wagyu flat iron with anchovy butter and oyster mushrooms ($310) is one of three secondi on offer, and boy, is it a meaty main. We absolutely loved this quirky take on surf ‘n’ turf featuring melt-in-the- mouth Wagyu and creamy anchovy butter. The oyster mushrooms look like chunky fries from afar, but they offer yet another meaty texture to this wonderfully carnivorous dish.
On the lighter side, the sea bass with fennel compote, green olives and basil ($225) was a fabulous end to the savoury portion of the meal. The delicate fish was lightly fried and complemented the tart flavours of the fennel and olives.
Dessert was a feast for both the eyes and taste buds. The homemade chocolate and ricotta cannoli ($35 each) immediately caught our eyes as a dessert that’s not particularly common in Hong Kong. Not only is its crumbly pastry casing homemade, but the actual ricotta is homemade too. We could have easily eaten a dozen!
The ricotta panna cotta with mandarin syrup and walnuts ($95) was thick and creamy, with a touch of sweetness from the mandarin. Chef Nicotra changes the syrup based on what is in season.
The almond and pear tart with vanilla gelato ($120) had a beautiful, slightly caramelised crust, while the gelato was lovely and rich.
We ended with three homemade sorbets ($35 each): gin and tonic, blood orange and lemon and rosemary. The gin and tonic was too bitter for my taste, but fans of the beverage will love it. The blood orange was fruity and refreshing, but my personal favourite was the tart lemon and rosemary. This was the ultimate palate cleanser.
121BC is the kind of place we could sit for hours over wine and food with friends. The relaxed atmosphere, exceptional wine list and one-of-a-kind Italian dishes make this restaurant a must-visit for anyone with a passion for good food, wine and company. The ever-evolving menu means you’ll always have something new to look forward to. We’re eagerly awaiting see what dishes Chef Nicotra comes up with for spring!
LG/F, Hilltop Plaza, 49 Hollywood Road (entrance on Graham Street), Central, 2672 8255, 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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