I might be a little biased and have completely unreasonable standards, because I grew up with a Neapolitan father, but good, hearty, and satisfying homestyle Italian food is a little hard to find in Hong Kong. And perhaps I've also never even needed to look for it, because Papa's always provided the best meals (and if you know anything about how Italian families work, you'll know that no outside food can ever be as good as what you are getting fed in your own household).
But now that I've publicly declared that my father's cooking is beyond excellent and I'm not going to be smote for spouting blasphemy, let me just say this really quick: oh-my-God-Chef-Gianni's-cooking-is-really-really-really-good-but-don't-tell-my-father-I-said-that.
Oof. That was hard to do. Moving on.
Gia Trattoria Italiana sits nestled into the space that used to be occupied by Giando, which has since moved to hip and trusty eatery haven Star Street behind Pacific Place 3. True to Italian culinary fashion, the menu here is extensive and the choices are exhaustive; Chef Gianni Caprioli doesn't hold back on his offerings, and our stomachs are thankful for it. Our tasting menu featured a whopping 13 courses, with mostly dishes from their regular menu, a selection from Gia's limited-time summer truffle menu, and whatever else Chef Gianni felt like whipping up that day.
Zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese, mint pesto, and anchovies
Neapolitan-style artisanal buffalo mozzarella served with organic tomatoes
Beef carpaccio with rocket salad and Parmesan
We started off with the best of intentions to feed our hungry mouths without hastily overstuffing ourselves; light and flaky, the crust of the fried zucchini flowers crumbled apart at the touch and was aptly creamy and salty (thanks, ricotta!). Chef Gianni uses ingredients he is most familiar with to guarantee the best results, and imports the majority of produce used at Gia from farms that he sources himself when travelling across Italy. The flour used for the zucchini flower was delicate and airy and didn't weigh down the bite as a whole. You know when you eat something fried and all you can taste is just... dough? Because there's so much of it and the ratio is all wrong and then the filling becomes secondary? Yeah, not so with this dish, so all things good here.
The buffalo mozzarella came in next, and probably weighed about the same as a small child; it was huge, and that's always a plus in my books. It was so fresh that if you are a regular mozzarella eater, like me, you can taste the difference in its creaminess, softness, and milder flavour. Well, time to go toss all that processed stuff I'm usually gnawing on down the toilet, because hey ma, look at me, enjoying the finer things in life! Littered around it like tasty little shiny jewels, if jewels could ever be tasty, were seven different types of Italian tomatoes, from Piedmont, Campagnia, Sicily, Tuscany, Lazio, and Sardinia. You just don't get tomatoes like these in any ol' place in Hong Kong, so just go to Gia and have the salad; it's worth the trip. Ranging from well-roundedly sweet to tangy to downright meaty, there's something in this selection of tomatoes for everyone, but just have them all anyway, because they're so good.
The beef carpaccio was a huge slice of meat pounded so thin, it might as well have been skin. Except that's a gross image, and it tasted nothing like that. Topped with bitter, tangy rocket, and generous salty Parmesan shavings, it was delicately-flavoured appetiser to awaken the taste buds for the courses to come.
Trifola pizza: black truffle paste, mixed greens, mascarpone, and mozzarella
Parma ham pizza: parma ham, tomato sauce, and mozzarella
The pizzas served at Gia are made in the Emilia-Romagna style, meant for sharing and to serve as accompaniments during your meal rather than as a main course. The crust is made in a light and thin manner for that exact reason, to not overload your system with unnecessary amounts of dough, which I'm all for when you're going for infinite mouthgasms and irrational carb cravings, but not here, not today. The Parma pizza had a base of rich, salty cheese, and the trifola pizza was earthy and moreish.
And in the middle of that, Chef Gianni decides that 13 courses isn't enough for a lunch tasting, so he brings out a wooden slab laden with Tuscany ham. You've tried cured Italian ham. You know it tastes good. Have you ever tried cured ham that wasn't good? Precisely my point. I'm not going to bore you with the details.
Spaghetti with summer black truffle pesto, bottarga, and asparagus
Next up, the spaghetti with black truffle pesto from Gia's summer menu. Describing how this dish made me feel is hard to put into words. Have you seen Pixar's Ratatouille? Duh, of course you have, you love food. That scene where Anton Ego eats the ratatouille dish that's served up and - whoosh! - it transports him back to his childhood memories? Well, kid you not, but that's how Chef Gianni's black truffle pesto spaghetti made me feel. Here's the visual:
That dish was something that felt and tasted so awfully familiar and infinitely comforting like every bite of it made me metaphorically snuggle deeper into my favourite blanket, and immediately reminded me of when I used to spend my summers in Italy, visiting my aunt who owned truffle pigs and dogs. I didn't appreciate the dirty little chunks they were excitedly digging up back then, but I can never forget the taste of it. And this stuff was so fresh that nothing else I've eaten recently that is also truffle-based swims, or even dips their toes, in the same league. If you ever accidentally stumble into Gia (which won't happen, because Fenwick Pier is a little out of the way and you probably won't just lah-di-dah walk into it) and you're like, "Huh, I wonder what I should order?", ask for this. Ask for this. At least until 30th July, because their truffle menu is seasonal, so all the more reason to get up off your rump and pay Chef Gianni a visit. The spaghetti was soft and freshly made and slick with creamy sauce, the truffle so pungent, it was a match made in food heaven, or, as I'm going to call it from now on, Chef Gianni's kitchen.
Rigatoni with tomato and guanciale pork cheek sauce, "Amatriciana" style
Golden-fried salted cod fish on chickpeas puree
The baccala, or cod fish, as we call it in English, is battered in chickpea flour, giving it a much lighter coating than most fried dishes, a great choice for those who generally avoid fried foods due to its oiliness. It's a mild-flavoured fish, and broke apart in smooth chunks, and the chickpea puree gave it a nutty touch. I wolfed down the rigatoni in Amatriciana style so quickly, all that was left for me to do was save a few of the pasta pieces to mop up the tangy and sweet sauce.
Rolled pork belly with brussels sprouts and baked tomato
Italian porter chianina beef with grilled vegetables
Soft, succulent chianina beef, and just a bit charred on the sides, served with smoky-flavoured veggies and chunky potatoes, and rolled pork belly with assorted veggies rounded up our main course. The seasoning for the beef was well-balanced, the vegetables were crisp and crunchy, and just look at the photo; it will convince you of the dish's tastiness more than words could. The pork belly is my favourite type of texture adventure; you get the suppleness of the meat, the silken fat, and then the crackling crust of the outer skin, and the pork is salty and moreish and makes you go, "Mmm..." when you let the flavours slowly roll across your tastebuds.
Gianni's homemade traditional tiramisu
As the tasting wore on, work and responsibilities began to beckon, and I reluctantly rose from the table to make my way back to the office, pathetically eyeing the panna cotta and homemade gelato sitting on the kitchen counter that I had to pass on. And as a testament to Chef Gianni's warm character, and why this entire review reads like a word vomit of adulation, he pulled me into the kitchen on my way out and excitedly proclaimed, "No, no, you have to try my gelato! Really quick!" and elatedly dipped a spoon into his ice cream machine and scooped out more gelato than should ever fit on a teaspoon.
At this point, I was standing in his kitchen gingerly nursing and savouring the gelato, and I thought, man, this guy really cares about his food and just wants to feed you good food, and I am A-OK with that. And yes, that was dang good gelato. And as a whole, I'm impressed.
I usually find a fault, at least one fault, in the places that I get the privilege of visiting. This wasn't the case with Gia. Dining here has made me feel like Chef Gianni has welcomed me into his home (albeit a home that, yes, does look very much like a nice restaurant overlooking the harbour) and fed me like he would feed his own family. The dishes were hearty, delicious, and, dare I say it, simple. But never simple in the way of, "Oh, whatever, I can make that." It's simple in the way of not being over the top, ostentatious, or frivolous. Just solid, rustic, regional comfort food that make your mouth and tummy happy.
So, just go. If you're a pleb like me and you can acutely feel the "I'm so darn broke" pains if ever asked to blow more than $250 on a meal, try to save up and plan for a special occasion (or get a wealthy buddy to treat ya). If you're chill with spending over $600 per head on dinner, then you are a baller and have no reason not to go. It's my heartfelt recommendation. Definitely go before 30th July to try their summer truffle menu. Also, go for the entertainment value. Chef Gianni is an engaging, amiable host and filled to the brim with expansive knowledge of his craft. If you're eager to learn more about the thought process behind his dishes and the background of the ingredients he chooses, he's a generous and passionate teacher who loves to share and educate.
Gia Trattoria Italiana
1/F, Fleet Arcade, Fenwick Pier, 1 Lung King Street, Wan Chai
Tel: 2511 8081