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The thing about Italian food in Hong Kong is that it’s abundant, so it’s not often we come across an Italian restaurant that really stands out. We live in a city saturated with good eateries, many of which serve Italian-ish dishes. So when it comes to the 'best Italian food', I find it impossible to pick one out, but I definitely have a shortlist of five favourites that I’d visit again and again:
Carbone – hip vibe and perfect lemon cheesecake
Carbone is my safest recommendation because it’s a restaurant that most people find cool, comfortable and tasty. The Black Sheep Restaurants group definitely know what it takes to set up new spots with good vibes (like the Vietnamese Le Garcon Saigon and, most recently, Belon). So Carbone is my go-to choice for a social gathering, since it has a lively ambience and a good selection of drinks too.
The food: I love the fact that you’re always greeted with a basket of really delicious garlic bread, salami and Parmesan cheese as soon as you’re seated here. The pasta dishes are generally delicious, especially the spicy rigatoni vodka. We also tried their pork belly, which was perfectly cooked too. But the most unforgettable dish has got to be the lemon cheesecake, which I featured as part of the 8 Best Lemon Tarts in Hong Kong, even though it’s strictly not a tart.
Must order: spicy rigatoni vodka, lemon cheesecake
9/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, LKF, Central, 2593 2593
Sabatini Ristorante Italiano – perfect pasta with fancy live music
It doesn’t get more classic than Sabatini, yet it’s different from most of my other recommendations in that it’s much more upscale, in the fine-dining category. Therefore, it’s also not cheap. A pasta dish probably costs about $300, but they are all constructed so perfectly, I believe the price tag is worth it.
It’s definitely not a spot that would commonly be regarded as a good place to 'hang out' with friends. It’s more suitable for long-term partner dates or small families rather than social groups. I love their live music too, though not as much as I love their food.
The food: it’s hard to recommend one dish, because all the pasta dishes I’ve tried here have been made so wonderfully. The lobster bisque was also delicious. However, the desserts here were relatively disappointing, so I’d suggest filling up on the starters and mains instead.
Must order: any pasta dish
3/F, The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, TST East, 2733 2000
121BC – boutique wines and a unique menu
121BC completely breaks away from the 'boring pasta place' stereotype of Italian restaurants. Actually they only had two pasta dishes when I went. Their menu is short, fun and something slightly different. The ambience is lively too. The place was jam packed on a weekday. And although it doesn't have the most spacious seating arrangement in town, this restaurant is definitely fun for both small casual group gatherings and date nights as well.
The food: their menu is not typical, so don’t expect to find your classic Italian dishes here. I loved their stracciatella with apsaragus, anchovies and pine nuts; their ravioli was also generous in portion and delicious, as was the zucchini flower, which was lightly battered like tempura. Plus, they’re stocked with many different wines from small vineyards. The one I had from Tuscany was excellent.
Must order: stracciatella with asparagus, anchovies and pine nuts; zucchini flower
42–44 Peel Street, Soho, Central, 2395 0200
ciao chow – everyday pasta and good pizza
Ciao chow is the closest to 'typical' on this list – hey, maybe you’d like something normal, standard and safe, like for a casual business catch-up lunch, right? Or maybe you’re just craving a good pizza. It’s perfect because of its prime location bang in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong – a 10-minute walk from most Central office buildings.
The food: its location had me suspecting that they would serve mediocre, overpriced food. But both preconceptions were busted. A regular dish costs around $150, and I loved both the pastas and pizzas. The pizzas were a particular highlight. You can see the chefs rolling out the dough and cooking the pizzas in a wood-fired oven right inside the restaurant. They also have a good coffee machine.
Must order: carbonara pizza
G/F, California Tower, 30-32 D’Aguilar Street, LKF, Central, 2344 0005
SEPA – Venetian fare and an epic tartare
SEPA may have gone unnoticed to some. It’s a little far up the slopes above Soho, which means that most of us won’t really walk past it on a normal day. But with a pleasantly casual vibe and a focus on Venetian food, it’s a great idea for group gatherings and dates alike. It’s not as bumping as Carbone or 121BC, but they do have some outstanding dishes worth going for.
The food: the thing about eating pasta dishes out is that they are often so standard that I can make something just as good at home. But the veal ravioli here was a beaming highlight; I haven’t had something similar elsewhere in Hong Kong. The ravioli was stuffed with strongly flavoursome veal meat and the skin was perfectly al dente. Their other ragu sauce pastas (a signature of Venetian cuisine) were equally delicious.
Must order: veal ravioli, beef tartare
61 Caine Road, Mid-Levels, Central, 2521 9800