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Simplicity is the key
When celebrity chef Mario Batali’s Italian restaurant Lupa ended its run in Central’s LHT Tower, we wondered if its replacement, an Italian bistro by the name of Spiga, would be able to elevate the cuisine to a higher level here. To our pleasant surprise, this newbie from the Dining Concepts stable does indeed take the dishes, interiors and ambience up a notch in this third floor space. This one, we reckon, is a real keeper from the get-go.
Joyce Wang, the Hong Kong designer behind some of Hong Kong's best looking dining rooms (Mott 32, Rhoda, we're looking at you), has transformed the space at Spiga with a distinctive retro-industrial feel. The main dining room is oozing with vintage elements that are inspired by old Italian train stations. Wang has used a palette of earthy tones and has installed cosy booth tables and mosaic flooring. Towards the far end of the restaurant, a more brightly lit dining area features more contemporary surrounds with soft leather chairs and white tables. The adjoining terrace has been renamed Portico and it’s here you can grab your pre and post-dinner drinks.
So the space is an instant winner but carving a reputation as a champion Italian restaurant in a city where this style of cuisine is already so well-represented is a massive challenge. Step forward the chef at Spiga’s helm, Enrico Bartolini. This culinary maestro earned his first Michelin star at just 29 years old and he heads up several eateries including Restaurant Glam by Enrico Bartolini at the Palazzo Venart in Venice. He’s known for his flair when it comes to interpreting classics without losing any authenticity and he’s certainly brought this ethos to Spiga. The menu is anything but fussy. Simple pasta dishes, pizzas and perennial faves like osso bucco and pork chop Milanese rule here.
As we order at Spiga, it’s only been open for a week, so the bookings have been limited in order to help manage the operation better. But there’s no early nerves evident. The waiters are fluent in Italian and are extremely courteous. They’re not shy in recommending their favourites on the menu, too. So we take advice and, following some crusty country bread and heirloom tomato with tuna sauce amuse bouches which whet our appetites admirably, we tuck into the no-nonsense minestrone Genovese and a ravioli with bufala cheese in a creamy tomato sauce. Both are done to perfection. The soup is light and flavourful with more than enough chunky vegetables. However, it’s elevated from a fine broth to a stellar one with the accompanying bowl of warm toasty croutons and olive oil which we combine to create a taste sensation. The same goes for the ravioli. The tomato sauce is mild and creamy with just the right amount of cheese stuffing the freshly made pasta pockets. Every ingredient shines.
Sadly, the osso bucco, a chef’s favourite, is off the menu on our visit, so instead we opt for the equally recommended but hard-to-perfect pork chop Milanese. Now, with this breaded meat dish, balancing the slab of tender flesh on the bone with just the right amount of breadcrumbs on the outside is hard to achieve. And it’s gotta be done with a level of sophistication. Well, again, we just can’t fault Spiga’s version. Simply presented on an ungarnished plate, the round chop, with its small bone, boasts plenty of juicy, meaty flavours alongside the light crunch of the perfectly seasoned breading. We also order the roast chicken, which comes with a marinade of chilli, garlic and rosemary and is presented tableside as a whole bird before the chef quarters it. Yet again, a faultless dish, noteworthy as much for its simplicity as its combination of flavours.
We don’t order any wine during our meal but, nevertheless, a waiter brings us two glasses of complimentary Rafaèl 2014 Valpolicella, a fruity red table number. A lovely touch and a lovely pairing with the pork. Unfortunately, it’s only right at the end that we have any criticism at all, in fact. Our dessert, the cream puffs with strawberry sauce, isn’t nearly as good as the previous dishes. The fruit coulis tastes artificial and would benefit from pieces of chopped fruit to go with the rich cream filling.
Despite our dessert, though, we’re really impressed with Spiga. It’s hard for jaded diners in Hong Kong to get excited about yet another Italian restaurant and there’s certainly no shortage of competitors to this restaurant. But Spiga’s formula of sublime simplicity is set to earn it respect with food lovers across the city. And this is even before we’ve tried that osso bucco...
BY: Leslie Chan