It always fascinated me that among Hong Kong’s bustling restaurant scene it is so difficult to find an authentic Italian restaurant. And I guess some of you would say that of course it is not surprising and, being in the heart of Asia, one should enjoy what is being offered in terms of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese (and, believe me, Hong Kong has a phenomenal selection of these restaurants in a wide price range). However, I am not giving up on my search for that perfect Italian meal. At the end of day Hong Kong offers authentic French brasseries and buzzing Spanish tapas places. So there must be that Italian gem hidden somewhere in this busy city.
And there is.
And, just to make a disclaimer, of course there is the famous 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo that offers beautiful Italian food – but I am not after a special occasion venue, I want a place where one can pop mid-week of a laid back dinner with friends and a place where the “damage” won’t put you on a diet of baked beans for the rest of the week.
And I think the answer to my search lies in Sai Ying Pun – the up and coming area just a short stroll west from Sheung Wan.
It is Trattoria Caffe’ Monteverdi.
The minute you walk into the trattoria (and I do feel the word trattoria is more appropriate to use than restaurant when talking about Monteverdi given the homey feel the place has) you feel like you are in rural Italy. The menu is also not your typical menu from one of the mainstream Italian restaurants. The dishes are distinctive, some unique to specific regions of Italy, clearly specified next to the dish. And the owner (Armando) and his wife were so welcoming and helpful – making the whole experience even more enjoyable.
My love for the place started with the salads. Beautiful colours and fresh flavours of the fennel and orange salad, dotted with a few tiny black olives. Stunning combination of crispy pear, soft milky cheese and walnuts. Simplicity of grilled multi-coloured peppers with an olive oil based dipping sauce. All of the dishes let the quality ingredients speak for themselves. Fresh, light, colourful and delicious way to start a meal.
I normally would never order gnocchi… I have had too many experiences of dense, gummy and heavy gnocchi over the years to make me never order them in a restaurant. However, Armando has persuaded me that Monteverdi’s little Italian dumplings have to be given a chance – and, oh boy, was I happy to have listened to him! What has arrived was a plate of light-as-air melt in your mouth morels of goodness. So soft and delicate and with a silky-smooth texture. And not only did the plate of these dumplings leave you fully satisfied, but it didn’t make you feel heavy. You may notice that I haven’t even mentioned which sauce I had my gnocchi with (which was four cheeses btw, with an addition of a grating of the fifth cheese, parmesan – as someone I know says “there is no such thing as too much cheese”). And the reason for that is that I could have had these gnocchi plain, with just olive oil, and still thoroughly enjoyed every single bite.
And while gnocchi was what made me leave my heart in Monteverdi, the layered oven baked pasta from Marche (which is a variation of lasagne) was also outstanding. As were the tagliatelle with homemade pesto sauce that my companions ordered.
In fact, coming back to gnocchi, I think I may have to embark on a project “My Perfect Gnocchi” on one of these grey rainy weekends. Watch this space.
Thank you Monteverdi for helping me re-discover the beauty of gnocchi.
Trattoria Caffe’ Moneverdi
6A High Street
Sai Ying Pun