Hong Kong

5 Korean restaurants that you shouldn’t miss in HK

Many Hongkongers are in love with Korean food, the moment I reveal(?) my identity as Korean, I start getting bombarded with a flurry of questions like, where to go for Korean BBQ. While there are quite a few good Korean BBQ places in HK, Korean food is not all about BBQ, just as Sushi doesn’t represent diverse Japanese cuisine.

Below are some of great finds where we Koreans love to visit for no-frills, good Korean food. These are all great, but they specialize in different types of food, so simply grab one of your choice, depending on your mood today.

1. Arirang (3F, W Square, 314-322 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai)IMG_2180

IMG_2579Arirang is the place to go whenever I have a craving for Korean food at a comfortable, down-to-earth setting. While more and more unique, fun places offering fusion Korean food are popping up throughout the city, I still think food at Arirang is one of the most authentic kinds. Its menu option is very extensive, running the gamut from simple “Sundubu Jjigae”(spicy Beancurd soup), “Bibimbab”(mixed vegetable rice) to all types of BBQ and Korean hotpot, you just name it.

Weekday lunch set provides a good bargain with its price dropping to almost 50%, but the real fun part comes at dinner time, where you can find more group diners, a “bomb shot” (aka “Poktanju”, a mixed drink) and a lot of laughter. Try “Seafood pancake”, “Spicy beancurd soup” and “Mixed vegetable rice”, which also go well with Korean BBQ here. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4.5)

2. Hwaduk (21/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay)IMG_2387

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Hwaduk is sort of way fancier version of usual Korean fried chicken place that you might find in Korea. From the moment I dined at Hwaduk, which opened less than two years ago, I have been a big fan of Hwaduk with the quality of its “Oven Roasted Chicken” (not fried!) and all other dishes, even “Gorgonzola pizza with honey” tasted better than any other pizzerias.

Perched on the 21st floor of this restaurant-filled elegant Cubus Building, Hwaduk is a perfect place to quench your chicken craving (pairing with a jar of fruit Sangria and this is a heaven). Hwaduk Chicken comes with very healthy and tasty green salad on the side, no matter what flavor of chicken you order. Health-conscious ingredient and cooking methods are definitely an added bonus that can hardly be matched by others. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4.5)

3. Moyo (36 Aberdeen Street, Central)IMG_2395

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“Burrata & Fig in Modena balsamic vinegar” or “Cacio pepe e noci rice cakes” doesn’t sound like your typical Korean dish, however this Korean chef trained in Italy has been doing so good for creating amazing Korean-Italian fusion food. As Korean myself, I don’t usually eat at Korean-fusion restaurants but Moyo‘s creative menu incorporating familiar flavor with foreign ingredient is worthwhile to try.

This place is especially good for 20,30ish-youngsters’ group gathering due especially to its boisterous ambience in this small central outpost. Most of the patrons(over 90%) were Korean when I visited Moyo last two times. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 3.5/ Service 4/ Price 4.5/Value 4)

4. Itaewon(G/F, Kiu Fung Mansion, 14-18C Austin Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui)19961527_10214067342906370_6063785920928703858_n

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Itaewon, here we go. This is the place where you should head to when you are in the mood for Korean BBQ. Quality meat and side dishes (aka “banchan”) will make your whole BBQ experience  so satisfying, easily compensating for a bit of difficulty locating this restaurant from Tsim Sha Tsui mtr station. Itaewon is great for group dining, virtually in all age groups.(Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4.5)

5. Jangdok(G/F, 188-190 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai)jangdok

bibimbabPleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at a very reasonable price in this newly opened Korean restaurant. While few of the patrons are Korean, Jangdok delivers higher degree of authenticity in their food. So it can be a good alternative to other Korean restaurants if you want to have a quick, easy Korean meal. Jangdok is truly a bang for the buck and its track record is already proven at its prior Jordan location. Worthwhile to try if you happen to be in the area and want to save time and money. (Taste 4/ Ambience 3/ Service 4/ Price 3/Value 4)

Verdict: I have been to Arirang more than 15 times and Hwaduk 10 times on various occasions but it is in Korea where you can taste the best Korean food, stating the obvious. It is only a 3.5 hour-flight from HK and you can enjoy amazing Korean food feast at around 1/3 price (in Seoul) and even less (in other cities) than you would pay for in HK. The diversity and quality of Korean food is unrivalled. So why not planning your trip to Korea for your next food adventure?

 

Hong Kong

Afternoon tea @ Gradini, Pottinger Hotel

Forget about something British influences about high-tea tradition, graceful afternoon gourmet pastime or whatever it’s called, afternoon tea in HK can be another great excuse of satisfying our sweet tooth in a less guilty(?) way. Who cares about putting some extra pounds when a wide variety of beautifully arranged savory and sweet choices are right in front of you?

My afternoon tea experience at Gradini, was one of the best in HK for both absolute quality and value for price, so I decided to dedicate my posting today solely to Gradini, Pottinger.   It is actually a hidden-gem that most tourists or even Hongkongers are not aware of its true value, so I am happy to share this amazing place with you.

Having already experienced its great Italian meal at Gradini, I’ve had a certain degree of expectation about afternoon tea here. But with its price almost 30% cheaper than most of other famous high-tea places nearby in central, I somehow didn’t expect too much at the same time. But when this tea-set tray came to our table, I could instantly sense that this can probably be my favorite afternoon tea experience, and it truly was.

Gradini, Pottinger Hotel (74 Queen’s Road Central, Central)IMG_2528.JPGAmazing afternoon tea set amounts only to HKD 188(USD24), one savory tray and the other sweet tray with a choice of coffee or tea. This extra hot cup of cappuccino with liberal amount of cinnamon power paired so well with above equally great food.

IMG_2526Savory choice: San Daniella ham with a fig, buffalo mozzarella with tomato sandwich, lobster sandwich, curry and meat puff, two thumbs up!

IMG_2525Sweet choice: Tiramisu, panna cotta, macaroon, scone, egg yolk cake, heavenly!

IMG_2513Cappuccino alone deserves 5 stars, extra hot and strong espresso flavor topped with creamy foam/cinnamon power

IMG_2530Cozy afternoon tea lounge, separate from elegant main dining area

IMG_2561.JPGElegant main dining area filled with charm

IMG_2562.JPGFacade of Pottinger Hotel, with Gradini on 2nd floor, Ta Vie on 3rd floor, another famous restaurant specializing in Japanese-infused French food

IMG_2548You can simply order dessert a la carte, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed with huge afternoon tea set. Above features their signature “Moscato Jelly with fresh berry compote honey cone and coconut gelato” and “Tiramisu classico del pasticcere”.

Verdict: While it is conveniently located in hustle and bustle of central district lined with world-renowned brand shops, its tucked-away location slightly above busy Queen’s Road Central makes Gradini a quiet sanctuary for gourmands. While afternoon tea set is sometimes filled with too much unnecessary kinds of food, one at Gradini presents an adequate amount of portion, making one tea set enough for two people. With its  premium quality ingredient, snug ambience and price tag being so unlike central, value of afternoon tea at Gradini easily tops most of other popular venues in HK.

Rating: Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 5/ Price 3.5 /Value 5

Hong Kong

French dining in HK

The fact that Hong Kong is home to 2nd largest French community living abroad, following London, makes it one of the most ideal places to taste authentic croissants, baguettes and macaroons. Even McDonald’s have offered their version of macaroons, pressured by this recent “French” fad in Hong Kong, although it is hard to vouch for its taste.

Below are my go-to French restaurants in HK for various occasions and you will see which one suits you best while following this post.

1. Arcane (3rd F, 18 On Lan Street, Central)IMG_2041

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Initial disappointment that Arcane doesn’t have dinner course menu as most other French restaurants do (but they can offer customized tasting menu if you request) immediately turned into awe and respect upon tasting their famous appetizers, truffle gnocchi and Japanese fruit tomato. Indefinite satisfaction coming out of refined taste emphasizing the quality of ingredient, artistic presentation and sophisticated venue gave us an impression that I am dining, somewhere in Montreal.

“Pyrenean milk fed lamb with aubergine puree, chickpeas, chorizo and choi sum, rosemary” was the highlight of the meal and you can order their signature “truffle gnocchi” either as an appetizer or a main (gnocchi was so delicious that I was literally drooling over other people’s leftover…). Each dish came with near perfection and now I can  understand why food in Arcane can be better enjoyed by a la carte option. Internationally acclaimed-Michelin star chef’s presence also lifted up our expectation and mood throughout the night. (Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 5/ Price 5/Value 4.5)

2. Alchemy in the dark (16 Arbuthnot Road, Central)IMG_2049

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IMG_2053Have you ever eaten in the dark? Yes, I mean, completely dark that you won’t even see what you are eating and the person you are eating with. Although cutlery is offered, you will soon find yourself eating with two hands(as you can’t see anything at all) and the 5-course dinner focusing on its original flavour minus visual presentation (sometimes unnecessary) tastes extremely good.

Alchemy is the first of its concept of “dining in the dark” in HK and you can simply go with A la carte menu or weekend set lunch if you wish to enjoy their amazing food with your eyes wide open. Their cheese platter was one of the most delicious and delicately presented dish that I’ve ever tasted. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 5(lounge)/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4.5)

3. Serge et le phoque (Tower 1, The Zenith, 3 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai)18739742_1799646840349246_1101100992025482408_n

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18698449_1799646843682579_1175739570136910695_nLocated right in the heart of Wan Chai wet market, it seems to be the last place where French restaurants can be found. But in this Brooklyn-style cool setting with all window blinds tightly closed(to block the outside market view), you won’t notice the surroundings at all. Rather, all you can experience is the sublime Japanese-infused French cuisine, which noticeably uses less butter than usual French food, thus bringing surprisingly refreshing taste. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 3.5/ Service 4/ Price 4/Value 4)

4. Seasons by Olivier E. (Shop 308, 3/F, Phase 2, Lee Garden,  28 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay)19114061_10213761627063665_4504912428977078753_n.jpg

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19145841_10213761683025064_5909546512999482517_nThis modern French cuisine created with nuanced interpretation meets your full expectation about perfect dining, highlighted by venue’s elegance (Yes, it is in Lee Garden) and attentive service. 4-course dinner set gives you great value and flexibility in menu options, although it is not easy to keep your choice within the set categories when plenty of fancier(more pricey) selections are available. Food here stops short of being overly butter-influenced and there are always countless reasons to pair with a glass/bottle of red wine. (Taste 4/ Ambience 4/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4)

5. Le Bistro Winebeast (G/F & 1/F Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wan Chai)IMG_2067

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Honestly, I was reluctant to include this place as it is a hidden-gem that I don’t want to see it crowded with people. Who can resist spacious but intimate ambience filled with wine from all over the world (they do wine wholesale, thus offering quality wine at wholesale price) together with sumptuous dish at a value price? Their amazing 4-course tasting menu paring with 4 glasses of wine comes at only USD 70, almost half price of other comparable restaurants. Location being tucked away from busy Hennessy Road also helps its royal patrons enjoy delectable food in a quiet and leisurely atmosphere. Although there’s a wide variety of selections, I strongly suggest you go with tasting menu for an ultimate gratification. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4/ Service 4/ Price 3.5/Value 5)

6, Upper Modern Bistro (6-14 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan)18952844_10213761800067990_6482150638825403679_n

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It was a fun-filled experience to dine in Upper Modern Bistro with its uniquely shaped ceiling and vivid decoration. Philippe Oricco (also a chef of Michelin-starred restaurant On Dining)’s name gives this venue an indisputable authenticity and half of the patrons seem like French-speaking people.

While I greatly enjoyed a course dinner, the food here was heavily butter-cream influenced, I somehow still hesitate to go back to this place unless it’s a group dining sharing food together. When there are plenty of other options to choose, Upper Modern Bistro will hardly be my priority. However, it’s worth experiencing at least one time for its delicious food not skimping on thick, creamy sauces.(Taste 4/ Ambience 4/ Service 4.5/ Price 4/Value 4)

Verdict: Arcane fits the true definition of fine dining, so good for special celebrations. Le Bistro Winebeast has the greatest value for both price and taste. Try Lounge at Alchemy if you truly appreciate good food in an artistically decorated surroundings and go for dining in the dark if you are a real adventurer. For those who wish to focus solely on food, Serge et le phoque can be your best bet.

Hong Kong

5 Best breakfast cafes in Hong Kong

Where would you go to have an early morning chat with your friends over a good cup of coffee or something to munch in Hong Kong? Check out the places below that are worth visiting for incredibly good breakfast on HK island side.

1. Cupping Room ( Shop LG, 287-299 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan)IMG_1471

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IMG_1473Sheung Wan is gaining crowds of royal followers in culinary scenes for the recent few years and this place is leading the cafe trend with its barista winning two-time HK barista championship. From the facade on Cleverly street entrance, you might easily mistake Cupping room for a cafe somewhere in Brooklyn, New York, with its unique ambience and hipster patrons.

Their house-black coffee is what they earned a reputation for and all breakfast menu are divine. If you go for savory options, look no further than “Eggs Benedict with house-cured salmon”, “Avocado on toast with poached eggs”. For sweet choice, “French toast” here is great as the flavor is not overly sweet but very delicately presented with real bananas and good maple syrup. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 3.5/ Price 4 /Value 4.5)

2. Le Salon De The de Joel Robuchon ( Shop 314,334 Landmark Atrium, Central)IMG_1516

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If you are visiting HK, chances are you will be encountered with (at least) one of Robuchon’s cafes located in fancy shopping malls, like Landmark central, IFC Four seasons entrance and Elements in Kowloon station, etc. Reputation being Michelin three-starred restaurant with its international presence always attracts many visitors as well as residents in search of good croissants and baguettes.

Their baguettes and croissants are one of the best in HK and recent find of “Banana chocolate croissant” covered with almond slices and cinnamon powders literally put me in a sinful spiral. Flaky exterior texture of the croissants surprisingly matching the moist banana flavors inside, my attempt of trying only half of those two my favorite croissants (leaving half for later consumption) never succeeds. However, it gives me another compelling reason to work out at the gym, so it is not too bad to devour all those calories.

While their pastries are relatively reasonably priced, price for coffee is not, but this famous “La Marzocco” espresso machine that they use will surely satisfy you no matter what. People-watching in the open atrium of this luxurious mall while munching your morning croissants is another joy that can’t be missed. (Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 5/ Price 4.5/Value 4.5)

3. The Mandarin Cake Shop (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Rod Central, Central)IMG_0229

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This bakery in Mandarin Oriental Hotel is the one that I’ve most frequented while living in HK before finding two above-mentioned places. Eating these beautifully presented pastries with a cup of Americano has been my weekend morning ritual, usually followed by a grocery shopping at Oliver’s in the adjacent Prince’s Building.

Looking at those elegantly displayed cakes, it always occurs to me that eating cakes as a breakfast can be a good idea and it really is. Also, don’t miss out their renowned scones available at 3 pm daily, shining star of the afternoon tea set. If you want something more than pastries, head directly to either “Cafe Causette” or “Clipper Lounge” right next to this bakery, which serves from its famous Hainanese chicken rice, wonton noodle, pancakes to full breakfast buffet, literally everything. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 5/ Service 5/ Price 5/Value 4.5)

4. Coffee Academics (223-227 Wan Chai Road, Morrison Hill)IMG_1477

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IMG_1609.JPGAs its name suggests, this place treats coffee quite seriously and uses THE espresso machine ” La Marzocco” (If you find coffee shop using this coffee machine, the quality of their coffee is 90% guaranteed.) While Coffee Academics has a few presence in HK, this quiet venue on Wan Chai Road is the best of all, giving you serene moment of reading books and working on-line.

They boast vast food options in its almost magazine-looking menu booklet and their breakfast set menu that comes with a choice of coffee is quite a steal, given rather steep (but understandably) price for the coffee here. Coffee Academics also runs coffee workshops so if you are really into coffee, this place is more than just for your breakfast . (Taste 3.5 / Ambience 4.5/ Service 4/ Price 4.5/Value 4)

5. Oolaa ( G/F, Center Stage, Bridges Street, SoHo, Sheung Wan)IMG_1637.JPGHow can I forget Oolaa when talking about breakfast scene in Hong Kong? Straddling Staunton and Bridges Street on the borderline of SoHo and Taiping Shan, Oolaa is an ideal place for enjoying group dining or having a relaxed time by yourself with its wide open space full of cheers lifting up morning spirits. Frankly, the food itself is not the most delicious but the truly relaxing ambience and cool vibe make up for this. While they tout their signature menu is Oolaa’s big Breakfast, I like to have Greek Yogurt with quinoa and berries for a lighter option. My kids’ school is just 1 min-walk from Oolaa, making this place look like a school canteen, as I always bump into parents, children or teachers here. (Taste 3/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 3.5/ Price 4/Value 3.5)

Verdict: If you are a visitor to HK, Mandarin Oriental cake shop and Joel Robuchon bakery are perfect places for great pastries and coffee in a snug setting of luxurious hotel and mall. You won’t miss Oolaa if you follow the travel guide route of happening SoHo and trendy Taiping Shan district and this place is always popular with both visitors and residents alike. If you are serious about coffee and food, head directly to Cupping Room and Coffee Academics(for the coffee) and the unique ambience exuding hipster vibe will truly make you feel like a cafe trendsetter.

Hong Kong

My Dim Sum Diary

I didn’t grow up eating Dim Sum, although I consider myself pretty much exposed to different types of Dim Sum while living in various countries (My first encounter of Dim Sum was at  Chinatown in London 17 years ago and I was literally awed by all those moving carts). My picks in this post don’t necessarily reflect the most famous or authentic Dim Sum experience in Hong Kong. Rather, they represent quite decent Dim Sum places offering quality ingredient in a child-friendly setting (Yes, my kids were always with us at Sunday Dim Sum feast).

1.The Square (Shop 401, 4F, Exchange Square 2, Central): This is our go-to Dim Sum place with its elegantly comfortable setting and various choice of Dim Sum. The menu at The Square tends to be upscale and quite pricey at regular menus, but Dim Sum here boasts surprisingly extensive menu at a good price. Seats in the back of the restaurant are more decorative and calm, which most of the time only go to patrons who made a reservation in advance. Leisurely stroll after a meal at the connected IFC Mall is a great way to digest Dim Sum calories, although you might end up spending more at this word’s renowned luxury mall. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4/ Service 4/ Price 3.5/Value 4.5)

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2. Summer Palace at Island Shangri-La (Supreme Court Road, Level 5, Pacific Place, Admiralty): This opulent Dim Sum outpost at Island Shangri-La overwhelms patrons the moment they enter this place, making it especially suitable to impress parents/relatives or out-of-the-town guests visiting Hong Kong. Although price is not customer-friendly and the choice is rather limited, its shrimp Cheong Fun (aka shrimp rice noodle roll) alone is so memorable that I still long for a day that I will go back. Who can resist this lightly fried fresh jumbo shrimp elegantly wrapped in a roll? Summer Palace is definitely not quintessential Dim Sum experience in Hong Kong but a list to keep to broaden your Dim Sum choice. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 5/ Service 4.5/ Price 4.5/Value 4)

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3. Fook Lam Moon (Shop 3, G/F, Newman House, 35-45 Johnston Road, Wan Chai): It is in Fook Lam Moon where people can test how much money they can spend solely on food (Some of menu’s eye-popping price will keep you wondering whether you’re looking at a price for food or plane tickets to Europe).  However, unless you go for something like “Exclusive dry aged abalone from Japan” or “Supreme Fish Maw/sea cucumber”, most of the safe Dim Sum choices are within fairly(?) reasonable price range and extremely superior quality of ingredients will make you nod why movers and shakers in HK come to dine here. Indeed, we had the luck to spot a table with celebrities near us. Although my inner instinct urged me to take pictures, I decided to leave them alone as this is THE place where celebrities want to enjoy their food quietly.

We haven’t gotten into the main dining hall (below is the less busier side, one floor up from main restaurant), which is more grandeur and luxurious, but this one was equally good as the tables were arranged really far each other and staff provided very attentive service, beyond the level that usual Chinese restaurants bother to. Finishing the meal with the ” Vermicelli with shrimp roe paste and mushroom sauce” was an excellent choice with its meat-free, light refreshing taste. We hope to go back in the near future for more fun experience here. (Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 5/ Price 4.5~100: can go up as high as to an almost infinite level, depending on what you order/Value 4.5)

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4. Dim Sum Library (shop 124, 1/F, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty): “Black truffle har gau-shrimp dumplings” or ” Prawn & mozzarella rice paper wrap” or “Hokkaido king crab & sea urchin spring rolls” doesn’t sound like typical Dim Sum dish. But this chic-hipster-fusion Dim Sum venue at posh Pacific Place draws huge crowd, making it almost impossible for us to eat here without reservation days in advance.

Those who initially scoffed at the notion of eating Dim Sum at such an unconventional  restaurant with a price (including myself) soon succumbed to the charm of this place and they seem to like the fact that Dim Sum can be enjoyed with just couples or a small group in a refined setting. Try any of the chef recommended dishes including three above-mentioned ones and you can’t be more satisfied. (Taste 4.5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 4/ Price 4.5/Value 4)

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Although above-mentioned high quality Dim Sum places are always the safe bet, my fondest memories go to when I went with local friends and I was truly amazed by hustle and bustle of the scene. You can’t go wrong with following your local friends in terms of Dim Sum and I will post more quintessential Dim Sum places in HK later.

Verdict: The Square is always right with its vast menu options/reasonable price and the perfect place to get together as a group. Look no further than Summer Palace if you need to impress and treat visitors or you have the luck to eat when someone else picks up the tab. Head directly to Fook Lam Moon if you need some zest in your culinary life and have a deep pocket. As Dim Sum Library is all-day Dim Sum spot, you can literally go anytime when you have a craving for Dim Sum.

Hong Kong

Italian Food in HK

Who doesn’t like good Italian food?

Yes, GOOD Italian food. Below are my go-to places in HK for different occasions.

1. Gia Trattoria (G/F Fleet Arcade, Fenwick pier, Wan Chai): Homey rustic place offering authentic Southern Italian food. They import real Italian produce from Italy and have their own Italian grocery market(Mercato) right below the restaurant. Truly Italian experience in a relaxed, spacious setting, which is not often the case for restaurants in HK. Their Scialatielli with mixed seafood and cherry tomatoes is the reason I keep coming back to this place. (Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 4/ Price 4/Value 4.5)

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2. Giando (9 Star Street Shop 1, G/F Tower 1, Starcrest, Wan Chai): Run by the same group with Gia Trattoria above, this restaurant located at Cul de Sac of Star Street boasts an ambience truly resembling seaside restaurants in Italy, with its sophisticated white decor dominating the scene. Patrons are right mix of expats, locals with many years’ of overseas experience and any adventurous people looking for a great taste. Sunday antipasto brunch buffet is the great value as with Gia Trattoria and you will find everything, especially the burrata from Puglia will simply melt in your mouth. (Taste 5/ Ambience 4.5/ Service 4.5/ Price 4.5/Value 4.5)

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3. Gradini Ristorante (Lobby level, The Pottinger HK, 74 Queens Road Central): Situated in a busy central district, but tucked away in this quiet boutique hotel “The pottinger”, Gradini is good for romantic dinner at night-outs with your loved one or elegant group dining. Gradini offers refined Italian food in a hotel setting, but its intimate and cozy atmosphere refuse to give patrons typical hotel dining experience. “Oven baked whole Italian sea bass with fresh herbs in a salt crust” is the signature dish and its portion is good to share. Please don’t forget to finish the meal with their equally amazing dessert. (Taste 5/ Ambience 5/ Service 5/ Price 4.5/Value 4.5)

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4. Sabatini Ristorante (3F, The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) : Sabatini is not our everyday Italian restaurant, rather once a year or once in a blue moon. But the experience here is worthwhile to keep Sabatini in the list, despite the sheer value doesn’t keep up with the steep price. From the moment we set foot on Sabatini, I was treated as a real VIP and this sublime experience lasted until the end of the meal. The food is nothing outstanding compared to above-mentioned three restaurants with exorbitant price, but the live music and attentive service throughout our meal elevated the mood and this is truly a good place for people-watching. At least, it’s worthwhile to try once! (Taste 3.5/ Ambience 5/ Service 5/ Price 5/Value 3.5)

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5. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana (Shop 202, 2F, Alexanders House, 16-20 Chater Road, Central): My experience is at Galaxy Macau but heard one in HK is as great or better than one in Macau so I included this one in my list. Sophistication beats any of the restaurants mentioned so far and the sheer level of expectation about next dish was so high that the actual meal didn’t really matter. Ambience is truly a top-notch and food is divine. However, due to eye-popping price, I don’t think I can go back in the near future. (Taste 5/ Ambience 5/ Service 5/ Price 5/Value 4)

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6. Pirata (29-30F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai): Since its opening over a year ago, this Wan Chai fixture has become foodie’s favorite, with its setting semi-cozy(somewhat crowded) and semi-rustic(with its unique wooden furniture and vintage lighting). Try their weekday/weekend brunch that come with a couple of appetizers/ main dish(family style)/sumptuous dessert and the portion is very generous combined with their antipasto buffet choice. Tagliatelle with black truffle and butcher’s cut steak are their signature, but my personal favorites go to spring chicken and eggplant parmigiana, drenched in homemade tomato sauce. As this place is always a full house, I strongly recommend you make a reservation in advance. (Taste 4/ Ambience 4/ Service 4/ Price 4/Value 4)

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7. Italian at my home: As I can’t go to these places everyday, I cook Italian food by myself. Although the taste is hard to match those mentioned above, I like to have it in my comfortable home with nice bottle of wine. (Taste 3/ Ambience 4: Super comfy/ Service 1:Self-service/ Price 2 /Value 5)

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We tried lunch most of the time, as lunch menu is sometimes more extensive with its antipasto buffet offering and way less expensive than dinner (about three times), thus truly bang for the buck! The very definition of Italian food seems to vary among difference countries. While Western countries consider Italian food as family-style comfort food, we Easterners immediately associate Italian food with luxury and sophistication, thus Italian restauranteurs here in HK found themselves having hard time meeting various customers’ expectation. But this is Hong Kong, so any style will find its own place. I didn’t include Grappa, another my favorite for casual dining, simply because I don’t have any available photos. There are more hidden-gem Italian places in HK, which I will post later.

Verdict : Gia Trattoria and Giando are my picks of Italian with their ingredient /recipe /ambience being true to the basics and Gradini is for little special occasions. Sabatini is good for one-time dining experience and I will eat at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana everyday  if I am rolling in money.