Spaghetti and pizza shouldn't be made the only choices for Italian cuisine. Re- opened Italian restaurant and bar La Piola presents a traditional Italian cultural experience in a heritage building, where you can eat and chill amid a modern atmosphere with an unusually high five-meter ceiling.
It took six years to gain approval to open the chic eatery in the Wan Chai building, where its history as the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop can be traced back to a leftover half of the shop's sign, as well as the short stairs placed inside the main dining area, although they're off- limits now.
Founder Enrico Gili brings in the Italian cuisine from his home region, Piedmont, in Italy's northwest.
"Piola in the Piedmont dialect means 'homestyle-cooking trattoria,' or 'simple restaurant' in English," Gili said. "We want our guests to relax and enjoy simple, hearty cooking with the freshest ingredients, following the traditional recipes, but presented in a contemporary style."
Cheese lovers will certainly shriek with delight from beginning to end. Kicking off with the starter Carpaccio All'Albese (HK$138), a veal carpaccio with celery and shaved Parmigiano cheese aged for 24 months together with olive oil.
Homemade tajarin pasta (HK$195), served with Italian luganica sausage and leek and burrata cheese, gives a true taste of Italy. Hardly can you resist Plin al Castelmagno, homemade ravioli (HK$198). The delicious secret comes to the stuff with Castelmagno cheese inside, especially when you eat it hot.
As the icon of Italian cuisine in the majority's eyes, pizza is irreplaceable. Try the Margherita (HK$148), the original pizza. Gili said the pizza is named after Margerita of Savoy (1851-1926), the Queen consort of Italy, who traveled to Naples where the pizza originated, and someone made it for her. The crispy thin dough makes the pizza irresistible with tomato sauce and cheese.
The main course, Fritto Misto Di Pesce, fresh fried seafood (HK$258), is highly recommended. Round off the meal with the Italian signature dessert, Tiramisu (HK$78).
Meanwhile, another Italian restaurant, Pirata, also in Wan Chai, offers some new dishes specially for this fall.
Combining seafood with Italian booze - clams with vermouth (HK$180) - provides fresh and rich flavors along with tomatoes, saffron and vegetables. Let the alcoholic dish continue with the Risotto with pumpkin and sausage (HK$190). White wine, butter and parmesan cheese are cooked together with main ingredients such as seasonal roasted pumpkin, luganega sausage, and most importantly, acquerello rice.
Get a taste full of cheese from the new handmade pasta eggplant mezzelune (HK$130). Smoked scamorza - an Italian cow's milk cheese - and eggplant are encased in freshly made pasta cooked with a homemade pesto sauce. Another recommended main - grilled giant tiger prawns (HK$290) - is best for sharing. The salsa verde sauce and garlic enrich the flavor to the tender texture from prawns topped off with parsley.
Elsewhere in Causeway Bay, Alto 88 has launched a newly designed six- course seasonal tasting menu. Let a refreshing appetizer of cherry tomatoes and strawberry gazpacho, eggplant quenelle and parmesan crackers awaken your tastebuds.
Then raspberry comes as the highlight ingredient for the delicacy of Sicilian yellowtail and raspberry tartar, which is infused in dry malvasia wine from Salina, strengthening the freshness of the fish flavor.
Traditional Sardinian fregola, rock lobster and vermentino wine foam is highly recommended.
Other than the homemade sauce, the pasta itself fully absorbs the lobster's essence, leading to a stronger flavor of the coveted crustacean. The seared red snapper medallion, courgette declination boasts good presentation, using high-quality cucumbers from Italy to add a unique taste and visual dining experience.
The surprise continues as the black baby pork chop in pistachio crust is served with bitter cocoa sauce.
The cocoa sensation goes along to dessert - crunchy cocoa roll with eggnog cream and Bronte pistachio mousse - which ends the evening perfectly with sweetness in harmony.
The price is HK$928 per person. For those pairing dishes with wine, the cost is raised to HK$1,316 each.