In case there aren’t already enough Italian restaurants on Elgin Street, Staunton’s Group has just opened up another, taking over the huge space left empty by Fat Angelo’s. However, Nico’s isn’t just another generic Italian restaurant; it’s a spuntino bar and restaurant, serving delights from southern Italy.
What’s a spuntino bar, you ask? It’s a casual eatery that serves snack-sized portions perfect for sharing whilst enjoying a few glasses of wine. This, for me, is the ideal way to eat: as dishes are small, it means you can have a variety of things and not feel horribly greedy!
While Staunton’s Group establishments attract hoardes of people as drinking venues, their food has never really been what draws in the masses. Let’s see if Nico’s, with its vast menu of traditional southern Italian fare, will change this.
The space, as I mentioned, is enormous, spanning around 2,500 square feet, divided into the casual sputino bar at the front, a slightly more formal dining area at the back, and a gelateria to one side, serving one of Hong Kong’s favourite brands, I-Scream. Having lived in Italy and travelled around, I saw that the divide between the north and south is apparent not just in wealth, fashion and mannerisms, but also in the food; the food in the south of Italy is much more rustic, simple and down to earth than it is in the north. The casual yet stylish décor that Nico’s has gone for certainly reflects this feel, complete with an open front perfect for people watching.
While we waited for all the guests to arrive, we tried some Crocchette di patate from the sputino menu. While ham and cheese croquettes are normally one of my favourite snacks, these were slightly heavy on the potato and slightly lacking in cheese or ham. Nevertheless there was definitely something more-ish about them as I certainly remember eating more than my fair share at the opening party a few weeks prior!
Following this, a beautiful Burratina Fresca was presented before us: a huge knot of buffalo mozzarella that was interestingly silky on the outside, with a creamy and runny consistency on the inside. It was drizzled with green and red pesto, which I only wish there had been more of, as the cheese alone was a little too mild.
The Arista Tonnata, a platter of thinly sliced pork topped with a tuna sauce was a little on the dry side but the next dish completely made up for it: my absolute favourite dish of the day was the Caciocavallo Silano in Carrozza - deep-fried smoked cheese. Need I say more?
Also impressive was the Seafood antipasti platter consisting of spicy baby octopus, a selection of smoked fish, fresh anchovies and shrimp cocktail. The smoked fish was delicious, but it was the beautifully tender baby octopus that stood out for me.
Nico’s pizzas, freshly pulled in-house, are a must-try. The crust is thin and crispy, exactly as it is in the Campania region of Italy and exactly how I like it. We tried the bestseller Mamma Assunta’s, topped with pork sausage and white mushrooms, and the Quattro Formaggi con Radicchio Rosso, both of which were delicious, but the latter, with its creamy gorgonzola was my favourite of the two.
While the Risotto Carciofi e Guanciale didn’t leave a lasting impression (apart from the crispy Parmesan waffle), the homemade Tortelloni di Carne, stuffed with minced pork and beef and served in a mild tomato basil sauce was comfort food at its best.
Nico’s prides itself on its Porceddu (roast suckling pig), and quite rightly too. The meat is wonderfully tender and flavoursome, with contrastingly crispy skin. However, perhaps I chose the wrong piece, but there was a little too much fat and not enough pig on my plate.
The Aged T-bone served on a sizzling plate was saved until last and caused quite a stir when it arrived, still sizzling, before us. The meat is cut to order, from between 350g to 1kg, so is perfect for sharing. The meat was a little on the chewy side but the gorgeous flavours made up for it.
For dessert we tried a number of options, starting with a Cinnamon apple and cream crepe (delicious flavours that were masked by too much cream), and an Amaretto toffee banana crepe (decadently sweet, with definite hints of almond).
As I’m not a coffee drinker, I’m not always a fan of Tiramisu. However, Nico’s version might have converted me; the texture was just right and the flavour of coffee wasn’t overpowering. I loved that it was served in a sweet little glass jar too.
Obviously we had to try some I-Scream, so we went for hazelnut, mint choc chip, yoghurt & wild berries, rum & raisin, pistachio and Nico’s signature flavour, Cantuccini & Vin Santo. If I were to choose one to have again, it would most definitely be the hazelnut.
To finish we were presented with a Digestivo e Sigaro Cubano, a shot of sweet Sicilian wine and an edible Havana cigar. I’m never much of a fan of sweet wine, but it’s worth ordering just for the delicious chocolatey and hazelnutty cigar.
The average bill at Nico’s comes to around $300 per person. Although not every dish was perfect, Nico’s has shown that Staunton’s Group is more than capable of attracting diners as well as drinkers to enjoy the casual, fun vibe that the new addition to Elgin Street offers.
Nico’s Spuntino Bar and Restaurant
G/F 49 Elgin Street
Tel: +852 2978 3949