For so many restaurants with mediocre service, identical menus and lack of personality in Hong Kong, once in a while there comes the complete opposite; a restaurant with individuality, charm and a larger than life character. Il Moro in Sheung Wan is one such restaurant.
To say that the chef-owner Joseph is quite a character would be an understatement; he is full of life and very opinionated, and one of those people who makes you wonder if there’s an off button somewhere. Yet I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, for Joseph is what makes Il Moro what it is: a quirky one-of-a-kind Italian restaurant that serves genuinely delicious food from the heart.
It isn’t a large restaurant, and in fact until recently it had no signage whatsoever, making it even more of an intimate space. The interior is beautifully decorated with brightly coloured murals and Mediterranean-style plates, whilst another wall is adorned with Italian ingredients, which I assume can be purchased.
Once upon a time there was not a menu in sight, for Joseph assures diners he can make ‘anything you like’, provided he has the fresh ingredients in stock. Due to complaints about his style from people who just weren’t accustomed to it, he has now given in and menus are provided, although Joseph will still gladly tweak any printed dishes depending on what you’re after.
We began with a buffalo mozzarella salad and an enormous vegetarian platter laden with artichokes, grilled courgettes, peppers and aubergines, beetroot, celery salad, aubergine salad and a few types of cheese. Never has a vegetarian platter tasted so good. Taking in the colourful décor, the gorgeous Testarossa Montepulciano wine (which Joseph fittingly described as a ‘macho man’) and the wonderful fresh flavours of the starters, it was easy to imagine ourselves transported to the Mediterranean.
The black truffle pasta with leeks in a creamy button mushroom sauce is a must try; it is rich, but in a good way, each mouthful lightly perfumed with that gorgeous truffle flavour that keeps you going back for more. The penne pasta, though not made in-house, is imported from Italy and noticeably high quality stuff.
Another star dish was the seafood risotto, cooked to just the right al dente consistency with a generous amount of wonderfully fresh seafood. There is something rustic and authentically Italian about it that makes it stand out from many substandard risottos you find in HK.
The ossobuco Milanese, braised veal shank on a bed of grilled polenta, was heavenly. The meat was incredibly tender and the chunky root vegetables made it comforting and warming.
My choice of pasta amatriciana, although slow in coming, was definitely worth waiting for. The linguini was again perfectly al dente and liberally coated in a delicious tomato sauce with rich guanciale and pecorino cheese. I asked for chilli in mine, which made it even more amazing. The portion size was a little too generous however, and I was devastated that I couldn’t finish it.
Joseph serves most of the dishes himself, running backwards and forwards from the kitchen so that he can personally assist his customers; something I love in restaurants. My only real complaint about Il Moro is that rather than being shown a bill at the end of the night, Joseph just tells you how much you owe. Of course, for delicious food and five bottles of wine between six of us, $500 a head wasn’t outrageous, but considering Joseph supposedly gave us two of these bottles ‘on the house’ the other three must have been super pricey bottles!
Dining at Il Moro is an experience, both for the scrumptious authentically Italian food and for the lively atmosphere. It certainly is one of a kind and I already look forward to my next trip there.
G/F, Shop C, 2 Lok Ku Road
Tel: +852 2581 1809