If there’s one type of cuisine I will never tire of, no matter how many new restaurants open, it’s Italian, particularly one that’s a little bit different and ever so special, such as 121BC on Peel Street.
Although it’s one of a kind in Hong Kong, it has three successful sister restaurants in Sydney – Vini, Berta and 121BC Sydney – owned by a group of Italians and Australians who are passionate about food and wine. Our newly opened 121BC presents itself as an osteria and enoteca. It’s a place where people can go for a glass or two of Italian wine at the bar, or enjoy an array of gorgeous, fresh Italian dishes…or both.
The space is cosy and inviting with a chic black and white theme and low, romantic lighting. It seats only 50 diners, spread across its long communal table, bar stools and private room, all of which adds to the intimate, homely feeling you’ll instantly notice.
The menu is hand-written on a giant blackboard and changes regularly according to what fresh ingredients head chef Dan Johnston (formerly at Vini) can get his hands on. Many things, including the bread, pasta and ricotta are made in-house, whilst everything else is sourced locally where possible. Dishes aren’t big, so you are advised to order a few to share.
After perusing the extensive wine list (all wines are sourced from boutique producers all over Italy), we went for former Vini sommelier Simone Sammuri’s recommendation of a 2011 Le Ragnaie Chianti Colli Senesi, a lovely, light red that complemented our entire meal.
Food-wise, we began with the pumpkin with rosemary, caramelised onions and stracchino, a simple yet delicious dish that set the standard for the night. The roasted pumpkin had a beautifully soft, buttery texture that suited the creamy cheese, whilst the earthy flavours of the onion and rosemary completed the dish.
The mortadella, tomato and buffalo mozzarella pizzette had a comforting homemade quality to it and deep, warming flavours. Its small size would make this the perfect snack to accompany a glass of wine before (or even after) a big dinner.
When there’s homemade pasta on a menu, I always find it difficult to resist, so we had to try the agnolotti del plin, stuffed with braised rabbit and sage. They came very simply, drizzled in olive oil with a handful of spinach tossed through them, yet these beautiful little parcels were so delicious that they needed no further seasoning. They in fact reminded me of the homemade tortelli I always ordered at my favourite little restaurant in Parma.
We also loved the caramelised lamb ribs, glazed in orange and caraway seeds, which gave them a lovely spiced undertone. Mint obviously always goes well with lamb, and the handful of watercress and mint salad on the side was the perfect complement. My only complaint about this dish was that there was a fair bit of fat on the meat, which I tried to mask by smothering it in the remaining sauce.
Continuing on the meaty theme, we also tried the sirloin with potato, broad beans, lettuce and salsa verde. Other than a few fatty side bits that I couldn’t get my teeth through, the steak was wonderfully tender and had a lovely smoky char to it that went well with the fresh salsa verde. I was also pleasantly surprised by the lettuce, which had the same charred taste that added further depth to this dish.
We were intrigued by the sound of the smoked chocolate and hazelnut cake, but after a couple of bites realised that that smoky flavour should be reserved solely for bacon and other meats, never for chocolate.
The homemade brown sugar & spice and honeycomb & almond gelati, however, were spectacular. The former tasted like Christmas, whilst the latter contained chunks of chewy, delicious honeycomb that made it impossible to decide which one I preferred.
We were sat at the bar, overlooking the impressive collection of wines (including a 1943 Borgogno Barolo), where we could watch sommelier Simone hard at work and chat freely to him and the other very friendly staff. Our bill came to $1275 for the two of us, which I didn’t think was too ridiculous, particularly given the clear quality of ingredients and the fun, intimate vibe of the place. This could be my new favourite hangout.
42-44 Peel Street
Tel: +852 2395 0200