As Soho’s restaurant scene becomes more and more saturated, it’s only natural for restaurateurs to creep further up the escalator, knowing they will benefit from both Soho visitors and Mid-Levels dwellers. The space on Caine Road that was formerly a very popular Café O has been completely gutted and transformed into an ornate Venetian ‘bacaro’ called SEPA.
SEPA, which means cuttlefish in the Venetian dialect, is the first of its kind in Hong Kong, serving wine by the glass and traditional Venetian ‘cicchetti,’ or small plates, with a modern twist.
The space is gorgeous, with a cosy, rustic appeal, stonewashed walls and stained glass panels behind turquoise shutters. It’s hard to believe that this was once a run of the mill café, as now, as soon as you enter, you instantly feel that you could indeed be in a real Venetian bacaro.
The menu is very straightforward, with each item listed in a separate box on your placemat, categorised into nibbles, focaccia, pastas, ‘from the sea,’ ‘from the earth,’ and desserts. I always like to know how many dishes one should order, but the response we received from our waitress was a little unclear, as she didn’t seem to know the answer herself. I would recommend you order one or two dishes at a time. Otherwise they come flying out of the kitchen all at the same time, which is both overwhelming and results in cold food, not to mention the fact that you feel you’re being rushed out of there, when all you want is a slow, relaxed dinner.
We started with one of SEPA’s signature dishes, beetroot and tuna tartare with Jerusalem artichoke sauce. This beautifully creative dish was completely not what I expected – but in a good way. The beetroot was presented as a sort of jelly-like ball, stuffed with intensely flavoured tuna, whilst the artichoke sauce balanced it all out.
Although SEPA doesn’t have any pizzas on the menu, it has an incredible Parma ham and burrata focaccia. The freshly baked bread was wonderfully soft and fluffy, topped with the creamiest burrata I have possibly ever had, and thin, salty, delicious slivers of seriously moreish Parma ham. My only complaint about this dish was its price, as for $158, although the ingredients were clearly excellent, it’s more expensive than most pizzas that are double the size.
The croquettes filled with ricotta and olives had a beautiful flavour, but a rather disappointing texture. Once we cut through the somewhat hard outer crust, the filling just sort of dribbled out onto the plate. I could be insulting a traditional Venetian recipe here, but perhaps some potato would help bind it all together?!
I love real Italian fresh pasta, and the ravioli filled with veal cheek and Parmesan, topped with butter and thyme was nothing short of delicious. For me, however, although I appreciate a good level of al dente, a few pieces seemed just a little too underdone.
Surprisingly, I think my favourite of all the cicchetti was the salted codfish on grilled crispy polenta. Here, everything just clicked, as each flavour and texture complemented the next.
A good test for any Italian restaurant is how well they can execute a tiramisu. SEPA’s version had just the right balance of creaminess and coffee, with neither one outweighing the other.
I was also impressed by the homemade Italian ricotta cake. Each little triangle came beautifully presented with edible flowers and vanilla ice cream. The cake was moist, light and had a lovely orange twist that made it nice and summery.
Service was rather mixed throughout the meal; there were times when the staff came to clear our plates before we’d even put our cutlery down, and there were times when it was impossible to get anyone’s attention. The total bill came to a little under $1200 for two, including only two glasses of wine (conveniently they were all out of our first choice) – a rather pricey bill for the concept and a casual Tuesday night.
SEPA ticks most of the boxes, but there are still a few things lacking to take it to the level it has the potential to reach. It’s only been open five minutes, so hopefully in time these kinks will be ironed out and it can become my go-to place for tasty Italian nibbles at just a stone’s throw away from home.
61 Caine Road
Tel: +852 2521 9800