As much as I love all the exciting, modern and adventurous cuisines that keep popping up all over Hong Kong, there are times when all I crave are simple yet bold flavours from high quality ingredients that speak for themselves. Nowhere is this truer than in authentic Italian cuisine, and Gianni’s Trattoria Italiana serves exactly this.
With a focus on traditional recipes from the Italian region of Puglia, from where executive chef and owner Gianni Lacalendola himself hails, Gianni’s is a cute little spot just by the escalator on Elgin Street. There’s nothing fancy about the décor, since, after all, it is a trattoria, so you can expect exposed brick panels, simple white tablecloths and, of course, classical Italian music to set the scene and transport you to southern Italy.
Gianni himself has worked in some excellent Italian restaurants both in Europe and Asia. He first opened popular Italian restaurant Panevino in Mid-Levels (and now Tin Hau), before opening Gianni’s at the start of last year. He is passionate about the food from his hometown and insists on using only the best produce, as well as authentic ingredients imported directly from Puglia. With its rocky low-lying hills, broad plains and long coastline, Puglia (the boot of Italy) is fortunate to have incredible olive oil, delicious meat (particularly lamb) and a wide variety of fresh seafood. Giannis’ extensive menu showcases all of the above and more.
We began with a delicious bruschetta, made with bread imported from an area called Altamura, topped with Sicilian cherry tomatoes and rocket. Apparently this type of bread is only made in Altamura, due to the blend of wheat with which it is made growing only in this region. It’s a shame it’s not something you can get everywhere, as this bread was perfect – crusty on the outside, whilst soft and fluffy on the inside, topped with seriously flavoursome tomatoes and basil.
The Insalata Caprese, another typical and very simple dish, was also delicious. The buffalo mozzarella, again imported from Italy, was so soft and creamy it was almost burrata, and the tomatoes were once again lovely and fresh.
I think it was a general consensus that the seafood salad was neither here nor there. Whilst some items, such as the clams and the scampi were tasty, others didn’t seem particularly fresh and it could have benefitted from a light dressing to liven it up a little.
Moving on to the main courses, the spaghetti with langoustine and zucchini, despite us not being able to trace any hint of zucchini, was fantastic. The pasta – perfectly al dente – was nicely coated in a lovely tomato and garlic sauce, and the langoustines themselves were delicious.
I was also in awe of the pappardelle with oxtail ragu. The sauce was phenomenally rich, whilst the homemade pasta had a decent bite to it. I would, perhaps, have liked there to be a few more chunks of meat to gnaw at, but the sauce alone was good enough to slurp up on its own. This, for me, is the perfect comfort food.
After so much food, the lamb shank in red wine sauce didn’t really get the attention it deserved. The meat was succulent and tender, falling easily off the bone, whilst the rich red wine sauce was good enough to mop up with the sautéed potatoes hidden under the meat. The vegetables were, for me, a little on the soft side, yet somehow they were still full of flavour.
What’s the best way to end a simple yet tasty Italian meal? With a slice of tiramisu, of course. Gianni’s tiramisu, whilst not particularly strong on the coffee, was heavily loaded with some kind of alcohol, which was just fine by me! I wouldn’t consider it the best tiramisu I’ve ever had, but it was a pleasant end to the meal.
Prices at Gianni’s are certainly a lot more than they’d be in Puglia, but that’s inevitable given its location thousands of miles from there. Starters are mostly all under $150, whilst mains mostly range from $170 to $300. For those times when all you need is simple, yet tasty food done well, and served in a cosy, unpretentious setting, Gianni’s fits the bill just right.
Gianni’s Trattoria Italiana
1/F, 51 Elgin Street
Tel: +852 2525 1838