No city can ever have too many Italian restaurants. Recently, however, it seems that restaurateurs are done with the traditional style trattorias and fine dining Italian restaurants, and opting instead for a much more informal and social kind of dining, in the style of a Venetian bacaro (wine bar). First there was SEPA on Caine Road, and now there is RISI e BISI, a cosy little spot on Kau U Fong, owned by the folks behind Piccolo Pizzeria, Bistro du Vin and neighbouring Le Port Parfumé.
RISI e BISI has a very fun, lively vibe to it from the moment you walk in. Downstairs, its rustic, shabby-chic décor of exposed bricks and distressed metal is rounded off with a wall full of vintage Italian newspaper cuttings taken from the pre- and post-war years.
Upstairs is slightly more formal with leather furnishings, marble-topped tables and rather quirky photography on the walls. These are taken by the same artist who made the coke bottle chandelier that hangs over the entrance, as well as the fun coasters.
Besides a list of standard drinks, RISI e BISI prides itself on its selection of unique cocktails and unusual beers from lesser-known breweries. I started with a Bicycle Spritz, RISI’s take on a classic Aperol Spritz, which was instantly pleasing and refreshing. I later enjoyed RISI’s Whisky Sour, as recommended by manager Michelle, which was far too easy to drink – I can see how Michelle says that, in true Irish spirit, she enjoys many of these once her shift is over!
While we waited for our food to arrive, we snacked on an order of house-made lobster and seaweed crackers. These were unusual, yet very tasty. The lobster had first been baked, then dried and crumbled over some deep-fried Vietnamese rice paper, to create these crunchy crackers.
I had my eye on the fried scamorza from the moment I saw it on the menu, since this cheese is sadly not something you come across often in Hong Kong. RISI e BISI’s version is beautiful – crispy on the outside and gorgeously gooey beneath, with a subtle yet satisfying smoky flavour.
From the specials menu, we tried the watermelon steak. We were advised that this dish was a bit of a ‘marmite’ – you either love it or you hate it. I definitely didn’t hate it, but was a little confused by the fact that it was served warm, which removed some of the freshness that I associate with watermelon. If it had been cold with the same flavours and a few pieces of feta cheese, this could have been perfect, but who am I to question a chef’s creativity?!
We were impressed by the Panzanella. This very simple salad of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and stale bread was originally a peasant’s meal (some even claim it was the only thing ‘working girls’ could afford). Obviously it’s now served in one of the hottest new restaurants in Hong Kong and it is seriously tasty. The only thing I think could go are the very bitter slivers of olives.
The 72-hour spare rib, having been marinated for 96 hours in a secret blend of herbs and spices, was also pretty fantastic. The meat slid effortlessly off the bone and melted in the mouth, leaving behind a pleasing tingle of chilli.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the hand-rolled strozzapreti pasta with homemade sausage. Since it is made without eggs, the pasta had a unique consistency and didn’t feel nearly as heavy, whilst the rich sausage and tomato sauce was absolutely delicious with a satisfying chilli kick.
Apparently Italians come to RISI e BISI and order the ‘classic Italian meatballs’ in the hope to be able to criticise them, and yet they all end up loving them. This blend of pork and beef is beautifully smooth and packed full of flavour, whilst the sauce is rich and comforting.
Last of the savoury dishes was the veal Milanese with rocket. Although the veal was lovely and tender, and the breadcrumb crust nice and crisp, I thought it was slightly lacking in seasoning to truly bring the flavours out.
There’s currently only one dessert on the menu – poached apples, pears and figs with Amaretto cream. This was sweet without being sickly, and rich without being too heavy; all in all a unique and delicious end to the meal.
Prices at RISI e BISI seem very reasonable, at between $50 and $120 a dish. Portions aren’t huge, but this gives you the opportunity to try a selection of dishes and not over-eat. One thing I’m very excited about at RISI e BISI, is that they will soon have a dim sum-style trolley, from which they will be serving surprise off-the-menu dishes until they run out. It’s a cool hangout with good service and tasty food that we will no doubt return to for an easy, casual meal and fun cocktails.
RISI e BISI
12 Kau U Fong
Tel: +852 2824 3009
Closed on Mondays