In a city where restaurants come and go in the blink of an eye, to find one that has been keeping its customers happy since 1969 is quite something. La Taverna, Hong Kong’s oldest traditional Italian restaurant, can proudly attest to this.
Italian brothers Giuseppe and Aldo Macchetti opened the original La Taverna in Central as a place for the Italian community of Hong Kong to come together and discuss cultural matters. It now (since 1974) resides on Ashley Road, directly opposite the Kowloon branch of another long-standing favourite, Jimmy’s Kitchen, and is still a family-owned venture.
It is an adorable space that made me smile the second I walked in, given its rustic and authentically Italian décor. Tables are packed in closely together, yet it feels cosy and homely as opposed to overcrowded and makes you feel a million miles from TST, or actually even from Hong Kong in general.
The menu covers a wide range of Italian classics, all made using high quality, mostly imported ingredients – which perhaps accounts for the less than friendly prices.
My choice of starter was the smoked swordfish carpaccio. Despite carrying a rather strong smoky flavour, the fresh rocket and diced tomato balanced it out, creating a lovely, refreshing start to the meal.
The caprese salad lived up to expectations, yet it was the squid salad – a delicious cocktail of fresh, bouncy squid and chopped Mediterranean vegetables – that won the starter competition hands down.
Main courses were unfortunately not quite as successful as the starters. Whilst the tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes was polished off without a word of complaint, the grilled seafood was not such a hit. The lobster was perfectly cooked, yet the sea bass was far too char-grilled, leaving no room for any other flavours. The mussels were also a little disappointing and would have benefitted from some kind of sauce.
After having to send one of the grilled lamb chops back, as it was practically still bleating, these chops, doused in creamy truffle sauce, were juicy and delicious. Unfortunately they were a little on the fatty side, which knocked off a few points.
The winning main (my choice, of course) was linguine alle vongole, one of my all time favourites. The pasta was perfectly al dente, complementing the juicy, garlicky clams. A little heavy on the salt, perhaps, but nothing that a good glass of house Chianti couldn’t resolve.
Another slight disappointment was the tiramisu, heavily laden with cream and, as ridiculous as it sounds, a touch too coffee-y for my liking.
Service at La Taverna was most definitely sub-par; there were only two or three waiters serving the completely full restaurant, resulting in long pauses between courses and a real difficulty when trying to attract attention. The total bill, for four people with only one bottle of wine and two shared desserts, came to a rather steep $600 a head. Dinner at La Taverna was definitely a worthwhile experience and I would not rule out a repeat visit, yet perhaps due to the fact that it is still attracting plenty of customers after so many years, its standards have dropped; pick them up again and you’ll find me there gorging on linguine alle vongole once more…
36-38 Ashley Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2376 1945