Above: an antipasto plate at Manzo.
A trio of Hong Kong restaurants are bringing simplistic home-style cooking back under the spotlight
By Nicholas Walton
Hong Kongers shying away from fusion food and culinary fads will feel right at home with Manzo’s down-to-earth Italian fare. The latest opening by gastro chain Dining Concepts, Manzo is an Italian steakhouse (the name means “beef”) situated in bustling Causeway Bay. Although its warm, open-kitchen ambience and lunch spread of antipasto and fresh salads have proven extremely popular, it’s the steaks that lure crowds here each evening. Choice cuts of Angus beef come from U.S. ranches that raise cattle specifically for chef Antonio Ferreira—a farm-to-fork concept that’s new to Hong Kong. Carnivores should look out for the likes of the 32-ounce Tomahawk al Manzo or Bistecca Fiorentina, both of which are made to share. Of course, there are plenty of steak alternatives, including osso bucco, Tuscan sausage, and mustard-crusted salmon, best washed down with one of the wine list’s boutique Italian labels (Shop 1104, 11/F, Times Square, 1 Matheson St., Causeway Bay; 852/2735-3980).
Another Italian spot that is putting food ahead of decor is Linguini Fini. Located in the L Place in Central, this distinctly urban and chic, yet understated and welcoming New York–style ristorante is as much about the fast business lunch as it is about lingering with friends over dinner. There is commissioned street art on the walls, a mean cocktail list in the bar nook, and a pasta counter that makes 18 different styles fresh twice a day. No reservations are taken so you might have to wait for a table, but it’s well worth it: Linguini Fini dubs itself Hong Kong’s first snout-to-tail dining room, meaning every bit of its hormone-free, Hong Kong– reared pork is used in a variety of recipes straight out of chef Vinny Lauria’s Italian-American cookbook. Signature dishes include the Nose to Tail Bolo, which combines pork testa (head meat) with a hearty veal-and-oxtail bolognese and rotisserie porchetta. Better still, everything is made with the freshest farm-grown produce, sourced from sister company Homegrown Foods (1/F, L Place, 139 Queens Rd. Central; 852/2857-1333).
Note as of Feb 9, 2012: Cantopop is closed but expected to open in another location in Hong Kong soon.
It doesn’t get much more homey than Cantopop, the newest in a growing movement toward high-end cha chan tengs (traditional Hong Kong all-day restaurants). Staying true to simple and traditional dishes, but with a distinctively modern twist, the menu here was created by celebrity chef and organic food advocate Margaret Xu, and makes use of locally sourced ingredients without lashings of MSG. All noodles are made fresh daily and only “music” eggs—sourced from a Hong Kong poultry farm that plays classical music to its hens—are used. Located on the ground floor of the L Place, Cantopop has a pop-art design persona with elements of the city’s dai pai dong (noodle stall) culture, including exposed breeze blocks and a bustling open kitchen. Don’t expect gourmet cooking here: cha chan tangs are all about convenience and comfort food, and Cantopop follows suit with the likes of Scotch eggs, beef bolognaise, and Fu Yu Caesar salad. It’s perfectly suited for visitors looking to explore the city’s street food in a considerably more comfortable setting (G/F, L Place, 139 Queen’s Rd. Central; 852/2857-2608).
Originally appeared in the October/November 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Feeling Right at Home”)