Under the Tuscan Sun: Black Sheep Restaurants has been on a hot streak this year. And with its latest opening, Associazione Chianti, throwing open its Wan Chai doors next week, the brand will likely have another winner on its hands.
Look & Feel: This ain’t your nonna’s trattoria. Sean Dix, of Dix Design Studio made very sure of that. Associazione Chianti is a product by Black Sheep Restaurants, so you know interiors are far from an afterthought. This is exactly what it should look like when you throw a laidback Tuscan trattoria into the middle of uber-urban Hong Kong. Customers walk into a welcoming deli area, then grab a wood table (covered in red and white chequered tablecloths, natch) under walls lined with wine bottles. So far, so trattoria. But then, there are industrial meat lockers, red velvet banquette seating, and metal wine coolers.
This restaurant might have the polish of a Black Sheep concept, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. As the manager passes around the menu, he reels off the house rules with a cheeky grin. We must eat pasta with just a fork; if a steak isn’t at least three fingers thick it’s a carpaccio; and you have to pair your meal with a Chianti (or at least, a red wine). When one person in our party grumbles that she doesn’t drink, the manager takes it in his stride. With yet another smile, he says he’ll give her just the smallest pour for a taste.
On the Menu: The food at Associazione Chianti is strictly Tuscan. In fact, the menu seems so determined to cling to its Tuscan roots that there are dishes that explicitly honor the signatures of several well-known Florentine trattorias (like the Pollo al Burro Omaggio a Sostanza). Whet your appetite with some small nibbles – the nodini (bread topped with proscuitto and a garlic and parsley dressing) is so delicious you’ll be tempted to eat the whole serve yourself. We also tried the Crostini Misti (crispbread topped individually with chicken liver, tomato and garlic, and braised cannellini beans) though this was (only slightly) less impressive.
Of course, there’s pasta, too – all of it fresh and made in house. The Garganelli Omaggio a Cammillo (pasta with a Chianti beef cheek ragu) was perfectly flavored, while the Tagliatelle, with its white truffle topping, was perfection. The main event though, was the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a 1kg steak so soft it cut like a hot knife through butter. If you fancy dessert, the deli has a range of daily specials – we tried the tiramisu (of course) along with a meringue cake and and almond and olive oil cake. All were good, if not quite mindblowing. Being a Tuscan trattoria, you can, of course, expect a good wine list. We tried an easy-drinking Nebbiolo with our steak, and found it to be a strong pairing.
Jeng: We couldn’t fault the food – it’s genuinely ggood. The service was attentive too, without being overpowering.
Not So Jeng: As the restaurant wasn’t technically open yet, we were the only table there. This was a little awkward and ambience was a little too mellow. No doubt this will change once the restaurant open properly and the crowds start pouring in.
Meet the Chef: Philadelphia native Josh Stumbaugh has been with Black Sheep Restaurants for awhile now. He’s cooked for former US President Barak Obama several times, so you know he’s got the chops for this.
Great For: Casual group catch-ups over a hearty Italian meal.
FYI: Associazione Chianti is currently only open for dinner. Lunch service is due to begin in the following months.
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This writeup was based on a complimentary media tasting. The Loop HK doesn’t guarantee/sell restaurant review coverage. See our editorial policy here.