Sunday, 8 March 2015

CIAK in the Kitchen - Michelin Starred Itailan

The Landmark Building in Central has got to be one of the most impressive in Hong Kong, especially when you consider the sheer number of Michelin Starred restaurants that it houses.  Included in that list of special restaurants are two 3 Michelin Starred restaurants and a 2 star restaurant that graces the San Pellegrino 'Worlds top 50 restaurant list'.  But it's not all about mega expensive restaurants in the Landmark, there is also one of the more reasonably priced Michelin Starred restaurants in HK.

CIAK in the Kitchen is the latest creation from legendary chef Umberto Bombana and successfully conveys its old world philosophy of an Italian Grocery, where people can enjoy high quality products on site or take away.  It's a trattoria where only the freshest ingredients are used and focused around a series of 'open kitchens' that specialise in pasta, pizza, charcoal grill and pastry.  Most seats in the 8,000 square foot dining room can watch the artistry of chefs as they prepare the delicious CIAK menu.

After a series of cheap and cheerful meals, we'd decided that we wanted a nice meal that wouldn't break the bank, so after a little research, SC picked CIAK.  It had the added benefit of being really close to my place of work, so we'd be able to get stuck in and eating in quick time.  It's quite a pleasant walk to CIAK, past some of most exclusive stores in Hong Kong in a building that has been designed with opulence in mind (The Mandarin Orient Hotel also calls the building home).

Arriving at the open restaurant, we were greeted by the customary 'gate keepers' of the restaurant and shown to a table right in the heart of the restaurant.  With a great view of the open kitchens, I was fascinated with the working of the restaurant and couldn't wait to dig in.  Looking around the dining room, there was a contemporary edge that I loved, with it's polished wood, hidden little private dining area and it's jagged edges.  It was a cool spot.

We were given our menus, which included a tasting menu as well as a series of a la carte options that featured from each of the kitchens.  As with many great restaurants, CIAK presented a range of options that looked amazing and with more choices than we could possibly eat in one setting, we really struggled to make our final decisions.  As with all meals, you simply can't sit there staring at the menu all night, so we finally made our choices and waited for the meal to begin.

While we were waiting for our meals to be delivered, we were given some warm crusty bread to snack on.  I really loved the glass dispenser that housed both balsamic vinegar and olive oil together, it essentially was a glass tube inside a glass tube - it was tricky and ingenious.

The buffalo mozzarella salad proved to be a lovely and light way for SC to kick off her meal.  With simple presentation using only the best produce, the mozzarella was mixed with tomato and olive oil - a classic combination that always works well.  The cheese had that lovely slightly chewy texture and the acidity from the tomato helped it pop in the mouth.

I'd been a little greedy and went for a margherita pizza and was interested to note master baker consultant Giuliano Pediconi's approach to pizza.  The pizza base not only used the best of ingredients, but the pizza dough was also naturally fermented over a 36 hour period.  What was delivered was an incredible pizza, beautiful of course with the traditional tri colours of the Italian flag, but with a depth of flavour that was hard to describe.  The base was a little thicker than a traditional Neapolitan pizza, but in that thickness was the secret to the fermentation process.  It just tasted more real than other pizzas and was quickly devoured.

There was a wow moment when SC's main was presented.  She'd ordered the wagyu beef tagliatelle bolognese which looked stunning in it's simplicity, which included a mat black bowl that helped the rich red of the sauce stand out beautifully.  The perfectly al dente pasta was bathed in a generous amount of rich tomato goodness of the bolognese sauce.  It wasn't an overly large size, which was appreciated because the richness of the dish made up for it's lack in size..  Any larger and it would have been too much (and possibly wasted).

Having already had quite a substantial starter with my pizza, I'd chosen a lighter main.  One of CIAK's signature dishes was the homemade sausage from an ancient Italian recipe, then grilled by using traditional know-how and a modern touch: the CIAK way.  I guess it's hard to make a sausage look amazing on a plate, and mine was delivered in a simple bowl along with a large (separate) bowl of creamy mash potato.  Look, it was a good sausage, tasty and not overly fatty, but I'm not sure it was strong enough to stand on its own.  Even the addition of that wonderful mashed potato wasn't enough....  But, I have to admit to not know how to have made it better.

Both pretty full from our meals, we decided to share a dessert and the deconstructed lemon tart, which looked delicious.  I'm a lemon curd tragic, so I really appreciated the large portion of the bitter sweet curd that contrasted nicely with the crumble.  The ice cream that accompanied the tart was really creamy and simply amazing, but what was even more amazing was the gold leaf on the plate - not sure it was needed but what the heck....  I think I've had more gold leaf in eight weeks in Hong Kong that the preceding years of my life!

As you'd expect from a Michelin Starred restaurant, the service was exceptional.  The friendly staff were knowledgeable about the food and menu and were not overly intrusive during the meal.  There was a great buzz to the restaurant that in part came from the open style kitchen and partly came from the style of the restaurant - Italian...

Best of all, the meal didn't break the bank.  It was very reasonable and therefore much more accessible to people.  When you think Michelin Stars, you think pricy, but I've subsequently been back to CIAK a number of times, just for lunch because it's affordable.  Well, that and the pizza and pasta is superb.

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