Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Giando - simple ingredients for classic Italian

I'd been certain that I'd picked poorly when deciding to check out Giando Italian Restaurant and Bar, absolutely certain.  We'd felt like Italian and while there are some great Italian restaurants in Hong Kong, there are as many pretty ordinary ones too.  It was a case of picking a restaurant that looked OK from their web site, then spending an hour reading mixed reviews about Giando, leading me to contemplate cancelling and looking elsewhere.

Originally located at Fenwick Pier at Wan Chai, Giando had recently moved to the ever popular Star Street, which was familiar territory to me and was the final deciding factor to keep my reservation.  My scepticism about my decision came back though once we walked into the dining room, which was so new, it still smelled of paint and construction.  It was also the weirdest looking space I'd seen in a restaurant for a while, with lots of pokey spaces set up with tables around a larger central area that held a huge central table.  What seemed so weird about the interior was that it looked like a throwback from the 70's with loads of exposed light brown brick.

By the time we were seated and perusing the menu's, I'd reached the conclusion that I'd made a terrible mistake and there was no way I'd enjoy the meal.  There was nothing that really jumped out at me on the menu and I really struggled to find many options that appealed.  A small positive seemed to be the white truffle specials on offer, which seemed to be the only shining light in an otherwise uninspiring menu.

It seemed as if I was looking at a different menu to SC.  The girl was having a tough time deciding what she'd eat for other reasons, mainly her comment that there was just too much that she'd love to sample.  Struggling through, I ended up making my decision about the same time that a bread basket was delivered to our table.  What was weird thought, adding to my unease was that there was no olive oil or butter provided, just dry bread.  It pretty much capped off my belief that we were about to have a pretty ordinary meal.

Boy, was I wrong!

I'd ordered off the white truffle menu and my carpaccio di manzo with tartufo bianco d'alba, white truffle beef carpaccio was simply perfect.  Very thin slices of pecorino cheese sat under incredibly thinly sliced beef and a light drizzling of olive oil.  Before the plate was handed to me, one of the chefs produced a fat white truffle from a wooden box and shaved a generous helping of truffle over the carpaccio with a flair that can only be found in an Italian restaurant.  The aroma of the truffle hit me a few moments before my plate was presented to me with more of that Italian flair.  What impressed me most was the simplicity and quality of produce used, the thin slices of beef and pecorino cheese were a revelation together.  Of course, the earthy truffle was the highlight, but I very much enjoyed the combination of all three simple ingredients on the plate.

The girl had also chosen a raw dish; the carpaccio di mare al mille sapori mediterranei, carpaccio of scallop, red shrimp and yellow tail.  It was an interesting approach to a carpaccio, providing three different types of seafood, but it worked pretty well.  The scallops were very fresh, but were cut a little thicker than you'd expect to see with a traditional carpaccio, although the yellow tail and shrimp were as expected.  There was a natural sweetness with the dish that was offset by salty olives and capers, as well as some acidity from thinly sliced cherry tomato.  A lovely vinaigrette pulled the components together well, and apart from looking a little busy on the clear plate, was a very tasty plate of food.

The art of traditional Italian cooking is about taking very simple ingredients, not over working them and producing wonderful, tasty food.  This was never more apparent than with SC's main course of tagliolini di pasta fresca parmigiano e tartufo bianco d'alba, homemade tagliolini with a parmigiana sauce and Alba white truffle.  We were again treated to the theatrical shaving of truffle on the dish before we were shown the masterpiece.  It was simplicity personified.  Expertly cooked pasta finished off in a simple white sauce made from parmigiano and shavings of truffle, that was it.  With such a simple set of ingredients, there's no room for error and the Giando pasta dish was absolutely perfect!  The earthy truffle almost melted into the creamy sauce to leave that wonderful humm at the back of your palate that lingered for a while.  SC devoured the pasta and was left wanting more.

After struggling to decide on my main, I'd picked a winner with the fettuccine al rage di volatili, fettuccine in farmyards with tomato ragout.  It was called fettuccine in farmyards because it combined pheasant, guinea fowl, duck and chicken as the proteins in a rich tomato ragout.  I loved the rich tomato flavour that was made with the different forms of fowl, which combined provided a surprisingly well balanced flavour.  There was a complexity to the sauce that had rich gamey notes as well as a very meaty flavour, with my only minor issue being the texture.  Each of the fowl had been minced, where I'd have loved chunks of the birds to add a little extra depth.  

I'd been completely stunned by the simple elegance of the food from Giando's and I wanted the greatness to continue with desserts.

SC had gone with the most traditional of Italian desserts, the tiramisu, which had been a square of a cake cut out and presented a plate with a sprinkling of chocolate powder.  The cake was layered with sponge and cream and had a shard of chocolate sitting on top, reminiscent of a shark's fin.  After the spectacular food that had proceeded, it was a little bit of a let down; there was nothing particularly wrong with it, but it didn't have any stand out notes either.  It just seemed like a pre-prepared dessert that was cut to size at serving time.

I felt the same about my giandolotto chocolate mousse served with lemon mascarpone sherbet, which looked much more appetising that the tiramisu but also had the feel of a pre-prepared larger mousse and just cut to size.  I had been hoping for something a little lighter, but the mousse was quite dense and there was a crumble that it was sitting atop of that I didn't particularly like.  The lemon mascarpone sherbet sorbet was really nice and was much needed to help settle down the rich and dense mousse.

There had been a lot going on in my mind leading up to sitting down at Giando for our meal, and unfairly it had mostly been negative.  I really should know better than to pre-empt a meal, I've been surprised too many times by meals that shouldn't have worked and disappointed by dishes that looked incredible on paper.

Giando is one of those very classic and traditional Italian restaurants, where the focus is on great produce and simple flavours, using as few ingredients as necessary and largely keeping it simple. Chef and owner Gianni Caprioli's unwavering commitment to excellence and simplicity was on display on the night of our visit, and while there were large parts of the menu that didn't appeal to me, I certainly couldn't fault the food on the night.  

My only minor gripe was with desserts, which were just a little formulaic and lacked a little bit of the simple elegance that we'd experienced throughout the meal...  I think I'd skip dessert the next time.

Desserts were not the strong point for Giando
But the pasta and sauce selections were superb
Giando felt like a 70's living room - pale exposed brick gave it a slightly dowdy feel
But there was the centre table for holding wines and plates and stuff
Of course there was the required meat slicer
or two
The new location didn't feel lived in just yet, maybe we were there too soon?

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