Saturday, 5 March 2016

Prego Italian - simple ingredients but full flavour

Sometimes you just want something simple to eat.  I've been feasting on a lot of French fine dining recently, including stints at two and three Michelin starred establishments with incredibly rich food.  Fun for a while, but boy, you can get over that pretty quickly!

When you want nice simple food that tastes great, then you really can't go past great Italian food, where the whole philosophy is to use as few ingredients as possible to extract maximum flavour.  We've only recently started to find some great little Italian restaurants in Hong Kong, after finding a few shockers initially.

One of the better Italian diners we'd loved was Dining Concepts Cecconi's, which was really conveniently located in Soho, a place that we walked past most nights on the way home from work.  It would have been a perfect foil for the rich French food we'd been consuming in the last month, but it had moved out it's Elgin Street home to Wyndham Street - just a little too far out of our way.  

Luckily, the team at Dining Concepts had done the old 'switcharoo', replacing one great Italian restaurant with another.  I'm not really sure why, but Cecconi's was replaced with Prego Italian, a more relaxed style of Italian more closely resembling 'Mama's home-style cooking, from kitchen to table'.  

It sounded perfect!

As we entered Prego, there were no reminders at all left over from the previous iteration.  Cecconi's was definitely more upmarket than the interior of Prego, which was just simple and rustic looking.  Simple wooden tables and chairs, bright red paint on the walls and an open kitchen at the back of the restaurant told a story of a rustic diner that screamed home-style provincial Italian.

The menu continued to tell the story, with a list of simple looking dishes, highlighted by Chef Enrico's rustic signature dishes.  The menu wasn't complex and reflected a restaurant that knew what it wanted to say about dining, and that story was simple Italian cooking.  Lots of traditional antipasto was joined by pasta and pizza offerings...  There were even options from 'Mamma Gianna' that seemed right at home.  Plenty to order for those looking for simple home cooking!

Shortly after ordering, we were given a wicker basket filled with some crusty bread, which came with a small bowl of olive tapenade.  The crusty bread was warm and slightly sweet, it went well with the olive oil that I'd asked for separately - olive tapenade being one of the few food substances I just don't like. We devoured the bread quickly, but declined the offer of a refill - wanting the jump into our pastas that had just been delivered.

The girl had chosen one of the signature dishes from Chef Enrico, the I Tagliolini della Chef, house made angel hair pasta with diced sausage in a cream sauce with basil.  As I said, simple ingredients but full of flavour!  The pasta was excellent, perfectly al dente, with the simple sauce cooked through at the last moment to ensure the pasta was coated with the sauce.  Chunks of pork sausage mixed nicely with cherry tomato in a sauce that was both simple and beautiful at the same time.  Simple and delicious.....  Just perfect.

My main was even more simple, I'd gone for the ultra traditional spaghetti with a Bolognese sauce, containing veal, pork and beef ragu.  While I'd ordered the spaghetti, there had been mix up with the ordering and I was actually given the penne instead.  The issue was quickly resolved and after a short wait, my penne was replaced with the spaghetti.  While the wait was short, it was torturous watching SC enjoy her tagliolini, all the while wondering if my pasta would be as good. It was, yep, it really was.  The perfectly cooked spaghetti had been finished off in the pan with the sauce, which was earthy and beefy and totally delicious.

We didn't stick around for dessert, our plan of a simple and quick bite to eat on the way home from a long day in the office had been completed.  We wanted a quick and delicious Italian meal and the team at Prego Italian had delivered.

It was very quiet during our visit, with only a few diners inside the restaurant.  It was just a little off-putting to us that there were staff outside touting for passers by to come in to sample the Prego fare.  We'd normally avoid restaurants that have pushy staff out the front trying to pull customers, but we'd made a beeline for the restaurant and didn't even notice that it was happening.  I guess that's one of the consequences of running a restaurant in busy Elgin Street!

Even though we didn't go all out ordering everything on the menu, the two items that we did choose were simple and delicious.  Prego delivers the type of comfort food that is warming and memorable, the type of food that is comforting and oh-so-moreish.

In fact, we enjoyed Prego so much that we've been back a few times already. 

It's bitter sweet that we've just 'found' Prego Italian.  It's the type of place that would be a very regular occurrence for us - very regular indeed.  It's sad then that we're moving out of the Mid Levels and over to Wan Chai.  We probably won't be able to get to Prego so much when we move..  

Better make the most of it while we can!

A mountain of fresh parmesan added to the flavour
The signature pasta - wonderful flavours
The open kitchen
A simple paper placemat reflects the rustic approach of Prego
Simple wooden chairs and tables

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