I don’t think Grappa’s gets nearly enough love.
Whenever there’s a request for reasonably-priced, good quality pasta or a shout-out for your favourite Italian in Hong Kong, I feel like I’m the only one gunning for Grappa’s! It might not be the newest or hippest Italian restaurant on the block or have a particularly innovative exciting menu, but what it does deliver is efficient service, consistent quality, food that I want to come back for and at prices that don’t make my wallet run away screaming in horror.
For a chain, its branches do vary a lot, both in quality and atmosphere. The one in Central is in a cosy cellar and is one of the best venues for live music from artists that can’t yet sell out arenas but aren’t quite ‘skivy bar in Wan Chai’ material. The one in Quarry Bay has a more business-like vibe and fantastic staff, yet their food tends to range wildly in quality (two years ago, it had a limited menu that barely included any meat; now, they’ve rebranded with a whole new supposedly American-Italian menu). But for me, the one in Pacific Place – a stalwart of the HK dining scene for over 20 years – is where it’s at.
My favourite, most craved for dish is their Calamari Fritti. Good God, this stuff is like little nuggets of culinary gold. The secret is in the calamari itself, marinated in buttermilk and with only the juiciest baby squid deemed fit for purpose. So there’s no great hulking rings of rubber that require more masticulation than a pack of chewing gum – it’s succulent, bursting with flavour, almost melt in mouth stuff (and who thought you’d ever say that about calamari?!). The batter is light, golden, crispy and lip-smackingly delicious and the bite-size pieces mean I can wolf it down like popcorn in the cinema; popcorn chicken seems positively archaic and bland in comparison! Yet the piece de resistance of the dish is the anchovy aioli.
Start selling this stuff bottled PLEASE! I have even toyed with bringing my own Tupperware to decant this gorgeous gunk into, I love it that much. My photo made it look like wallpaper paste and was too off-putting to include but, trust me, it is just super-appetising, addictive and amazing. I load it onto my calamari in an approximately 4:1 ratio. It’s also, sadly for the purposes of this review, indescribable. Salty, garlicky, thick, creamy, bounding across my palette with flavour… I just can’t do it. Suffice to say, I love it and need the recipe STAT. This is not just my vote for the best calamari in Hong Kong (that I’ve tasted so far anyway) but is well up there for my favourite dish here full-stop.
My other favourite appetiser is the Scampi in a garlic lemon butter sauce. It’s deliciously light and fresh but again, zinging with vibrant and warming flavours. The scampi are always soft, sweet and lovely but again, it’s the sauce that owns. Garlic butter is just one of my favourite things anyway and there’s a twist from the lemon that just lifts the whole dish. Make sure you save something from your bread-basket to mop this golden potion up.
Onto the mains and, given we’re here at least once a month (or more depending on how hard the anchovy aioli craving gets), we’ve sampled many. So before I begin piling on the praise, here’s what I didn’t like – the calzone (cheesy, doughy, heavy brick), the chicken ravioli (overly rich, too creamy, baby food soft), the chicken and rosemary entrée (very brown and unexceptional, felt more French than Italian).
But enough of that. The Rigatoni Al Ragu is our go-to – perfectly-cooked al dente tubes of pasta, set off with a few thin flakes of parmesan and ladled with lashings of rich, meaty, scrumptious sauce. As someone who has to have lots of sauce with pasta, I love that they’re generous with the stuff – it has a deep tomato tang and doesn’t hold on the beef either, all of which is lean mince and supremely flavourful.
The Spaghetti Marinara with buffalo mozzarella and mushrooms is one of those dishes that basks in the beauty of its simplicity. The sauce here is sweeter and more playful, and I love the velvety globs of mozzarella. It’s homely and hearty and very very tasty. [Incidentally, I reckon all of their pastas are superior to any of Pizza Express’ here, another of our staple Italian restaurants.]
Their pizzas are also well worth a gander. I’m not a huge fan of tomato sauce on pizza (this makes me abnormal according to my boyfriend, though I guess I’ve come to the right country for abnormal pizzas) and my all-time favourite is BBQ Chicken. Grappas’ version is easily better for me than the other main place here that serves it – California Pizza Kitchen – simply because it includes meaty chunks of chicken, as opposed to the small diced morsels that are almost more decoration than flavour on the CPK one. Grappas’ BBQ sauce is tangy, smokily sweet and goes down a treat with the soft bite of the onions and creamy mozzarella.
Their signature Pizza Alla Salsicca is similarly tasty and rather unique. It features wafer-thin slices of salty salami on the base and is topped with Grappas’ homemade spicy sausage, crumbled into a fine mince and scattered over the scene like fake snow at Santa’s Grotto. This makes it kinda difficult to eat but it’s a really unusual but delightful mix of tastes and textures.
Just to attest my point about the divergence between branches, all these dishes seem to be priced differently at different locations but basically hover in and around the $100 mark. I find their portion size is relatively generous and great for sharing between two – if I was to try and polish off a main on my own, I doubt I’d be able to manage any calamari at all, which you must realise by now would be a VERY BAD THING. When my boyfriend and I order a starter (calamari, OBVIOUSLY) and a main, we often even have enough pasta left for me to take it home and have as my lunch the next day. And I’ve never once had room for a dessert.
So, overall, decent value, good quality, scrumptious food. And did I mention the calamari?!
Grappa’s Ristorante, Shop 132 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2868 0086
Banner photo from Openrice