My friend Mirander and I are engaged in on-going quest to check out every café in Hong Kong… and latest to make it on our radar was the Fiat Caffè in Causeway Bay. And yes, that is Fiat as in cars.
Cunningly disguised as a car showroom in Leighton Centre, I must have walked past countless times before realising that there was actually a menu pinned outside… and not just a basic café menu of perfunctory espressos and sad-looking sandwiches, but a mouth-watering menu stuffed with interesting Italian dishes.
Amongst the bruschetta, panini, pasta and gelato on offer, there is one gimmicky ‘most expensive coffee in the world’ (it comes with a Fiat) but otherwise, the menu is done with far more conviction and flair than you would expect of a café parked within a car showroom (parked… see what I did there?!).
The environment is bigger than expected (from outside, all you can see are the cars!) and a little busy – there’s a large kitchen-bar area, food to buy and take home (including pasta, tea bags and ice-cream) stacked everywhere, and a wall constantly re-playing Fiat commercials (I will probably now take Jennifer Lopez’s advert to the grave). Again, I was expecting a more gimmicky element – Fiat branding on the crockery, seats shaped like cars (clearly, I’ve been to too many Disney themed restaurants in my time!), but thankfully it was much cooler than that. Mirander and I eyed the uncomfortable-looking latticework perspex chairs dubiously, but actually they were surprisingly fine (for the first hour anyway) – so not just style over comfort!
Because I am a pig and couldn’t pick between two salivating-sounding bruschetta, I ordered both! First up was one topped with crispy pancetta, fried eggs, stewed tomatoes and black truffle – come on, doesn’t that just sound seriously sexy?! It arrived looking just as sexy, a mountain of indulgent Italian goodies (like a posher English breakfast!) piled atop a hefty wedge of toasted and defiantly un-soggy bruschetta, and it was as utterly scrumptious as those ingredients would have you expect.
The eggs (two eggs! result!) were cooked beautifully; one prod and beautiful yellow creamy goodness spilled out from the yolks. The pancetta was crispy salty and wonderful, although I do wish there had been a little more of it given the size of the dish, whilst the truffle flakes added a slight but unmistakeable woody smoky touch. I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes so would have preferred them in a less ‘wet’ form, but they added the right amount of fresh tanginess to balance the other rich flavours.
Second and even better was the prosciutto, sun-dried tomato, shallots and Fontina cheese bruschetta. The flavours here were much lighter and more obviously Italian than my first pick. The prosciutto was heaped on generously (how many times have you ordered this kind of thing only to get a tiny handful of the stuff?) and was dreamily beautiful – soft, salty and dangerously addictive. The sun-dried tomatoes were also packed with flavour; I see these all too rarely in restaurants here and wish they’d been more generous with these too! Nevertheless, the lack of sun-dried tomatoes was almost made up by the abundance of beautiful shallots – little balls packed with zinging sweet but sour loveliness. The Fontina was sliced very thinly, meaning it was practically welded to the toast, and has a more mild nutty flavour compared to other Italian cheeses, but the tastes all came together perfectly. I had to admit defeat and couldn’t finish half of the bread this time – yes, there are limits to my gluttony!
Miranda opted for a panini stuffed with more Fontina, balsamic mushrooms and tomatoes, pronouncing it ‘pretty good’; panini are a bit of a weakness for me so I will definitely be back to try one. I also really liked the honest presentation of all the dishes – no fancy drizzling of this or that, just plated up (in the case of the panini, on a rustic chunky wood board) and letting the ingredients and tastes do the talking.
Even better, despite the fact that this is a table-service joint and the waitresses are happy to keep topping you up with free tap water at all times? No 10% service charge! With the bruschetta and panini costing around $60-80, prices aren’t unreasonable for the quality of ingredients and hearty portion sizes, plus if you are that way inclined, they do offer good value lunch, afternoon tea and dinner sets too.
Although Hong Kong is not exactly short of Italian restaurants or indeed cafés, Fiat Caffè is a one-of-a-kind here. The dishes are a cut above the norm and despite their simplicity, are combinations that I just haven’t seen elsewhere. They’re well thought-out, authentic and have been created with an obvious love for food – and are absolutely delicious enough to warrant repeated return visits to work your way through the whole menu (I’m already eyeing all mentions of anchovies and homemade ricotta)!
The busy environment and the gradual sensation of the chairs’ latticework pressing into your bum means that the Fiat Caffè isn’t really the place to enjoy a long leisurely meal or a social dinner gathering. However, as a pit stop for an afternoon pick-me-up or a quick, filling and very delicious lunch, it’s definitely right up there for pole position. Vroom vroom!
Fiat Caffè, Shops G5-6, Leighton Centre, 77 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2960 9222
Bottom photo credit: Fiat HK’s Facebook Page