Aqua’s new Italian restaurant Cantina promises to deliver authentic yet innovative cuisine to Tai Kwun.
There’s just something timelessly soul-soothing about Italian cuisine and while Hong Kong is no stranger to Italian restaurants there always seems to be room for more innovation on one of the world’s greatest culinary traditions. Joining the fray is Cantina.
The creation of the Aqua Restaurant Group, Cantina has been created with a mission to bring simple and flavoursome produce, seasonally inspired showstoppers, and reinventive Italian classics to Central’s historic Tai Kwun precinct in the space formerly occupied by Statement.
Cantina’s food is designed for sharing so you can enjoy small to large takes on handmade pasta, risotto and signature thin-crust pizza inspired by traditional recipes from across Italy. Every dish is delivered with a generous portion of authentic Apennine flair and fantastically fresh ingredients.
Cantina is Italian for “Canteen”, which is fitting as the space on the first floor of Tai Kwun’s Police Headquarters Building used to be the colonial Police Officers’ Mess. It was a place for casual lunches and sometimes more rowdy merrymaking when the officers got together for a celebration. Today the space has been envisioned with shimmering teal fabrics and fragrant lemon trees, which accentuate the century-old original wooden floors, high colonial-style pitched ceilings and full-length period windows.
Cantina will serve honest Italian cooking with Chef Luca Schiavone (at top) adding his own modern twist to traditional recipes. A Sicilian native, Chef Luca Schiavone’s past experience includes Head Chef at Venetian-inspired Cecconi’s in London’s Mayfair as well as Head Chef at Michelin-starred Zafferano and Shoreditch House, both hotspots in London. He has been aided by Executive Chef Andrea Mura (above) who has created the Cantina menu while also completely transforming the Italian kitchen at Aqua’s stunning new home at H Zentre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The offering ranges from modern interpretations of cicchetti (pronounced chi-ket-tee), small plates of Venetian-inspired bites that originated in the maritime city’s lively bacari bars; and soul-soothing Gnocco fritto, with Parma ham and stracchino cheese; through to eye-catching Sicilian red prawn carpaccio finished with lemon zest, Italy’s finest Bronte pistachios (often called “green gold”, sourced from a tiny village near Mount Etna) and sweet pomegranate jelly; and Panelle, a popular Palermo street-food dish pf vegetarian fritters topped with truffle ricotta and inspired by Sicily’s Arabic immigrants.
Also look out for Baby octopus, slow-cooked for four hours and served with peas and a warm slice of sourdough; signature pizzas with light, thin crusts like the Squid ink dough pizza, topped with Sicilian prawns, bottarga, yellow cherry tomato, rocket and lemon zest; Risotto with Sicilian prawns from Mazara del Vallo that have been infused with blood orange, lemon and lime; Flamed salt-baked sea bass that is set alight and cooked table-side within a thick layer of salted pastry; and Pollo alla stemperata, an incredible tangy stew made with pan-roasted chicken thighs, carrots, celery and green olives.
For dessert, save room for Cantina’s authentic Table-side tiramisu made with rich mascarpone which is assembled step-by-step in front of your eyes; Cannolo Siciliano, a delicious, crispy rolled pastry filled with sweet ricotta, chocolate pieces and ground pistachio; and refreshing Basil panna cotta, served with melon coulis and drizzled with mosto cotto.
In true Italian fashion, Cantina’s cicchetti and main courses are designed to accompany cocktails and wine. The wine list ranges from big and famous to small and independent producers that will transport you to Italy with one sip. Championing the cocktails is the newly appointed Creative Bar Director for Aqua Restaurant Group, Livorno-born Lorenzo Coppola, who has ambitious plans for The Dispensary bar, which is located between The Chinese Library and Cantina.
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