Hong Kong’s newly opened Kontrasto by chef Fabiano Palombini heralds fine Italian dining and innovation in equal measure.
Despite its rustic origins, there’s something elegant about Italian cuisine, a less-is-more approach that makes even home-style cooking translate to the fine-dining kitchen with relative ease. So it is at Kontrasto, a dynamic new restaurant on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road that marries the cuisine of acclaimed chef Fabiano Palombini with contemporary decor and crisp, discrete service.
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A showcase of Italian-born Palombini’s extensive experience, which spans 35 years helming Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, North America and Asia, Kontrasto is the embodiment of Italian epicurean finesse and one that lives up to its name – Kontrasto is the Esperanto word for ‘contrast’, as we discovered on a recent mid-week visit.
Taking a bold and innovative approach to Italian classics, the restaurant’s tasting menus, available for both lunch and dinner, feature a selection of seasonal and signature dishes that represent the epitome of technical precision and decades of knowledge. Considered wine pairing programmes, curated by sommelier Leo Fernando, are also available to enrich the experience, and are complemented by a 260-strong list of premier drops from Italy, Germany, and Austria.
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Benvenuto, the dinner tasting menu, promises to take diners on a culinary journey from the high mountains to the sea. The menu features a meticulous selection of dishes that spotlight the aromas and ingredients of Italy and the wider Mediterranean region. However, the restaurant is also a proud sustainability advocate and is a partner of Zero Foodprint Asia, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation dedicated to funding local growers to implement regenerative farming practices and help combat climate change and minimise the environmental impact of the industry.
After taking our table (one of only five, the rest secreted in private dining rooms that flank an open kitchen) we dive right in with freshly baked bread with a line up of five olive oils to choose from, followed by an array of innovative and beautifully-presented bite-sized amuse bouches (the anchovy cracker comes shaped like a fish skeleton), which set the scene to perfection, especially when paired with a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.
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These are soon followed by the first entree, langoustine tail with zucchini and brown butter cauliflower (above), a bright, fresh and elegant dish that elevates the langoustine to lobster proportions without being ostentatious about it. Displaying equal finesse is the Virtù (below), a dish from the chef’s hometown Teramo, Abruzzo, that’s innocuously described as “mixed pasta with mixed seafood”. However, it’s actually an innovative combination of textures, bringing together a variety of traditional house-made Italian noodles such as fusilli, rigatoni, ziti, pipe rigate, and mafalde into a single pasta dish which is served alongside an artful platter of fresh seafood, including lobster, langoustine, and red prawns.
A show-stopper is the Kuromame A5 slow-cooked short rib with green baby chard, and parmesan. The meat is as tender as tissue paper and parts under the fork with an audible sigh (or perhaps that was me). Another winner was the Babà, a traditional South Italian pastry consisting of a brioche suitable saturated with dark rum and stuffed to the seams with orange and lemon zest and topped with silky chantilly cream.
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All this goodness is presented in an intimate, minimalist dining room with an intriguing open kitchen that looks out to Wyndham Street through floor-to-ceiling windows (fortunately blinds are drawn to stop cheeky passers-by from gawking.
Kontrasto isn’t just a testament to Palombini’s experience and innovation, but it’s the new benchmark against which other Italian restaurants in the city will now be measured, and for good reason.
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