Having tried and consequently raved about the wonderful signature porchetta at DiVino Patio during the restaurant’s first ever wine pairing dinner a few weeks ago, I absolutely had to go back for lunch to try some of their other dishes. DiVino Patio opened only a few months ago and received its alcohol license a few weeks ago, but despite its relative youth it already has a grand reputation of being the place for a casual yet superb Italian al fresco lunch in Wanchai. And it shows. I got there at 1pm on a rainy day, and the place was completely packed, with a pretty long line of eager hopefuls out the door. What brings them? DiVino Patio’s Power Lunch Buffet, which for only HK $118 includes unlimited numnums from the antipasti/salad buffet and soup, adorable little mini cones of vanilla ice cream for dessert and a coffee. Add pasta or pizza for HK $38, a meat or fish option for $48. The antipasti buffet is great too – cold cuts and cheese imported straight from the madrepatria, fresh and creative 5+ ingredient mixed salads and a great choice of toppings to customize them with.
I tried some of these – the coppa, mortadella, salumi, parma ham and smoked cheese with a bread basket of crispy bread sticks and warm, straight-out-the-oven sun dried tomato rolls to spread the good stuff over. The coppa was beautifully marbled, salty, fatty and delicious – as was the slightly oilier salumi. The mortadella was creamy and buttery, with thin slivers of pistachio running through it, and the paper-thin prosciutto was packed with flavor, melting in the mouth almost instantaneously. Good quality olive oil and balsamic on a separate plate. Fresh, warm bread to soak these up with. I particularly enjoyed the smoked, semi-soft cheese with a bite of toasted walnuts, which went perfectly together both in texture and flavor.
I’ve been asked multiple times what my last dish would be before I died. My all-too-automatic answer to the question tends to be “either a thick raw slab of Grade A tuna belly dipped slightly into a good quality aged soy sauce OR a perfect cut of rare beef seasoned very slightly with salt and pepper with a bit of nutmeg-y creamed spinach on the side.” It’s stuff like DiVino’s 500 gram Buffalo Burrata with Cherry Tomato Salad that makes me slow down and rethink my answer to the question. A beautiful, white, dense, wet pouch of gummy, soft mozzarella tied up on itself is split open and oozes forth a mixture of heavy cream and semi-liquid mozzarella within, stirring up an excitement even greater than the one resulting from puncturing the yolk of a perfectly poached egg and watching the liquid gold protein ooze arrogantly over whatever is blessed enough to lie beneath it. The soft, fresh, life-giving teat of the goddess of runny cheeses. The rapture brought on by the first bite of the stuff is hard to describe, it halts the conversation and pulls down eyelids, it hugs the taste buds and numbs the face muscles, it brings on desperate inundations of saliva and makes an imprint on the mind, one impossible to get rid of for days afterwards. The textures form a crazed but soothing orchestra on the tongue – the chewy, firm exterior of the bulb made shiny and wet by whey, the softened and moistened interior of it and the oozing, smooth, cool filling within. The flavor is that of buttery cream and, when drizzled with a good pale-green olive oil, picks up the subtle grassy, fruity flavors of that oil, flavors which are allowed to truly shine on such a texturally complex yet flavor-wise quite virginal canvas. Taking advantage of this blank canvas is also the tart, zingy cherry tomato and red onion salad, drizzled with smoky, tart balsamic and a bit more oil. The salad adds wonderful flavor to the dish without complicating it too much texturally. The dish is also quite authentic in that the burrata is wrapped in asphodel leaf, which serves its traditional role of indicating the cheese’s freshness with its own vibrant green color. Simple and beautiful, hands down the best cheese dish I’ve had in Hong Kong.
If the first dish served to tantalize and paralyze the palate, the second one definitely woke it up from a dream in a very pleasant way. A crunch, a smooth protein pate, a familiar gummy bite within. Olive Ascolane is a double-breaded and deep fried ball of minced pork wrapped around a green olive. The crust on these little poppers already makes this dish worth ordering – a beautiful golden hue, a wonderful crunch, no excess grease, hearty-thick without being too starchy or becoming soggy in the frying process. Inside: a filling of very nicely seasoned minced pork (probably mixed with onion, garlic and herbs before minced) wrapped around a tart, juicy and plump green olive. Traditionally the meat is stuffed inside of the olive, which is then breaded and fried, but in this case the meat melted into the crust, oozing out flavor as it fried along with the breadcrumbs, flavor which I think would have not been expressed as much if packed inside the intensely acidic olive.
Next up? Decadence, an eagerness to please, a boastful but honest homage less to Italy than to Hong Kong, a city where every restaurant must have at least one truffle dish to be deemed a worthy establishment. In this case? Slap it on some penne and add a creamy sauce made of a creative cheese and walk away. Penne a la Jerome: Penne with gorgonzola, black truffle sauce and black truffle bits mixed in, 2 beautifully marbled black truffle shavings lain over the top. Who’s Jerome? Some guy (and by that I do mean very respected regular) who kept ordering the stuff at DiVino without it actually being on the menu. Seemed like a good idea though, so they added it. And voila! Great, firm, carb-punch al dente to the max penne folded into a sauce made of beautiful black truffle essence blended with pungent, tangy gorgonzola. The sharp flavors of the latter, surprisingly, did NOT overpower the more subtle tones of the former, but they harmonized quite well instead, the zangy mold of the blue cheese rounding out the earthy musk of the black truffle in a funky little dance between the two fungus-laced ingredients. The black truffle shavings on top are luxurious and packed with flavor, waving a majestic and regal palm to the slightly gummy, tiny little bits of truffle running through the dish. Flakes of fresh parmesan add a nice nutty, salty comfort to the dish, calming down the flavors of the gorgonzola and truffle. The grooves in the penne pick up all the sauce, guaranteeing intense flavor in each bite.
DiVino Patio’s Spit Roasted Pork Sausage with Cannelli Beans and Mashed Potato really brings me back to the simpler days of childhood. It conjures up images of the brittle, bent frame of my tooth-optional nonna as she musters shocking strength to pick up a thick-bottomed pot of boiling hot deliciousness and serves monstrous proportions of it onto a plate, then sits down directly in front of me, resting her chin on intertwined, bumpy fingers and fixing her vigilant praise-awaiting gaze on my face. And I’ve never even had an Italian grandmother! Anyway… Rotisserie pork sausage, very well seasoned with a nice crisp natural casing, although a tad too dry for me on the inside. The cannelli bean base brings the moisture though, as well as a very complex, herbal depth. The sauce is HEAVY on tomato, very acidic and slightly sweet from the roasted garlic as well. The beans themselves are cooked to mush – some may say overcooked, but in a nonna-style side like this it doesn’t even matter – that thick, velvety, mushy starch gushes forth from the beans and goes very nicely with the rest of the base and the crisp, firm sausage as well. The option of soothing the acid from the tomatoes is given in the form of a creamy, butter mashed (better said – pureed) potato, which, when mixed with the red stuff, eases the sharpness of flavor in much the same way as adding cream would. I, personally, preferred not mixing the sauce in with the mash and enjoying it for all of its acidic, herbal glory, while appreciating the creamy potatoes separately. A sprig of rosemary pulls the whole thing together, bringing fire-side comfort to the dish.
Yes, folks, DiVino has a rotisserie and while the porchetta (spit roasted suckling piggy) is still my favorite example of what this wonderful tool can do to a protein, the Spit-Roasted Vallespluga Game Hen is definitely not a bad one either. A dry herb rubbed bird, slightly smaller than a chicken, with a bit more intensity in flavor than chicken but a bit subtler and less gamey than pheasant. Moist, juicy, flaky and tender dark meat on the inside and a crisp, crackling spit-roasted skin on the outside. Flavored with rosemary and thyme and served with crisp, firm fries (although the 2-3 I had room for in my stomach happened to be a bit too greasy), along with a fresh green salad dressed ever-so lightly with a citric, refreshing vinaigrette. This dish demonstrates an unfortunate fact about my preferences: poultry, no matter how expertly prepared, will never be on my radar as a truly desirable protein and will always be outperformed by pork, beef, venison, lamb, deer, moose, what have you. Nevertheless, a fantastic dish for my fowl-loving friends out there.
Finally, DiVino’s Tiramisu. Incredibly fluffy, moist and only slightly sweet mascarpone. On first exposure I debated internally for a few seconds on whether the cream was too moist (bordering on watery) but then decided that it was not, that it was delicate, airy and smooth and what I took to be an excess of wetness was actually coming from the bitter, nutty espresso oozing out of the biscuits stuck in all around the dessert. My conclusion is that while the custard was perfect, the cookies were dabbed in a BIT too much espresso and resulted in a loss of a crunch that I think is a necessary donation from the ladyfingers to the dish as a whole. The cocoa powder dusted over the top was wonderfully rich in flavor, bitter and real cocoa – no dirty Nesquick business going on here. To lighten the dish, fresh straw-, rasp- and blueberries were placed gingerly over the top and a sprig of mint to add a nice green color and false aura of healthiness to this luxurious dessert.
I walked away from this lengthy meal satisfied but not weighed down in the least, feeling like a hummingbird in fact. Each dish was flavorful without being heavy or fatty in the least. Not one ounce of excess grease on a single protein, not one wrinkle of age on any vegetable – just good, simple and pure Italian ingredients combined in a way to allow them to shine.