Rating: ★★★★★

Address: Shop 327-333, 3/F., The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road, Central 中環皇后大道中15號置地廣場中庭3樓327-333號舖

Telephone: 2522 8869

http://www.landmark.hk/english/dining/details/Restaurant_Details.aspx?i=4985

I have a soft spot for Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the first Michelin three-starred Italian restaurant outside of Italy. The restaurant is helmed by chef Umberto Bombana and is renowned for their ruthlessly precise, impeccably executed dishes. Therefore, when chef Umberto opened his second restaurant CIAK – In The Kitchen, a casual eatery inspired by Italian groceries where people buy food from the counter to eat in or take away, I felt an instant connection with this promising new venture.

Located on 3/F of Landmark which used to be the supermarket ThreeSixty, this laid-back, inviting restaurant is divided into two sections, a restaurant section for eating in and a walk-in section for buying take away. The choices for the walk-in section is limited to soups, salads, pizzas and desserts, which are ordered directly from the counters, whereas a full menu is available in the restaurant section.

The lack of enclosure of the restaurant section made us feel a little bit exposed at first, but the decor was otherwise very comfortable and cosy. The staff were welcoming and helpful, and were always eager to explain the menu or make recommendations to us.

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(1) We started off with a plate of buffalo mozzarella datterino and San Marzano tomato ($160). This simple dish showed off the kitchen’s use of topshelf ingredients, and the flavours were natural and indulgent.

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(2) The pan fried scamorza ($150) was a bundle of joy. Deliciously crispy on the surface while wonderfully oozy and smooth in the middle, the scamorza was deeply flavoured without being too salty. The arugula and datterino tomato salad, in a balsamic vinegar dressing, was light and refreshing.

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(3) Our cheesy appetisers were followed by the tagliatelle with beef ($180). Good, authentic Italian pastas are typically pricey in Hong Kong, but the pastas at CIAK were very reasonably priced. The pasta’s texture was beyond reproach, with just the right level of softness and bounciness. The mortadella ham meatballs were flavourful and juicy, and the tomato sauce, made stringy by the melted cheese, was utterly satisfying.

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(4) There were a number of extravagant black truffle dishes on the menu, and it was only conscionable that we tried at least one of them. The Tartufo Nero home made pizza ($980) (“tartufo nero” meaning “black truffle” in Italian) arrived, and it was immediately evident that it was worth the thousand dollar price tag.

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All black truffle dishes at CIAK are prepared with fresh truffles, and no truffle oil or truffle paste is ever used.

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A generous amount of black melanosporum truffle was rigorously shaved all over our pizza.

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The crust of the pizza was appropriately crispy and doughey, and the toppings of Italian eggs, homemade sausage, potato, spinach, taleggio and mozzarella offered a symphony of harmonious, unforgettable flavours. The delicate, exquisite taste of black truffle, the gloriously runny semi-cooked eggs and the soft, powdery texture of the potatoes left me speechless.

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(5) After having such an explosively tasty pizza, my dining companion and I only managed to take a few bites of the Iberico pork neck ($250). The Iberico pork was marvellously grilled and packed with flavours, but could have been a tad more moist.

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(6) For desserts, we shared a portion of profiteroles ($88). The chocolate ice cream had a refined, attractive chocolate taste, and the warm orange chocolate sauce was also well-adjusted – it was an utterly pleasant and delightful dessert.

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This type of non-fussy, laid-back Italian restaurant is what I have been waiting for for a long time in Hong Kong. Despite being located in an upscale shopping mall, CIAK is reminiscent of the eateries in Italy that are low key yet serve up outstanding and sophisticated Italian dishes – chef Umberto has once again stolen my heart with his culinary establishment.