It’s not often that you find a gem like Castellana, at least not in Causeway Bay. Offering a start contrast to the flood of traffic and people, this new fine-dining Italian restaurant sits on the 10th floor of Cubus and feels like a retreat from the chaos on the streets below. The interiors are attractive with dark wood, plush leather seats, white table linens and floor-to-ceiling windows allowing natural light to flood in. Elsewhere, the dividers between the semi-private room are cleverly designed to double up as wine racks with glass panels that also let light in, making the main dining area feel airy and spacious. It all takes you away from the city — while still being in the city.
Marco Sacco, of two Michelin-starred restaurant Piccolo Lago in Italy, is Castellana’s chief menu consultant. He brings international culinary experience paired with love for his native regional cuisine to offer a unique taste of Piedmont in Hong Kong. Often referred to as the most progressive culinary region in Italy, Piedmont not only holds classics that are influenced by neighbouring France and Switzerland, but it’s also a prime location — what with its perfect climate and conditions — for wine and truffles.
According to the menu, “Because Piedmont is considered the birthplace of truffles, all dishes on the menu can be enhanced with shaved truffles upon request”. That explains the table side truffle accompanied by a grater. Guests are welcomed and encouraged to slice fresh truffles to their heart’s content over the top of the dishes to come.
Starting the meal off is the Lingotto di Mergozzi (smoked lake trout). Restaurant manager and Piedmont native Matteo Morello explains the origin of the fish — from the shores of tiny Lake Mergozzo — and how rare it is to find it on this side of the world. The trout is smoked for hours before being set in humidity for its natural flavours to marinate. The cured fish is then decorated with a line of balsamic vinegar dotted along the meat. We’re advised to cut along the dots so each bite holds the right proportion of fish to sauce.
Up next is a classic that we’re all too familiar with, the Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna). This rendition of the Italian favourite is similar to what you’d be served elsewhere, with the exception of its presentation. Instead of thin cuts of cold veal fanned onto a plate and drenched in gloopy tuna sauce, our version was a pretty pink pouch pocketing the tuna sauce with dried and re-humidified red bell pepper sponges and a sprinkling of caper dust. Though the flavours were not particularly surprising, we appreciated the artful delivery of an old favourite.
The only carb-heavy dish on the menu, and maybe the most important dish of the meal, is Carbonara “Au Koque”. The menu translates in English as homemade tagliolini, “Au Koque” carbonara sauce and Vigezzo Valley cured ham. To be completely honest, we were a bit thrown off by the words “sauce” and “carbonara” in the same sentence. Luckily, our skepticism was quickly reversed and confidence quickly restored. A twirl of noodles sits in the centre of this dish, and resting on it is a crisp of cured ham in place of bacon.
This is the moment to grab your phone if you want to capture that sauce pour for social media: A generous river of liquid gold floods the void between the tagliolini and edge of the bowl, isolating it to allow for a first taste without the decadent sauce of egg yolk and gin. The au koque cooking method is a painstaking one that requires the sauce to be heated at low temperatures until the gin evaporates, so as to maintain the egg’s runny goodness without compromising the flavours of a true carbonara. Each forkful can be slathered in sauce which is velvety but not too creamy, leaving you feeling satisfied but not bloated, guilty but deserving.
Our bellies are filled up and it’s time for dessert. It’s not until our meal comes close to the end that we remember the lonely lump of Piedmont’s finest truffles untouched at our table. So to allow for us the experience, the restaurant kindly accommodated and changed our last course into a truffle-able one. The zabaione di spumante e torta di prugna (custard with plums and zabaione) is a plum cake that takes sweetness to the next level with Champagne and egg yolk zabaione, or Italian custard, topped with biscotti. Finally, the time had come for the shave. We blanketed our entire dessert with a thick covering.
Would I have still enjoyed it being less greedy? Absolutely. Did I get carried away? Guilty again. The interactive experience the restaurant intends for its customers is definitely a profitable one. There isn’t anything quite like the satisfaction of slicing your own, deliciously smelling fresh summer truffles. So go ahead, make it rain!
Perfect for: Special occasions and intimate group gatherings
Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays 11:45am to 3pm; 6pm to 10:30pm