On a recent afternoon, as I was heading back to my workshop, I walked past St. Francis Yard in Wan Chai’s Star Street area. There I saw a tiny Italian restaurant packed full of diners. The joint was the Pici Pasta Bar, and I decided that I should try it out myself.
Well, I finally got the chance to do that and sample the food on offer.
As a specialty store for pasta, the menu was extremely simple, listing only a few starters and about ten pasta dishes, at best. The prices of the main dishes are quite acceptable, ranging from the cheapest at HK$85 to the most pricy one at HK$160.
The highlight is that pasta is freshly prepared from flour upon a customer’s order. A middle-aged woman was seen busy kneading flour dough or cutting pasta threads behind a pasta maker.
My order was tagliatelle with Italian sausage. There is simply no comparison between the fresh and dried pasta as the former has invincible taste. The head is an Italian chef who gave a generous portion of sausages that were authentically seasoned. Together with a starter of burrata cheese with cherry tomato and buffalo mozzarella and a cup of coffee as drink, the lunch bill came to HK$167. There was no service charge.
The other day I recommended a friend to go for the restaurant’s tasting menu, which includes three pasta dishes and a starter of tomato mozzarella, costing HK$280. My friend was mostly satisfied, except he found the pasta slightly salty. For the record, I told the chef about it, but he disagreed that there was a problem.
Anyway, it is a good but not great neighborhood restaurant that I certainly would visit whenever I would want to feel at home.
Given the lucrative business here, I started to ponder why there are so many Japanese ramen shops but so few outlets for homemade Italian pasta!
Tang Lung Street in Causeway Bay could be dubbed as a “killing ground”, where the situation must be tough with so many Japanese ramen shops competing at the spot. I could not imagine how they were surviving when new outlets were constantly lining up at the battlefield.
In terms of cooking steps and costs, Japanese ramen must be at higher level compared to Italian pasta. To yield a broth for ramen base, for instance, it would take hours of simmering of pork and bones. Time and ingredients are not cheap.
Meanwhile, though Italian pasta comes with a wider variety, it is same as the Japanese ramen in one respect — it is also machine-pressed. Generally speaking, an Italian main pasta dish would be costlier than a bowl of Japanese noodles (HK$80). And if it is homemade Italian pasta, the price could jump by a double.
Such discrepancy is not fair, but that describes how the market works. It is almost a price-searcher market because the availability of good restaurants for Italian noodles is so limited in the city.
As for Chinese noodles, they are dirt cheap: for less than HK$50 you can have a bowl of Shanghainese noodles or dumplings during lunch hours.
To conclude, I sincerely hope more Italian pasta shops are introduced in Hong Kong so that I can enjoy more value for money choices.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 25
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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