The One With Nico’s Spuntino Bar + Restaurant – New Kid On The Italian Block

It was a yet another sizzling summer night in Hong Kong. As I made my way up the never ending escalator in Central, it was hard to be excited about an Italian meal which was on the card for dinner. I mean, isn’t Italian all about dishes of which its name you can’t pronounce, of food too complicated to even describe, and of chefs too snobbish for their own good?

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

So imagine my surprise when I stepped into Nico’s Spuntino Bar + Restaurant. It was located right where the old Fat Angelo’s was. Although it was only 7 p.m., the restaurant was filling up fast.

To my eyes, Nico’s was anything but pretentious. The first spuntino (which means “snack”) bar in town, even the name itself was a breathe of fresh air. Why give yourself complicated Italian name no one would remember nor understand? True, the menu itself was still a puzzle to read, but the best of food is not in its name but, of course, the food itself.

And on that philosophical note, here’s my top six pick from Nico’s.

Caciocavallo Silano in Carroza (HK$98)

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Crispy-fried, fresh cow’s milk cheese, on a bed of fried leeks. It was possibly my first time having fried cheese, and it was oh-so-good. I was led to believe that it’s possible the best way to eat cheese is by having it deep fried. There’s something almost hypnotic as the contrasting rich flavor of cheese and crispy texture of the batter seem to battle it out in your mouth.

Seafood Antipasti Platter (HK$188)

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Like its name, this platter was a combination of spicy baby octopus, marinated fresh anchovies, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon and smoked swordfish. I had to mention this here because the baby octopus was a winner. You’ll be excused to think you are eating sardine – it has that tomato-ey taste to it, with just a tinge of lime, yet the baby octopus just screamed “home-cooked”. The shrimp cocktail was also scrumptiously fresh; I particularly like how it was diced to perfect chunks to go with the accompanying salad.

Quattro Formaggi con Radicchio Rosso (HK$108)

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Why are not all pizzas made like this? The crust was thin and crunchy, but of course it was the three cheeses bases which won the day. Topped with gorgonzola and red chicory, the pizza was simple in its look yet tasted anything but. If the look of a pizza can deceive, this one was a definite master.

Porceddu (HK$188)

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

If I had to gorge myself to death with one of the dishes tonight, it would be this one; crispy-roasted suckling pig served with honey gravy. One of Nico’s staff came out to describe how this plate of heaven was made, but my brain sort of glazed over as I took my first bite. The skin was crispy yet not hard-crunchy (like a biscuit), very much like the delicious skin of great fried chickens. The meat, made from free range Australian piglets, doesn’t taste anything like the common pork you get from HK markets (read: China-reared). To my great shame I even took a second piece and I had no clue how this was made at all, despite the lengthy explanation given. But who cares about the cooking; the magic is in its eating!

Mashed Potatoes

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Who would have thought such a simple dish deserves a place of honour in this shortlist of the Nico’s greats? You would have done the same had you tasted it; buttery chunks of perfectly blended potatoes, with lumps. I don’t know about you, but after listening to Ross went on and on about mashed potatoes with lumps over endless reruns of FRIENDS, that’s the only way I would have it. I wish he was with me.

Digestivo & Sigaro Cubano (HK$98)

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Like a total klutz I was, when this was served my brain glazed out (what’s new!) and I blurted out, how do you eat this? Well, this roll of filo pastry with chocolate was not unlike Ferrero Rocher in sticks, to be broken into pieces and dipped into the accompanying shot of zibibbo; Sicilian sweet wine.

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

If this is not heavenly enough for you, order a scoop of gelato (recommended: cookie & cream, and earl grey!) to go with it.

A word about the restaurant: Nico made full use of the wide space and seating capacity of the old Fat Angelo’s. Service was attentive, and it was certainly a busy night despite its size and on a Wednesday night. That was impressive, knowing that it was barely into its second month of operations.

Nico's Spuntino Bar + Restaurant

Verdict? If this dinner is to be a yardstick of what to come, Nico’s is certainly a new force to be reckoned with in the Soho Italian dining scene.

This was an invited tasting session.

Nico’s Spuntino Bar + Restaurant
G/F, 49 Elgin Street
SoHo, Central,
2978 3949

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