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Nestled on the ground floor of The Pottinger Hong Kong boutique hotel on one of the oldest “ladder” streets in town, Gradini’s name pays tribute to its historic location, which means ‘steps’ in Italian. The restaurant’s classic yet cosy setting juxtaposes interestingly with the line of traditional roadside stalls and the hustle and bustle of Queen’s Road Central to be seen beyond the floor to ceiling windows. Perfect for enjoying some time honoured Italian favourites, the dining area exudes an air of European elegance with a subtle touch of Chinoiserie aesthetics, from the flora and fauna wallpaper and crisp white tablecloths to the huge lamps inspired by traditional billiard pendants and the limited edition copper Italian coffee machine, the ‘Victoria Arduino Venus’. While the 20ft-high ceiling and the teal and white colour palette effectively form a sense of spaciousness in the intimate space, the tables inevitably feel too closely packed for us.
Gradini is helmed by Italian chef Giovanni Greggio, formerly of Nicholini’s at The Conrad Hong Kong, who came out of retirement especially for the project. The restaurant Gradini serves up reliable, authentic old-time classics executed with prowess and consistency. From the concise two-page menu, we opted for the seared king scallop with cherry tomato confit on a bed of arugula salad and aged balsamic vinaigrette as a starter. We particularly relished the plump scallop, which was cooked à point in texture and retained the juiciness it should have. The 71-year-old chef then won us over with the double-boiled crustacean broth with king scallop, scampi, mussel, clam, calamari and fresh herbs, which packs enough richness and sophistication in flavour, with a subdue and pleasant hint of bitterness, to make every sip moreish and enjoyable thanks to the kaleidoscope of shellfish. For main course, the baked Maine lobster is sweet and springy in itself but we could not help dipping it into the accompanying sea urchin cream sauce (other choices are lemon butter and spicy tomato) which, although is lacking in urchin flavour, has a decadently cheese-like taste. The pan-roasted boneless spring chicken stuffed with mozzarella andParma ham on cannellini bean stew is a decidedly heavy dish just by its name, and the rendition here is no exception. The thing we appreciated the most about the poultry is how it was rendered moist and soft, enveloping the gooey cheese and the salty ham within. The signature tiramisu, made with layers of Savoiardi biscuit flavoured with espresso and amaretto, and topped with mascarpone cream and cacao, is one of the most well balanced renditions we have ever had. Special mention must also go to the Hong Kong-style milk tea gelato, which impresses with its silkiness and the stunningly authentic tea fragrance.
The compact by the glass section in the wine menu consists of four white and three red wines, all imported from Italy. More by bottle choices can be found in the master wine list, comprising of mostly Italian wines and a few French wines, categorised neatly by regions including Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. If you don’t feel like imbibing exotic wines, an aperitif or dessert wine at the adjacent Gradini Bar is also a nice option. The bar serves up a number of cocktails including their signature Bellini Gradini, which adds a dash of grappa to the original recipe of peach purée and sparkling wine.
All waiters don neat white tuxedos to match with the elegant vibe of the restaurant. We visited on a night with only a handful of customers, but found that the service was not particularly cheerful or well rounded. However, we did appreciate a few fine details, such as when they voluntarily separated dishes into two portions for us in the kitchen. On the night we visited, there was an average waiting time of 15 to 20 minutes between courses but we decided to let it slide since all the dishes arrived our table piping hot.
A dinner for two with a glass of wine each costs around HK$1,600. Given the fact that the restaurant is located inside a luxury hotel in Central and the quality of the authentic Italian classics, we find the price more than reasonable.