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Warm woods and enveloping pale green walls attempt to protect diners from the stark setting of La Locanda, but unfortunately there is no getting away from the fact that the restaurant is situated in one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping malls. And while tucked away on the fourth floor away from the main shopping thoroughfares, the area that in any other restaurant might be considered al fresco, is in fact, out in the mall. However, stay inside, and the ambience is relaxed and cosy, the partly-tiled, partly-wooden floors and warm colour tones lending the restaurant the feel of an Italian trattoria, while an open kitchen offers action and a semi-private corner room can seat a party of five or six intimately.
The menu sounds attractive on paper, with unusual combinations of ingredients and interesting techniques put into practice, but the realisation may not live up to the promise. The tartare di manzo we start with is under seasoned, and the accompanying tomato seeds and pistachios too sweet to truly complement the beef. Another shame is that the thin slices of what on the menu is described as ‘crispy bread’ are soggy and chewy; a lost opportunity to create what should have been a lovely contrasting texture to the tender meat. The astice in panzanella is good, nicely cooked lobster, firm and served with an aubergine cream and soft squares of olive oil-soaked bread – an interesting combination of flavours and textures that works. A signature dish and beautifully presented, it is nevertheless a fairly small portion for the price. The maialino of crispy suckling pig is a little dry, but the skin is thin and crisp, plus the addition of brussel sprouts are a nice touch as they are rarely seen outside of Christmas lunch. The addition of liquorice, as stated on the menu, is subtle – some might prefer a stronger touch. The merluzzo in scapece, black cod fish, fried zucchini with mint and mashed potatoes, is once again under seasoned, and the fried zucchini is, oddly, more akin to a puree. Dessert includes a mascarpone e caffe, loosely based on tiramisu, which is delicious and features a smooth mascarpone cream surrounding a delicate spongey lady finger with a light coffee flavour.
The list is extensive with wines from around the world, though Italian bottles prevail, split by region of origin and listed with Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, International Wine Challenge and Robert Parker points where relevant. The staff who can advise have good recommendations and wines pair well with the food.
Service is attentive and fast, but some staff lack knowledge of the menu and are unable to explain dishes. Recommendations are difficult to elicit.
The meal came to HK$1,400 for three courses and a glass of wine each, which is fairly reasonable particularly given the location.