La Piola is located on the corner of Lyndhurst Terrace and the exterior certainly looks happening, thanks to a crowd of smokers spilling out of the downstairs bar. As the bar dominates the entrance of the restaurant, it can be difficult to immediately locate the maître’d or hostess as you walk into the crowds. The lower level is a casual dining room with wooden furniture, brick walls and a large blackboard with wines listed on it. The upper level offers a more tranquil dining experience with a semi-open kitchen and large windows that give diners a nice view of the bustling street below.
The restaurant specialises in food from the region of Piedmont, in the north west of Italy, famous for rich and hearty dishes that make use of rich ingredients such as butter, truffles and the region’s own excellent cheeses. It is also the home of the slow food movement in Italy, which emphasises growing food slowly (i.e. without chemicals) and eating it slowly (as opposed to fast food), a forerunner of the “eat local and organic” campaigns that have taken off worldwide. With all that in mind, La Piola has some high expectations to live up to and the appetisers are encouraging. The burrata with parma ham (HK$170) is nearly liquid with beautiful cream, and the ham is strongly flavoured without being overly salty. The dish could use some tomatoes to provide some acid, which can be added for HK$20. The steak tartar (HK$195) is served Italian-style without a raw egg and comes beautifully presented with all its condiments (capers, olives, shallots) arranged on the side. It is mixed tableside by the capable wait staff and the end result is a solid effort, if a bit under-seasoned. The portions are massive and easily shareable between three or even four people. After a long wait, the main courses are brought out and they are on the whole disappointing. The risotto cooked with Barbera (HK$240) is a striking colour, but the flavours of the dish have not been developed enough and the end result is one-note, even with the generous chunks of gooey cheese. Piedmont borders France and the French influence is seen in the guinea fowl breast stuffed with chestnut (HK$170), which is served as a roulade. The bird is extremely dry and the bitter spinach as a side does not help. The branzino, a sea bass served with fennel salad and cherry tomatoes, is also on the dry side. It is a simple, home-style dish but there is a fine line between simplicity and blandness and unfortunately, this dish does not exhibit enough skill or finesse to warrant the price tag of HK$240. Dessert is chocolate salami (HK$60), made of chocolate and cookies. The flavour is rich but the texture is dry, and could have done with a dollop of cream or vanilla ice-cream to provide some moisture.
Like the menu, the wine list highlights wines from Piedmont. Other regions from this predominantly Italian wine list include Veneto, Tuscany and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The staff is knowledgeable when it comes to wine and are more than happy to let you try a couple before deciding on one.
La Piola shows all the signs of a new restaurant that is too busy too early on. The waiters are enthusiastic when you can get their attention, but they seem generally rushed off their feet. A good ten minutes passed from our sitting down to being served with water and menus and the wait between the appetisers and main courses was nearly 20 minutes.
Dinner for two will cost about HK$900, excluding wine. However, the portions are generous and should be shared, which makes it a bit better value for money.