Authentic, rustic Italian fare in Hong Kong
Navigate your way up the matrix of escalators in Hong Kong’s The Royal Garden hotel, and you’ll be rewarded with Sabatini Ristorante Italiano, a Mediterranean import helmed by chef Cheung Kam Kuen. The antipasto spread and rustic Italian terracotta floors will effectively transport you to Rome, where the original Sabatini Ristorante Italiano was opened by the Sabatini brothers in 1958. Today there are two locations, including this atmospheric outpost in East Tsim Sha Tsui, which debuted back in 1992.
From the terracotta tiles to arched doorways, countryside Italian touches abound throughout the design of this tavern-like 110-seat Italian restaurant — think ceramic plates encrusted with the Sabatini crest, wine served in rustic carafes, gilded chandeliers and hand-painted murals. Thanks to a carefully tailored lunch menu, Sabatini is a popular spot among the business crowd, but come nightfall it transforms into a romantic setting, complete with flickering red candles at every table, superb service and an extensive wine list covering most regions in Italy and France. The servers here are just as stylish as the interiors, sporting clean white coats and black ties. There’s a live band playing international contemporary hits and traditional Italian tunes every night.
Each meal at Sabatini kicks off with a big basket of fresh bread — sourdough, focaccia and breadsticks — accompanied by a tray of olive tapenade, pesto, dried tomato dip and olive oil with balsamic vinaigrette.
An extensive menu covers most of the usual Italian staples, including hand-carved Parma ham, classic oven-baked lasagna alla bolognese, and a signature linguine with clams and mussels that comes highly recommended. Beside the traditional Roman bites, you’ll also find some contemporary options, such as the king crab salad appetizer — big chunks of fresh crab meat topped with grapefruit and black caviar served on a stylish gray slate tray — as well as thyme- and lemon-seasoned charcoal-grilled lamb chops served with polenta and fresh mint jelly.
When the time comes, deciding what to order from the sweets trolley can be a tough choice. Among the dozen or so desserts, there’s an American-style blueberry cheesecake, apple crumble, tiramisu and a signature crispy layered Napoleon egg pastry with custard and fresh berries. If you’re around on the weekend, don’t miss the highly regarded Saturday and Sunday buffets, which come with a heaving antipasti spread showcasing the likes of mussels, crab legs, smoked salmon, free-flowing sparkling wine and more.
Many of the wines are exclusive to the Hong Kong restaurant so you won’t see them elsewhere in Asia. If you’re perplexed by the long list of Italian vino, flip to the curated selection from Francesco Sabatini himself. It spans various price points and appellations, and includes several hard-to-find labels that have been purchased directly from the producers. The servers and sommelier can speak knowledgeably about the various regions and flavors, guiding you to a bottle, glass or carafe to please your palate and pair with an indulgent multi-course dinner.