Pici Wan Chai: A Hearty Fare of Italian Salt and Acid

Pici Wan Chai: A Hearty Fare of Italian Salt and Acid

Pici in Wan Chai today still sticks to its five-year long gastronomical principle in the heart of Star Street Precinct: to act as a neighbourhood pasta bar, serving fresh pasta, tangy and cheesy antipasti and lati, rich meat dishes, and sweet Italian treats to local devotees.

Opened in March 2017, the open-air Star Street area pasta restaurant is the pre-eminent location for the seven-store-strong chain known for its healthy prices and rich flavours. Salami cold cuts are sliced daily, meats sauces brewed every three hours, and pasta cut every morning.



Heavyweight Pirata Group conceptualised the birth of Pici within their assembly of venues "delivering memorable experiences,” driving forward a modern approach to Italian cuisine. Chefs Dean and Luke lead a two-man fight in the hot kitchen for authenticity.

Venue

Pici’s venue fits decadently within the Star Street neighbourhood, boasting a Roman exterior drawing a welcome from customers inside the soft-lit, cushioned, warm interior emblematic of a Roman pasta and wine diner.

Inside, tables are paired closely with cushioned browns chairs underneath to promote an Italian-styled format of eating – the whole neighbourhood delves deep into Pici to share hearty tomato, cheese, and wheat filled bites over reminiscing stories of home, family, and life.

On ground floor, life in Star Street pours in through the open-air window tables that invite strolling neighbours into the restaurant for a snack and wine. Upstairs, the light is dimmer, walls browner, and ceiling lower, all to capture a warmer air for colder days and a more romantic atmosphere.

Food + drink

A dinning session at Pici is not a complete one without the exploration (and sharing) of starters, pasta-base mains, and dessert to send us away on our eventual siesta back at home.

To explore Pici’s great capacity in designing shareable dishes that boast rich flavour without a multitude of ingredients, we were served a splitting of both items from the weekly set menu and a la carte series.

We began our gastronomical journey with the Tuna Tartare (HK$120), a soft starter with fresh tuna chunks infused with soya sauce and dusted with wasabi, garnished in thinly sliced pickled red onion for colour and chunks of avocado to introduce a creaminess.

With equal bite-size chunks of tuna and avocado, this dish is consummate to tease one's tastebuds for heavier pasta dishes. The introduction of soya sauce removes any fish flavour of the tuna whilst harnessing its soft texture to introduce a dash of salt. Matched with the pickle and cream, the starter had us salivating for richer cheese and tomato flavours later.

Matching with Pici’s marriage of gamey meats, slightly acidic tomato, and sharp cheeses, we bit into the Homemade Meatballs (HK$90), a two-piece mix of pork mince and tough beef chunk breadcrumbs, slow cooked in a vinegary tomato sauce and topped with powdered parmesan.

Served at sister venue Pirata in Wan Chai, the meatballs pair well with the signature tomato sauce served – acidic, slightly fruity, and with an umami aftertaste. Note that there is a larger gamey taste to the dish than an acidic tomato flavour. The meatballs are not particularly moist, but the citrus in the tomato sauce helps to break down the fatty meats and cut through the dryness.

Onto mains, we shared three, with the first a verifiable Pici classic, the hearty and oven-baked Lasagna Classica (HK$130), topped with slow-cooked beef ragu, light bechamel cheese, Pici-style tomato sauce, and parmesan.

The lasagne brings together a milky, creamy bechamel cheese with a beef mince that has strong hints of vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, and onion to drive a powerful combination of opposing flavours that work well in tandem. I loved the charred parmesan layer, which boasts a sweet and salty crunch with each bite.

For a switch-up, we were served two mains from Pici’s weekly set menu, with the Pappardelle Creamy Mushroom (HK$158 with starter and dessert), a velvety heap of truffle-infused cream sauce, portobello mushrooms and spinach lightly sauteed, cooked with an al-dente homemade egg pasta.

The homemade pappardelle's eggy flavour and al-dente texture ensures a special experience eating a less popular pasta type at Pici. The introduction of the spinach and mushroom is a welcome addition with Pici’s track record of piling plates sky high with cheese and tomato (we love it, but my dietician hates me).

The Orecchiette ‘Nduja (HK$158 with starter and dessert), a chain-wide revolving Pici set menu classic, took us by surprise for our fifth and final dish for tasting in the day, a cute plate of ear-shaped pasta tossed in an aromatic pork sauce, fermented to solidify tastes and smells, that fires up the nostrils.

The spice of the ‘nduja sauce is fiery, and kicks in immediately after a bite; it is a plate that may suit a place in a Szechuanese diner but stands out as a unique hot pasta dish at Pici. The pasta is slightly undercooked which was a slight let down, but this was overlooked with the salty and gamey pork sausage that juices up one’s mouth.

Atmosphere

Pici Wan Chai boasts a full deck of cards and can play a weekend brunch, post-work drinks, or lunch celebration with a royal flush. It has a varied seating area – high-top bar, window seating, cushions upstairs, and eight seats near the kitchen – and an interior space that Pirata has constructed and affords Pici a celebratory, familial, and homey atmosphere.

Reservations and friendly meetings are began with spatters of small talk, followed by fruity starters, heavy mains, and sweet desserts in a venue that is apt for reconnecting with friends and hosting meetings with loved ones. The servers, chefs, and managers welcome you into their home, hosting you with pasta and wine.

Verdict

Pici Wan Chai shines bright amongst its cousins at Pirata group, city-wide pasta-bars, and a neighbourhood joint competing for a cut of the homely feel that Pici effortlessly delivers in the form of shared tomato and cheese meals, cut with healthy pairings of white and red Italian wines.

The weekly set menus offer variance to regulars who may be accustomed to the a la -carte selection but require a challenge to one’s palate. I, for one, hold Pici in my roster of regular go-to's for a consistent meal.

We die for and highly recommend a sharing between two of the Vitello Tonnato (HK$95) and Tuna Tartare (HK$120), Lasagna Classica (HK$130), Pappardelle Beef Cheek (HK$140), and Pappardelle Creamy Mushroom (HK$158), with a Panna Cotta (HK$60) if we can stomach it.

This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Pirata Group and Pici Wan Chai in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.

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