Former food and drinks editor of SCMP, Susan Jung reflects on her 25 years of work eating the best of Hong Kong food, and her new book, “Kung Pao and Beyond.”
Frank's: Cheesy Family Meals Inspired by New York's Italy
by: Rubin Verebes
June 29, 2022
Frank's Italian American Social Club is a casual dining-memoir to Hong Kong: a respected recreation of mid-century red sauce joints in New York and New Jersey serving warm familial Italian hospitality and fusion tomato and cheese staples.
With the restaurant’s’ many iterations since its birth in 2009 – a casual New Jersey/York casual dining spot, a swanky cocktail bar, a night-time dancing joint – Frank’s exists today as a social club of sorts, pumping live DJ tracks and a monthly refresh of red-sauce, meaty, cheesy plates.
Frank’s stands as the flagship culinary and entertainment venue for the Red Sauce Hospitality restaurant group, an Italian-American authority in Hong Kong. New Yorker Vinny Lauria directs the restaurant’s menu service, whilst New Jerseyan Mike Darling leads entertainment for the three-floor party house
Frank’s presence stands tall on the corner of Wyndham Street and Pottinger Street, with a worthy boisterous attitude beckoning famished foodies through its doors. Serving pasta and meaty-proteins fare from midday to 10 PM, Frank’s transforms effortlessly through its different skins from solar noon to early morning: a business lunch hidden from Soho streets, early night sips and nibbles, trading drunk stories over a buffet’s worth of food.
Daytime snacking is spent on the first floor huddled away from the neighbouring Soho clamour with sunlight seeping through and illuminating the glisten of parmesan and tomato on each dish. Dinners can be relocated upstairs, where soft orange light and dandy jazz music beckons diners to huddle within cushioned brown booths and chairs. Frank's grub is fashioned for splitting and sharing, so family-styled meals with friends are welcomed.
Food and drink
Executive Chef Jay Catapang governs Frank’s menu, presented neatly in a monthly “menuzine” produced in-house featuring tales of dish inspirations, food and drink offerings, and a calendar of social events set for the restaurant-cum-club.
“I want to ensure we introduce the proper New York Italian [food] to Hong Kong,” chef Jay told The Beat Asia. “We use local ingredients and employ the tradition and culture [for each dish], whilst infusing a local Hong Kong influence with everything.”
Our tasting began at Frank’s in stereotypical style: a five-spread deep dive into the restaurant’s blending of tomato, cheese, wheat, and meat. For antipasti, we launched our forks into the Heirloom Tomato Insalata (HK$145), a seasonal raw salad comprising sliced tomato and smoked cherry tomatoes, cured guanciale, and basil, on a bed of silky yellow tuna belly aioli.
Resting daintily on the grey plate, the tomato salad focuses on acidic and umami tones, blending the sharp smoky flavours of the guanciale and tuna aioli with sliced and cherry tomatoes, skinless for less bitter tones. The glutamic acid in the tomato cuts the cream of the dish for a fresh and light bite each time.
Dining at Frank’s is not complete without a verifiable Frank’s Original, the Spicy Rigatoni alla Vodka (HK$170), a sensationally creamy vodka pasta plate topped with basil, Calabrian chili paste, and Hong Kong-style lao gan mao chilli crisp.
Existing on the menus of sister venues, Fini’s and Posto Pubblico, the uber-creamy spiced rigatoni pasta, spiked with Italian vodka to increase the sweetness of the dish and fluffy texture, is the crown jewel of the menu. It is the Instagrammable pasta dish, which boasts a faint honey-flavouring to the tomato, bar acidity, and the milkiness of the cream.
Frank’s is weary of a health-conscious diner, with additions of vegetarian dishes made to account for the non-meat eater. The Mafaldine Bolognese (HK$180), substitutes a beef and veal ragu with a braised eggplant and shitake dressing, cooked in a bitter red sauced, and dressed in parmesan with a decadent mafaldine pasta.
The stewed mushroom and eggplant boast as rich of an umami burst as beef does, without the abundance of grease and salt. The ribbon shaped mafaldine pasta steals the show in this dish, with a texture and share to invite the tomato, eggplant, and mushroom Bolognese to adhere to its face and crinkles, promising a juicy bite each time.
For secondis, Frank’s employs its war chest of recipes and fusion flexing with the most New York-Italian of meat dishes, the Chicken Parm Supreme (HK$255), a deboned half-chicken, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried with a bottom layer of tomato sauce and in-house made chewy mozzarella.
This fried half of a chicken stands as the vedette of the Frank’s dining experience. The chicken parm is a quintessentiel New York-Italian dish, coming to birth in the mid-20th century. The white and dark meat of the parm are juicy, with the salt content of the chicken flowing into the red sauce. The mozarella is smoky, a classic quality at Frank’s, which helps to match the texture of the crunch and crisp of the breaded breast, leg, and joints.
Ending our meal at Franks, we enjoyed the Ovaltine-sprinkled Tiramisu (HK$105), a Hong Kong-twist on the traditional decked dessert, with Ovaltine powder sprinkled on top for a malty chocolate ending. Lady’s fingers drenched in espresso end one’s dining experience with a bang: hit the Frank’s dance floor now with a cocktail in hand.
It is not hard to understand Frank’s Italian American as a social dining club, a deep epicure dive on a rich cuisine, a multi-faceted, multi-hyphenated space for Hong Kongers to grow an understanding for the ingredients, recipes, and warmth by New York- Italian fare.
Lunches and brunches are noticeably quieter than raucous dinners. Frank’s’ menu changes slightly, but it is the allure of the nighttime, shouting crowds of fun-loving foodies, and the live DJ spinning ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop tracks that elevate a dining experience here. It is always a party at Frank’s, be it a soothing lunch, sundown nibbles, or sharing cocktails over pasta.
Frank’s deviates from its competitors serving not just a refreshing fare of solid cheese and tomato-infused pasta and meaty dishes, but a space joining the forces of unique tipples, hip hop tunes, and a social club of sorts for the city’s New York-nostalgic. Frank’s does not care to compete to be the best Italian- American diner in Hong Kong: it is the best Italian- American diner.
As a professional food reviewer and newly self-professed lover of Frank’s, I highly recommend ordering the Veal Tartare (HK$135) and Fried Manicotti (HK$125) for antipasti, the Spicy Ragitoni alla Vodka (HK$170) and Pan Fried Lasagna (HK$175) for pasta, Chicken Parm Supreme (HK$255), and a sharing of Mulberry St. Sour (HK$95) and Lucky Luciano (HK$95).
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Frank’s in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
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