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.”
Ramato: Rustic South Italian Recipes in a Homely Trattoria
by: Rubin Verebes
August 04, 2022
The decadent Sheung Wan-based trattoria Ramato stands dominant, proud on Hollywood Road, as a leading Italian diner for veritable south Italian fare hawking back to the simple flavours of head chef Matteo Caripoli and his father’s ancestry of Sicily.
The two-storied Ramato venue soft-opened in late April 2022, replacing its familiar cousin of 208 Duecento Otto in the JIA Group, continuing a 12-year lease of Italian piquancy within the gastronomical Tai Ping Shan neighbourhood.
Familiar Italian duo Antimo Maria Merone and Mario Calderone man the operation and revamp of the Italian JIA food and beverage program, with chef Antimo Maria Merone of Estro designing the family-style southern Italian menu and chef Matteo executing a Veronian charm with each platter.
Ramato’s classy interior plays as an ode to the former story of the historic location of Hollywood Road, where 208 stood and previously a modern Hong Kong was founded. Both floors feature a bold flower print wallpaper and a lively new terrace curated JIA’s design team: inviting, homely, cosy, and special to Italian hospitality.
The Italian restaurant stands for the infamous Italian ramato tomato variety, grown in the south-eastern region of Puglia. Alike the plump vegetable, the JIA Group trattoria is balanced in flavour, bright, rich, and juicy, without offending with sharp tones and surprises.
The downstairs bar area features a commissioned mural of the southern Napoli by Elsa Jeandediu, with artistic prints continuing into the main upstairs dining room, transporting diners to the scene of a family-shared repast in the gardens and sun of Sicily.
Food and drink
The one-page menu at Ramato tributes chef Antimo’s favoured Italian nonna’s home creations of signature dishes. The considered and seasonal selections of antipasti, pasta, secondi, contorni, and dolci plates in the one-page menu is executed well by chef Matteo, igniting memories of the Italian team and authenticity of each dish.
“My philosophy is to follow the seasonality of Italian ingredients, using Italian summer products to create simple comfort foods, full of flavour,” head chef Matteo told The Beat Asia.
Our dinner began with an Italian classic: Burrata (HK$188), paired with camone tomato, basil, and dressed in olive oil and salt and pepper. The tomatoes were split in quarters and in bite-size shape, whilst the burrata dusted in pepper and olive oil.
The imported Sardinian camone tomatoes, a blend of dark green and bright red on its exterior, possess a plum-like sweetness that coats the tongue when crunched, a pleasant departure from the acidity of normal tomatoes. The skin and pulp are hard, pairing well with the burrata which has a soothing Stracciatella and a delectable yoghurt-like and faint-vanilla flavour.
Our second antipasti focuses on the southern coast delicacy of seafood salad, with a Ramato-twist on Warm Octopus Salad (HK$188), featuring a dainty mix of lemon juice-infused celery, capers, boiled and diced potatoes, and a lemon dressing.
The tender and juicy cuts of the octopus, uniform in a salty taste, pair well with the lemon dressing, which helps to cut any fat on the chunks and tenderises the octopus, bringing out the lobster-esque flavour. The diced vegetables, namely the celery and potatoes, bring texture into play in the salad, with a crunch offering a pleasant comparison to the soft octopus.
With antipasti done, we moved onto our second course, pasta, introduced in the Homemade Fettuccine and King Prawn (HK$228), cooked with thinly sliced zucchini, dusted mint and Italian chilli, with a healthy pouring of olive oil, lemon juice, and the fonde of the sauteed prawns.
Each component of this pasta dish works effortlessly. The al dente pasta is soft to bite, with the sauteed juices of the king prawn seeping into the wheat-tasting insides (a presumed cooked finish of the dish) which bursts with shrimp-like salty and tangy juices. The prawn chunks themselves are delicate and melt on contact in the mouth.
Elevating the simplest of vegetables to brilliant levels, the Homemade Gnocchi with Broccoli Sauce (HK$178) is a new Ramato classic. The potato-pasta dish shimmers in the moody-lit dining room, with bobbles of green coated gnocchi balls as savoury to taste as they smell.
In my reviews, I hate to make broad statements about the ranking of any plate tasted in Hong Kong. However, Ramato’s gnocchi and savoury sauce is the finest pasta dish I have had the pleasure of tasting. The gnocchi pasta: fluffy and tender to taste. The sauce: bursting with the umami of the anchovy essence, earthiness of the broccoli, and dusted bottarga. Presentation: bright and eye-catching.
Finishing off our meal, we manned our forks and knives for the Grilled M5 Australian Wagyu Rib Eye (HK$588), a delicious roasty cut of Italian beef, seared to perfection on the grill and finished off with crusted sea salt and jus.
Measuring roughly 500 grams, the wagyu steak offers a dozen horizontal cuts seared and cooked to customer choice. The medium rare fleshy insides of the wagyu poured a delectable juice into our mouths upon each bite. The honeyed and salty char on its skin meets the body of the wagyu boasting a slight orangey and strong umami flavour.
Ramato strives to import the authenticity of every Italian grandchild operating the kitchen or designing the menu at the Sheung Wan trattoria; the recipes of the south Italian nonna emulated in-house are elevated with local Hong Kong tastes in mind. In only six weeks of operation (at the time of tasting), Ramato exudes confidence in the manner it presents a traditional Italian principle and delivers intense flavours.
Every dining experience at Ramato begins with the friendly team of waiters and maître 'd’ guiding guests through to their seats, introducing the menu, and displaying a visible care and consideration for each diner’s dietary requirements and likings. The staff at Ramato are knowledgeable on every recipe, plate, and ingredient.
Ramato makes a strong comeback for the Italian spirit and homely flavours known to the Possession Point strip of Hollywood Road, formerly occupied by 208 Duecento Otto. It is not only the cosy and snazzy interior, speaking volumes of decadence, but the simplicity in recipes and earthy ingredients that makes a night at Ramato a memorable one.
We will be returning to Ramato – a special night with cared ones – to pour over a full selection of Sauteed Clams (HK$158), Homemade Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli (HK$158), Homemade Gnocchi and Broccoli Sauce (HK$178) (it is addictive – here is your warning), and the Baked Whole Seabas with Acqua Pazza sauce (HK$548).
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by JIA Group and Ramato in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
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