Restaurant Review: At Associazione Chianti, Steak Is The Star
A great neighbourhood restaurant needs to be many things to many people—a gathering space, a reliable safe haven, a comfort zone. They're anchors in storms—built around menus and meals you'd want to eat every single day, and run by people you can't wait to see, who welcome you home every time you walk through their doors. Within the first three weeks Associazione Chianti was open, I ate there six times—partially for the sake of this review you're reading, but mostly because I'd been looking forever for a regular neighbourhood haunt. At Associazione Chianti, I found love at first bite.
Behind its glossy façade—a red-and-gold beacon situated smack in the centre of the quietly thriving Ship Street restaurant thoroughfare—guests are transported to a vibrant, convivial space, where the setting, colours, smells, and flavours evoke all the emotion and atmosphere of a Tuscan trattoria. The ingredients-forward menu, by executive chef Josh Stumbaugh—who decamped to Hong Kong from New York's legendary Barbuto with two sous chefs in tow earlier this year—highlights simple, authentic classics. A large-format Bistecca alla Fiorentina cut from melt-in-your-mouth grass-fed Black Angus sourced from Idaho is the clear star of the show, but don’t sleep on Chianti’s other shareable mains—the Pollo al Burro Omaggio a Sostanza is a chicken breast pan-fried in a luxurious puddle of brown butter, a dish created in homage to the legendary Trattoria Sostanza in Florence.
My favourite restaurants have always fallen somewhere in the liminal space between the not-too-casual and never-stuffy—they're quietly extraordinary (not shout-y) and imbued with a strong sense of place. Chianti is unfussy in both concept and execution—its Italian logic and rhythm, exported and adapted for a Hong Kong audience, feels like a familiar friend for an expat like me, whose restaurant sartorial ideal is rooted somewhere in the nostalgia of early-2000s Keith McNally. The vibes at Chianti, with its bottle-lined walls, flickering molten candles on every table, and red banquettes arranged around a room optimised for people-watching—not to mention the glossy prosciutto slicer that takes pride of place in the centre of it all—inspire long, leisurely evenings.
There are only three house rules at Chianti, staff explain to first-time guests: first, thou shalt not twirl pasta with a fork and spoon; second, wine is a must (if you imbibe); and third, meat will not be cooked beyond medium. Aesthetes and carnivores will be thrilled to find that the bistecca on offer is as much a visual feast as it is rich and tender on the palate—any cut less than three fingers thick is mocked as "carpaccio," the manager says, as he slices into the 1kg T-bone we've ordered for the table.
Strategically speaking, the menu is straightforward and approachable. Dinners start with dense, warm pancetta-speckled rolls and a cool plate of crudite accompanied by a savoury almond dip. Buy yourself a negroni—they're a specialty of the house and they're excellent—and consider easing slowly into the golden hour with a platter of Italian cured meats, a crisp and barely- but perfectly-dressed chicory Caesar salad, and a soulful vegetable minestrone. If you can't wait to get to the meat course and are a fan of tartare, the Carne Cruda is both big on flavour and large enough to share.
Choose your bistecca—I like the filletto for one, the Fiorentina for three or four—and a pasta; try the tagliatelle with truffle and butter or the garganelli with beef ragu, which is inspired by a dish at Florence's Trattoria Cammillo. The chicken al Burro Omaggio a Sostanza is non-negotiable—you must order it, at least once.
Afterwards, linger over generous portions of excellent pavlova and endless bottles of wine—the restaurant’s eponymous house Chianti is a good all-rounder, and there are 17 additional Chiantis on offer, along with a well-curated by-the-bottle selection from Piedmont and Tuscany. Everyone's friendly, so don't be surprised when you find yourself still there, Amaro in hand, chatting with both old and new friends late into the night. Congratulations, you've found your new favourite neighbourhood haunt. Welcome home.
A meal for two with wine and service: around HK$2,000
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.