Review: Osteria Marzia
Ask people who know me, and they’ll tell you that I don’t go to Italian restaurants. Seeing as I’m from Italy myself, and that after living abroad for over a decade, I have come to be quite wary of what’s referred to as Italian food outside of my native country. Blame the too many overly cheesy carbonaras out there, or the soggy bruschettas drowning in bad olive oil. More often than not, when I do try a new pizzeria or aspiring Italian trattoria, I just think: “My mum can make this better.”
There are exceptions, of course, and Osteria Marzia is one. A Black Sheep Restaurants’ concept—and those guys certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to opening noteworthy dining venues—this spot is where you’ll now find me whenever I am hankering for good Italian fare—fish to be precise, since this is the restaurant’s forte.
Osteria Marzia pays homage to southern Italy’s coastal culinary traditions—think Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia and Sardinia—with a small menu that could only be described in one way: proper. That’s not surprising when running the kitchen is Italian chef Luca Marinelli, who trained under esteemed chef Mauro Uliassi and was formerly at Isono and Buenos Aires Polo Club. But before getting to that, it’s the design that might first swoon you over.
Conceived by local design firm Substance, a seaside-theme runs throughout the airy dining area, taking patrons to the shores of the boot-shaped country. There are ocean inspired tiles decorating the bar, buoy-like lanterns hanging from the double-height ceiling, dishware from Positano and a moon-like orb towering over the space, wrapped up in a fisherman’s net. The staff are in nautical outfits too, with striped shirts and white trousers, boat shoes and navy blazers. It’s the sort of trattoria 2.0 that falls into the zeitgeist of recent times: trendy, appealing, and expensive in look and feel.
That, truth be told, had me skeptical at first. “Neat, yes,” I thought, “but is it to distract from the food?” Then the bread basket arrived. Impeccably charred slices of crusty dough, served with luxuriously good butter and anchovies. The whole thing disappeared within seconds. (If you think waxing lyrical over complimentary bread is silly, well, I guess you aren’t Italian.)
Things only got better throughout the meal, showing Marinelli’s serious chops as chef de cuisine, but also his constant pull towards his native heritage. A crudo of hamachi, with cherry tomato, olives and basil was salty, pungent, sharp in every single bite. It made me think of one of my favourite quotes from Italian cooking writer and legend Marcella Hazan: “Food is best when it tastes fully of itself.”
Like spaghetti Ricci, which came next: perfectly al dente ribbons of pasta, layered with chunks of creamy A.O.P sea urchin, so moist and buttery they writhed lusciously on the fork. Three more pasta dishes grace the menu, each fish or seafood-based and, from my peeking at my neighbouring tables, each as satisfyingly hefty.
This, really, is what Osteria Marzia does best: cooking that stays simple yet feels sophisticated. Service reflects the same attitude: the staff are smiley, affable, prompt but not obtrusive—the kind that makes you feel you are being looked after by someone who cares. And who’s more than knowledgeable about wine—rigorously from Italy’s southern regions—and happy to pour you a glass of Donnafugata Zibibbo from Sicily just so you can try it out. Or a free limoncello at the end of dinner, to pair with a granita of the day (cherry-flavoured, in my case), or the other classic Italian desserts’—giandujia, pannacotta, fruit tart—all rigorously made in-house.
Were it not for the super neat settings, Osteria Marzia could easily pass for a family-run space, where the owner knows you by name, the waiter is quick to pour your favourite wine and the chef remembers what you like from the menu. But then again, that’s maybe what family-run looks like in Hong Kong in 2017. I certainly felt at home.
Osteria Marzia, G/F, The Fleming, 41 Fleming Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 3607 2253
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.