Lasagne begets a strange reputation; seen simultaneously as a student staple, cartoon cat favourite or retro dinner party regular, this traditional and admittedly heavy Italian dish of layered pasta sheets, béchamel sauce and ragu has quietly slipped out of fashion for several years. Yet such a simple dish belies the skill needed to coax the best flavour out of just a few ordinary ingredients. At the same time, modern updates on the classic are offering new ways of enjoying this timeless treat. We choose Hong Kong's best interpretations of a dish that was traditionally only eaten at times of celebrations and festivities in its home country.
Lasagne al forno (available during Grissini’s Sunday brunch buffet, priced at HK$638 per person)
Chef Andrea Fraire keeps his lasagne direct and to-the-point. Served family-style at Grissini’s weekly Sunday brunch, there isn’t any fancy cheese alchemy, nor are there extraneous ingredients or molecular footwork involved. The recipe simply involves a good ragu, basic béchamel, freshly made pasta sheets and good-quality Parmigiano Reggiano. The ragu is cooked long and slow for four hours miminum, using a mix of veal, beef sirloin, pork shank, San Marzano tomatoes and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. He uses a medium to full-bodied red wine, such as Dolcetto, while the pasta sheets are handmade using Italian eggs (with vibrant orange yolks) and “00” flour, rolled out to an exacting thinness. The result is sharp, clean flavour – you can taste each component clearly – and a rich fullness that comes from the cubes of butter dotted on top, along with the grated parmesan, before baking.
Grissini, 2/F, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai
Open lobster, leek and fennel lasagne (HK$395)
Angelini’s at the Kowloon Shangri-la in Tsim Sha Tsui offers classic Italian cooking with vivid modern flair. Therefore, it is fitting that chef Marco Medaglia, who hails from central Italy, brings his love of fresh seafood to this usually meat-centric dish. Golden-yellow, paper-thin sheets of pasta are artfully draped around juicy Boston lobster; leeks and fennel add freshness to lift the sauce, a reduced lobster bisque. Garlic, pepper and extra virgin olive oil add those high notes needed to elevate the dish. “The inspiration came from my concept of the Italian kitchen,” says Marco. “Use the best seasonal available ingredients, and nothing else.”
Angelini, Mezzanine Level, Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel, 64 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East
Open lasagne with sea bass, pesto and tomato (HK$270/HK$335)
Unusually for a northern Italian restaurant, Nicholini’s lasagne is a light and fresh interpretation that wouldn’t look out of place on a southern coastal menu in Sicily. Chef Alex Bignotti, who hails from Milan, wanted to inject some freshness into the classic dish, and so chose to use sautéed chunks of sea bass, conft cherry tomatoes, a béchamel sauce infused with pesto, and a tomato and basil reduction. Each serving uses four sheets of pasta cooked and assembled a la minute; the result is a looser lasagne that feels refreshingly contemporary but steadfastly Italian in flavour. The intensely flavoured confit cherry tomatoes and a small anchovy adds plenty of umami to an otherwise light plate.
Nicholini’s, 8/F, Conrad Hong Kong, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
Wagyu beef lasagne al forno (HK$188)
At Cecconi’s in Soho, chef Peter Birks serves an extremely hearty portion of lasagne oozing with mozzarella, parmesan and nutty béchamel sauce, which is upgraded with the use of tender wagyu beef. The dish is unashamedly decadent, the melting mozzarella and béchamel adding a fatty richness to complement the equally indulgent wagyu beef ragu. The dish is as traditional as they come, and Birks says it’s an absolute staple on his menu.
Cecconi’s, 43 Elgin Street, Central
Blue swimmer crab lasagne with creamy abalone sauce (HK$150)
We’ll be honest – while most times we think the food could be improved at Oolaa, we’ll always come back for their take on lasagne, which has been a consistent best-seller for years. Packed with sweet chunks of blue swimmer crabmeat and spinach, it would be a health-conscious dish were it not for the creamy abalone sauce in which the lasagne sits. The result offers an almost contradictory light-yet-rich flavour profile; it’s a dish that is at once effortlessly clean yet indulgently decadent. Chef Gary McAree says that the inspiration behind the dish came from the determination to create "a rustic dish with a twist, which would combine the Asian love for seafood with the European love of this classic pasta"
Oolaa, G/F, Bridges Street, CentreStage, Sheung Wan
Love all things Italian? We’re hosting a Great Wines of Italy event in December. Visit www.greatwinesitaly.com for updates and more information.
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