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One to try: Associazione Chianti brings Tuscan vibes to Ship Street

by: Nik Addams
13 Nov 2019

No spoons for the pasta. That’s rule number one at Associazione Chianti. We’re told this (as well as two more house rules) before we even see a plate of food on the table – while normally we’d baulk at being told how we’re allowed to eat our food (even if this correspondent has always eschewed the spoon when tucking into a plate of pasta), Black Sheep Restaurants, the group behind the new Ship Street trattoria, haven’t carved out a reputation as one of the city’s better F&B groups by not leaning into the authenticity of their concepts.

What’s the story: Tucked right next door to stablemate Motorino, Associazione Chianti is billed as a ‘soulful Tuscan trattoria’ but updated for the times.

Associazione Chianti Hong Kong - exterior
Associazione Chianti's bold entrance stands out on Ship Street.

The vibe: The deceptively large space has been cleverly designed by Sean Dix of Dix Design Studio. While the butcher window display that flanks either side of the entrance is, sadly, only for show, it’s a slice of Tuscany from the moment you step inside, from the chequered flooring to the dark wood accents of the furnishings. With soft lighting and a typically buzzy atmosphere, it’s the kind of place that Black Sheep just does so well – a buzzy vibe where you could easily while away a boozy evening.

Associazione Chianti Hong Kong - Executive Chef Josh Stambaugh
Associazione Chainti's executive chef, Josh Stambaugh.

At the pass: Is executive chef Josh Stambaugh, a Philadelphia native whose kitchen career started as a dishwasher before working alongside a number of his city’s most celebrated chefs. He spent 18 months in Australia, working in the renowned kitchens of Attica and Jacques Reymond in Melbourne, and Quay on Sydney Harbour, before heading back to the States to head up the kitchen at New York’s West Village hotspot Barbuto.

On the menu: The ingredient-focused menu showcases the flavours of Tuscany and its cucina povera – Tuscan ‘peasant’ cooking that traditionally made use of the limited ingredients in the kitchen, and which now counts chefs like Mario Batali as one of its most famous exponents on the international stage.

Associazione Chianti Hong Kong - pasta
Pasta at Associazione Chianti is handmade on-site daily.

The family-style menu includes starters like crostini (HK$118 for three pieces) topped individually with a creamy chicken liver, tomato and garlic, and braised cannellini beans, as well as a wonderfully fresh and excellently seasoned Tuscan steak tartare (HK$178), tossed tableside and served with crispy semolina crackers.

A selection from the cleverly considered selection of pasta, made in-house daily, shouldn’t be missed. On our visit, we loved the silky tagliatelle (HK$218) served in a simple yet delicious butter sauce and topped with Alba white truffle, while the garganelli (HK$188) tossed with a Chianti beef ragu and parmesan also hit the right notes without overwhelming the palate.

Associazione Chianti Hong Kong - chicken in brown butter
The chicken in brown butter is an excellent alternative to the selection of premium Black Angus cuts.

Prime butchers’ cuts, which are housed in the on-site dry-aging fridge, take pride of place on the menu, and each of the Black Angus steaks are given a once over with a dry rub of so-called ‘Chianti aromatics’ before being cooked, medium rare only (that’s house rule number two), in a custom-made Tuscan-style broiler and portioned tableside. Larger selections include a 1kg t-bone (HK$1,198) and bone-in ribeye (HK$1,298) that serve 3-4, with smaller cuts also available. Beyond the steak, we can highly recommend the exceptionally tender brown butter chicken breast (HK$218), presented in a theatrically sizzling cast-iron skillet, and basted and portioned tableside The proteins are available to pair with an appropriately homely selection of sides, such as braised spinach with olive oil, garlic and lemon (HK$68) and roast potato with whipped lardo and rosemary (HK$68).

The dessert menu for now is modest but straightforward, with a choice of homemade classics that includes tiramisu (HK$78) madorle e olio (HK$88) and meringhe (HK$88).

Associazione Chianti Hong Kong - bistecca and chianti
Expect bold flavours both on the plate and in your glass.

What else: The clue is in the name for house rule number three – be prepared to pair your meal with a glass (or three) of chianti (bottles start at HK$398). The wine programme features labels sourced by the restaurant directly from the vineyards of Tuscany, as well as a selection of whites and reds from Piedmont. While we understand that this is family-style dining, it is a little vexing that only one each of the red and white selections are available by the glass.

PR speak: “Dinner at Associazione Chianti is a step away from the hustle of Hong Kong, where you can live like a Florentine, if only for a night.”

Associazione Chianti, 15 Ship Street, Wan Chai, +852 3619 3360; www.associazionechianti.com

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