208 Duecento Otto is basically one of the Hong Kong’s hottest Italian restaurants; partly responsible for turning the Sheung Wan area into the buzzing culinary playground that it is now, it’s already scooped numerous awards and comes with a trail of great reviews. So we were super-excited to get to try some of 208’s signature dishes… and were accordingly presented with a veritable feast!
We kicked things off some of their antipasti. The Rucola salad of rocket, Parmigiano reggiano, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette turned out to be surprisingly delicious for such a simple-sounding dish; this would make a great light starter or side dish and buttered us up nicely for the rest of our banquet! However, my absolute favourite was the Polpio alla Piastra – an octopus dish that I would never have picked out myself… but thank goodness someone else was doing the picking, as it was absolutely divine! The two hefty portions of octopus were winningly fat, delightfully tender and as far away from rubbery as could be, the taste blending perfectly with melt-in-mouth scallions and a gorgeous more-ish creamy dressing of capers, lemon and red pepper.
No trip to 208 would be complete without their house speciality – pizzas made using the freshest ingredients, including a special blend of Italian flour and buffalo mozzarella from Campana. Forget Pizza Hut, Shakey’s or Spaghetti House (no really, please make me forget!), these are the real deal! Created by Enzo Carbone, a Napoletana pizza specialist from a family of trattoria owners in Naples, they’re prepared to the specifications of The Association Verace Pizza Napoletana (ooo-errrr) and are baked in a custom-designed pizza oven shipped in especially from Naples, a bit of a rarity in HK! We went for their signature offering, The D.O.C. It was simple (cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) but again, stunningly done; I’m not entirely sure how they made such a straightforward dish taste quite so good! Must be some magic in those Napoletana pizza ovens!
Pasta fiends like myself will also be spoilt for choice. In the end, I had to let someone else do the choosing, as everything simply sounded so delicious – and the Papardelle Wagyu Bolognese was every bit as gorgeous in the mouth as it was on the menu! Fat ribbons of handmade pasta cooked just right, with mounds of hearty Bolognese sitting on top, like a present from one of those cheerful Italian mamas you always see on tv. For those of you used to being short-changed on the beef front in Bolognese sauces, you’ve come to the right place – this was super-tender generously meaty stuff, so much so that even Jaime, who can’t eat pasta, was helping herself to scoops of just the sauce! For me, this dish perfectly epitomises what 208 does so well – rustic Italian cuisine but with a fine dining flair.
At this stage, I was already near bursting point… but up rolled the secondi dishes! There was a whole roasted sea bass, delicately-cooked, fresh and delightful (don’t forget to squeeze your lemon over – it totally brings the dish alive) and the Cotoletta all Milanese, a breaded milk-fed veal chop. In all honesty, unless you’re sharing with a large party, I don’t think you need both pizza/pasta and secondi; they’re all filling enough on their own and given I stuffed myself silly on Wagyu Bolognese, I wasn’t able to get my fill quite as much as I should have! Nevertheless, what is great about 208 is that their secondi are far from being an afterthought to the pasta or pizza, instead, they’re well-designed and delicious dishes in their own right, offering plenty of choice if you’re in a no-carbs mood!
As everyone knows, pudding represents a separate part of the stomach, so I was back on the wagon for desserts… and frankly, I’m still having gooey, sticky, drooling dreams about the warm Venchi chocolate pudding as we speak! This was one of those melt-in-the-middle chocolate-rich puds that Masterchef contestants are always failing to make properly – but this was a textbook example of it being done right! Add in a spoonful of cold vanilla ice-cream and it’s nothing short of chocoholic paradise! (Sorry cute jar of rhubarb compote, you didn’t even get a look in!).
The apple tarte tatin was another dessert delight. The caramelised apples were so soft and scrummy that they near enough melted in my mouth, and the scoop of honey and ginger ice-cream balanced the sticky sweetness out perfectly, whilst also delivering a cheeky little kick. Heed my advice, ladies – make sure you save room for afters!
208 also do fantastic set lunch menus, plus there’s a great food selection available downstairs in the bar (including their full range of pizzas and an antipasti lunch buffet) if you’re just after a quick pit-stop. However, if you do have the time, I’d fully suggest staying to soak up the ambience – there’s luxurious leather sofas perfect for lingering on, the walls are covered with Chinoiserie-style blue-and-white tiles that make for a quirky yet stunning design touch and the whole place feels warm, relaxed and welcoming with the whole of Sheung Wan buzzing around it.
So basically, all the great things we heard about 208 are true – and now we’ve finally made it official!
208 Duecento Otto 208 Hollywood Road, SOHO, Sheung Wan
2549 0208 www.208.com.hk