Motorino isn’t the first New York transplant to open here – but for a restaurant serving such a quintessentially New York (via Italy!) dish to open its first branch outside the city in Hong Kong, a place with only a budding pizza scene, was a bold and intriguing move. Open since March 2013 and with a second HK location due to launch on Ship Street in Wan Chai soon, we decided to investigate!
The Soho Motorino, perched alongside the escalators, is very cute. I loved the white and green striped décor and brick walls, kitschy Virgin Mary statue, and outdoor area that sits in the middle of the restaurant like a private room. The only big downside of the small space is how noisy it can get, even on a weeknight. I enjoyed the good tunes but as the restaurant filled up, we all had to start shouting over the music and everyone else’s chatter. Dine at Motorino earlier if you are sensitive to noisy places!
Motorino’s menu (which is identical to the one in NYC) is fairly simple, but still a little fancier than your average pizza place, with a selection of decent starters. I liked the juicy and zesty octopus and potato salad, whilst the Prosciutto di Parma with buffalo mozzarella was simple but satisfying. However, my high hopes for the marinated beet salad were dashed by sour beets and the one lonely anchovy on the plate.
While the antipasti were nothing to write home about, they did serve their purpose in whetting your appetite for the real reason you come to Motorino – the pizza! Now, pizza can be a sensitive topic and pizza lovers are very opinionated about what makes a good pie; I opted out of many a foodie argument when I lived in New York, as I think it’s just too subjective and there are too many variables to make for a meaningful argument (thick or thin crust… authentic Neapolitan or New York style?). But whether Motorino is your cup of tea or not, you have to hand it to them for taking their craft seriously, with what you could call “the Ferrari of ovens” (a wood-burning Ferrara open-fire brick oven) built in the back. Motorino also make fresh dough for their Neapolitan pizzas everyday and let it ferment for 24 hours. The outcome is a perfectly chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside pizza. It’s worth noting some people have a problem with charred pizza. I do not!
My favourite of our pizzas was definitely the Brussels Sprout. If you still have hang-ups about Brussels sprouts after being scarred by the sprouts of your childhood that tasted like feet… get over it! The trend may not quite have made its way to Hong Kong yet, but Brussels sprouts are definitely “in” in NYC – and when prepared the right way, they are amazingly delicious. Motorino’s Brussels Sprout pizza also comes topped with garlic, pecorino, and smoked pancetta… and you can’t go wrong with a combo like that!
The other pizza we tried was Meatball Pizza, a special of the day. While I didn’t find it quite as interesting as the Brussels sprouts, this flavour profile definitely has more mass appeal. It’s meaty, cheesy, and scrumptious… Basically everything we picture pizza to be. We even tried leftover Motorino the next day and it kept and re-heated beautifully – another sign of good pizza!
It’s also worth mentioning Motorino’s “Perfect Pizza Wine”, Gragnano, which lines the wall of the restaurant. This medium-bodied, semi-sparkling fruity red makes for a truly great pairing; while we often prefer to wash our pizza down with a Coke or a beer, Gragnano’s fizz cuts through the fattiness of the olive oil and cheese, and lets you enjoy the taste of red wine with your pizza pie.
Dessert-wise (and when you’re eating with Rach, there’s always dessert!), Motorino keeps it simple. Both the tiramisu and chocolate cake were pretty standard, but the crunchy base and dusting of sea salt flakes on the chocolate marked it as the winner – although it’s definitely on the rich side!
I couldn’t really recommend Motorino as the ideal place for any particular social situation, as we found it just too noisy on the night we visited, despite it being such a nice space. But you come to Motorino for one reason and one reason alone – great pizza. So go to Motorino during a quieter time. Bring some friends. Share a bottle of Gragnano and a pizza. Happiness is that simple.
Motorino Soho, Central, 14 Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong
2801 6881 www.motorinopizza.com
Motorino 15 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
2520 0690 www.motorinopizza.com
Iris blogs about clean living and her cooking adventures figuring out a HK-sized kitchen at Eating Clean In The Dirty City