Ladies, we’ve found you a new neighbourhood hangout. RISI e BISI is a modern boozy getaway that has recently opened a stone’s throw away from Soho, bringing a touch of urban Venetian glamour to the 852. Tucked away on Kau U Fong Street, this self-proclaimed bacaro wine bar is perfect for a chilled night of drinks, tapas and chatter with your closest friends (or maybe even a date – wink!). As soon as I walked in, the effortlessly chic and relaxing atmosphere washed over me.
There’s a trendy, repurposed sort of feel to the predominantly dark wood bacaro bar, the exposed brick wall and stark furniture balanced with soft lighting emanating from RISI e BISI’s pride and joy – a massive glass Coke bottle chandelier.
I was told a number of times how the chandelier had been a spontaneous creation: the designer, a friend to the owner, took a few steps into the bar and immediately demanded as many glass coke bottles as everyone could get their hands on. Indeed, this throwaway anecdote seems to sum up my entire experience there and the night was one full of quirky innovation that carried through to the food and drinks.
I was happily recommended a fruity cocktail by the bartender, a Hotel Nationale. Made with fresh pineapple, lime juice, Albiccoca apricot brandy and Diplomatico Blanco rum, the drink was wonderfully refreshing and had a tropical kick to it that had me itching for a beach in Hawaii. This of course may have also had something to do with the adorable orchid peeping out from over the rim of the glass as well, and you don’t have to worry if you’re not a massive fan of sugar – it’s not overwhelmingly sweet and leaves absolutely no cloying aftertaste, which was a huge plus for me.
As I chatted with the wonderfully accommodating team at RISI e BISI, I learnt that they have an incredibly unique range of limited edition alcohol; particularly an entire shelf of imported Japanese whiskey, unusual wheat beers and a marvelous mixologist who brings their internationally sourced spirits together. I managed to snag a taste of their unusual tangerine wheat beer from a friend, too intimidated to get a whole one to myself, and was pleasantly surprised by the mature citrus taste.
The first of the sharing plates emerged from the kitchen: a Smoked Mozzarella and Pumpkin Arancini with a mild salsa. I was told that the arancini recipe changes regularly so every visit is a new culinary experience, which made me a little sad as these ones tasted amazing. The rice within was cooked to perfection, with a delicate crunch and beautifully sealed together with rich mozzarella that had me dipping each one into the fresh tomato salsa again and again.
Next came the Watermelon with Aged Balsamic Vinegar, an unusual choice that I was initially apprehensive of (especially since I’m not so hot on watermelon to begin with). In any case, the first bite was a welcome surprise as the surprisingly meaty texture of the slow cooked fruit was bursting with flavour, delicately balancing a hint of sweetness with the tang of the vinegar. It was a confusing yet pleasant experience, and one I’m tempted to return for.
It was at this point that I polished off my first cocktail and ordered another inspired concoction, an Affogatto Fizz. This was easily my favourite drink of the night, a mix of Aylesbury Duck vodka, in-house espresso syrup, fresh orange and pineapple juice and naturally, a cheeky scoop of vanilla ice cream. I probably should’ve waited till the end of the meal to order this as it’s the closest RISI e BISI gets to dessert and it considerably sweeter than what had come before. For those of you doubtful of the juice, the fruity taste is quite subtle and brings lightness to the cream and coffee, making it dangerously easy to drink. The visual aspect is slightly lacking however – the drink comes in a plain paper cup and I’d recommend you finish yours quickly, as it tends to get a little soggy as the night goes on.
We were then brought out a light Hamachi Tartare, a raw fish and cucumber recipe meant to be eaten on a light crisp. The coolness brought to the dish by the cucumber combined with the freshness of the fish to create a thoroughly refreshing experience for your palate.
After this came the Poh Poh Carbonara, a dish of homemade pasta that came with an incredibly mobile poached egg on top. At first I was a bit confused, where was the creamy carbonara sauce I was so accustomed to? My server informed me with a smile that the egg yolk was in fact the sauce and as such had been cooked at a perfect temperature of 63 degrees. As soon as I split open the egg with a knife, it poured out easily over the pasta and combined with the dash of Parmesan for a delicate and inspired take on the staple.
The people around me began to order another round of drinks and I couldn’t help but notice this quirky concoction above, a Golden Gate Swizzle. A homage to the mixologist’s favourite bartender in San Fransisco, the adorable tiki cup was a real surprise (and upon further inspection, there was a littler one further down as well), and everyone was incredibly excited. Mixed with Fernet Branca, Angostura Bitters amongst a series of other ingredients, I was kindly offered a sip and didn’t ask for another one. This bitter drink has an unusual taste similar to aniseed (or medicine, the co-owner Michelle told me) and certainly wasn’t to my personal preference, however I know that there are a number of people out there who’ll probably be big fans.
Once I’d recovered from the Golden Gate Swizzle, we were brought a plate of beautifully arranged Classic Italian Meatballs with a side of garlic bread. There’s no reinvention of the wheel here and these amazingly tender meatballs were bursting with flavour with each and every nibble. Definitely one of the standout dishes of the night.
We then moved onto Strozzapretti pasta, full of incredibly thick homemade noodles, gorgeously spiced sausages a dash of tomato-based sauce. I could have easily finished one on my own and nearly considered asking for another serving, however I reminded myself that there was still more to come and settled for scraping the bowl clean.
We were then asked if there was anything else we wanted to try from the innovative dim sum style menu, and being a somewhat ecstatic carnivore, I had to try the 72 hour Spare Rib (especially since my friend had basically been talking about it all night).
I could write songs about this spare rib. I will write songs about this spare rib. The beautifully spiced meat had a kick to it that made my lips tingle bite after bite and glided off the bone wonderfully; more tender than any other dish I’d had in a very long time. The meal definitely ended on a high and I was sated and perfectly satisfied.
All in all, I’d definitely return to RISI e BISI for an after work drink and a great selection of nibbles. It’s not entirely ideal for dinner with a somewhat cramped space downstairs and small sharing plates, however it’s a perfect date spot, full of charismatic romance and one of the boldest bar stocks in Hong Kong. When it comes to food and drinks, there are a couple of misses but the hits far outweigh them: definitely be sure to try the arancini, strozzapretti, meatballs, spare rib and make the most of their amazing drinks. Maybe try and get there a little earlier to grab a seat (though there is additional seating upstairs), but this slick and stylish establishment is certainly here to stay.
Rise e Bisi, G/F, 12 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong, 2824 3009, www.facebook.com/RisiEBisi.hk