Following the successes of his K11 Musea and Nina Mall outlets, renowned Italian pastry chef Giovanni Pina has pulled back the curtain of a new, eponymous flagship bakery-cum-restaurant in Central. The latest, and swankiest, Giovanni Pina will allow the city’s eager epicureans to sample both sweet and savoury Italian flavours in a modern setting.
Pina is not only a 40-year veteran baker with countless international accolades to his name, he’s also the third generation of a century-old lineage; his grandfather first opened a small pastry shop in the northern Italian town of Trescore Balneario in, yes, 1920. The grandson’s latest offering features interiors inspired by aristocratic European castles of old. Featuring wooden accents, plush purple upholstery and a massive chandelier, the 40-seat eatery affords patrons direct views of the open kitchen. This is where the culinary magic happens, where the chef’s now-famous traditional-meets-contemporary style is on full display.
Eager to savour the results of this fusion of old-meets-new experimentation, our own tasting began with a classic Italian appetiser – Burrata and Seasonal Tomato Salad with Basil infused Balsamic Vinegar Dressing. The inherent creaminess of the fresh buffalo cheese is enhanced by the tartness of the accompanying tri-coloured baby tomatoes, while the house-pickled black garlic imparts a delicious hint of umami to the proceedings. Refreshing yet decadent, it is elevated further by the basil-infused balsamic vinaigrette, which imparts a welcome earthiness.
Next to arrive was Handmade Pappardelle with Porcini Ragu with Pan-fried Kagoshima A4 Wagyu Sirloin. Fronted by melt-in-your-mouth slivers of Kagoshima A4 Wagyu and perfectly al dente home-made pappardelle pasta, the star ingredient here is undoubtedly the porcini ragù. This sauce is truly a labour of love, requiring porcini mushrooms to be soaked overnight before being simmered with three additional types of Japanese mushrooms and short ribs for over four hours. Thick and brimming with flavour, it bequeaths a delicious richness to the Tuscan-style pasta while also tempering the fattiness of the meat.
We then sampled another signature dish of the restaurant – Pan-fried Jumbo Scallops & Asparagus Risotto. A deft display of Chef Pina’s ability to create a dish far greater than the sum of its parts, the risotto is creamy without being overwhelming, thanks to interspersed slivers of asparagus. Topping the all-white affair are two generously sized scallops, which are further garnished with heaped helpings of black caviar. It’s an indulgent and decadent affair, but with a measure of subtlety that allows its oceanic accents to shine through on the palate.
Scarcely had we finished our risotto when a platter of Black Truffle Scrocchiarella hovered into view. Once tableside, the maître d’ garnished the dish with shavings of fresh black truffle. For the uninitiated, scrocchiarella – the crunchy one in Italian – is the Roman take on pizza dough and delivers an authentic thin-crust style of pizza. In this instance, the bread base was light, airy and chewy, while the aromatic truffle and rich cheese combination raised it to the level of pure satisfaction. This, unsurprisingly, is comfort food at its finest.
Given Chef Pina’s legendary reputation as a pâtissier, no trip to the restaurant would be complete without sampling some of his sweeter bakes, so it was no surprise that the final course of our expansive tasting menu came in the form of a dozen Pasticcini Mignon, or mini pastries. As beautiful as they were delicious, it was an endless selection to choose from, but no chore to identify our favourites. We settled very happily indeed on the pistachio cream, pine nut and almond tarts, which were fresh and flavourful with just a hint of sweetness.
Giovanni Pina. G/F, Two Chinachem Plaza, 135 Des Voeux Rd, Central. (852) 2811 9888.
(Photos: Giovani Pina 1920)