Apart from the quite generic Pizza Express, there’s a real shortage of great pizza places in Hong Kong. Sure, I could name a couple of places that do alright pizza, but there’s not many places that could be classified as world class.
That all changed when an interesting little place called Ciao Chow opened up in the heart of Lan Kwai Fung. Located at the base of the California Building, perhaps the most prime of locations, Ciao Chow is front and centre for all the world to see. With a name that has a fancy play on words, Ciao (hello) and Chow (eat) describe exactly what you’re getting when visiting the frantic little Italian joint.
There’s a couple of things I need to tell you about Ciao Chow; firstly, I’m pretty confident that the pizza on offer is arguably the best in our fair city; but – and this is a big but – the service is shocking. At best I would say bumbling, but in reality, it’s more along the lines of completely inept!
We were greeted on this particular visit by a kindly looking gentleman dressed in black; and promptly were shown to an area of the restaurant that had seats, then kind of ignored us for a bit, almost as if he was contemplating the meaning of existence; I mean, he was standing there but nobody was home. We eventually took the hint and just grabbed a seat and waited for a while a waitress noticed that we were new entrants to the building and brought over some menus (this took a while).
I actually started to question if our initial greeter even worked at the restaurant the way he just drifted off and wandered around the tables….
Anyhow, after a suitably distressing amount of time, our waitress came back and took our order. Which included a bottle of water and a couple of mains to share; a pizza which we asked to come first, and a pasta which was supposed to come as our ‘main’.
In what was a surprisingly quick turnaround, our first dish was presented and, you guessed it, the pasta had turned up first. I had grave fears about the Fettuccine alla Bolognese (fettuccine in a slow-cooked pork and beef ragu); I mean, how could the pasta have possibly been cooked well enough in such a short period of time? We were given a couple of clean plates to pile on the generous serving of pasta and we were able to (roughly) get an even share of the pasta. Aaaaand….
It was great! The fettuccine was a perfect al dente and had been prepared beautifully with the slow cooked pork and beef ragu tasting absolutely sensational. There was a deep rich flavour emanating from the sauce that had been clearly and lovingly cooked over a long period of time. The blend of beef and pork adding that extra depth of flavour that was mixed in nicely with the tasty pasta. I did think that some of the pieces of meat felt a little over cooked from a textural viewpoint, but overall, it was a really delicious version of a beef and pork ragu.
Out pizza came out shortly after our pasta had been devoured and it looked the goods. And with good reason! Prepared in the traditional Neapolitan way, Ciao Chow is one of the rare restaurants in this part of the world that have been accredited by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) – in fact the first Hong Kong pizza joint to do so. The association was set up by the Italian government as a Denomination Of Control (DOC); ensuring a strict set of controls that maintain the tradition of Neapolitan pizza making.
Of course we’d ordered the Margherita, made lovingly with the traditional ingredients of San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, basil and extra-virgin olive oil. The rich redness of the tomato sauce had a wonderful texture and dominated against the golden colour of the melted mozzarella and the (thankfully) sparse hints of green from the basil. The tri colours of the Italian flag were represented well. I loved the creaminess of the cheese and the strong, slightly sweet hit of the San Marzano tomato base. The crust was crunchy where it needed to be and soft around the edges, which we devoured along with the rest of the pizza.
It was glorious!
It even made up for the fact that the service was indeed a little on the absurd side (at that point I was choosing to be gracious as we’d just had some top nosh). I’d noticed a couple of the elderly and kindly looking gentlemen in black wandering aimlessly around the restaurant; I just wasn’t sure what their purpose was; it certainly wasn’t to serve customers (or maybe it was….)
It was really early in the evening when we went, so there were plenty of tables free while we were there, so I really didn’t see any reason why our meal order was out of sync, why it took so long between being seated and getting served, and why there was just a lack of any real attention to the diner…
I quite like the layout of the space, its very large and very open, with great views of the open style kitchen and dual ovens (that pump out those delicious pizzas). The dining area is set out with a heap of share dining tables for that raucous share dining experience, but there are plenty of seats for loved up couples also. Because it’s in LKF, there’s obviously a huge bar area as well, which is located at the front of the dining area.
Based on service alone, I probably wouldn’t go back to Ciao Chow… But the food’s really tasty and to be honest, it’s pretty centrally located and very convenient. More-so, being the only DOC pizza in town, there’s really nowhere else to go if you want that authentic Neapolitan pizza.
I’ve been to Ciao Chow a few times now, and the service has been almost universally on the poor side. The one exception was when I was there with friends, one of whom knew the owner and manager; service was pretty good on that occasion (mmmm, surprise surprise).
I guess I know what I’m getting when I go; so the tradeoff for great pizza appears to be average (at best) service.