Cover Cantina's cicchetti, pizza and pasta are designed to share (Source: Handout)

The restaurant group is betting on crowd-pleasing Italian cuisine to fill up this cavernous, colonial-era venue

On the heels of the opening of Spanish tasting menu restaurant Agora, Tai Kwun is set to welcome yet another new restaurant venue in the shape of Cantina. Translating to 'canteen' in Italian, it's the latest project of Aqua Group, replacing British restaurant Statement with a gathering place for hearty Italian cooking.

Helming the kitchen is chef Luca Schiavone, a fresh arrival from London who previously held roles at Cecconi's and Shoreditch House (both Soho House properties), as well as the Michelin-recommended Zafferano. At Cantina, he'll be serving a menu developed with Andrea Mura, executive chef at the new Aqua in H Zentre, that centres around approachable and honest Italian fare within the grand confines of the former Police Officers’ Mess in Tai Kwun’s colonial-era Police Headquarters Building—from which Cantina derives its name.

Related: Aqua & Hutong To Relocate After 18 Years, With Two New Concepts To Open In Their Place

Easing diners into a meal at Cantina are Venetian-style cicchetti small plates, involving the likes of fritto misto (fried prawns, squid, courgette, garlic mayonnaise), Sicilian red prawn carpaccio, seared tuna belly with spicy apple dressing, and slow-cooked baby octopus with peas. Aside from opening up the palate, cicchetti are also designed to be eaten with a healthy helping of wine.

Regional specialties feature heavily among the pastas and main courses. From northern Lazio and southern Tuscany come the cuttlefish and sea urchin in the squid ink spaghetti; while Molise and Puglia in the south provide the cavatelli pasta that is paired with pork ribs, beef flank and fennel sausage which have been slow-braised with a thick tomato sauce. Meanwhile, the homely Sicilian dish of pollo alla stemperata—a stew made with pan-roasted chicken thighs, carrots, celery and and green olives; and Milanese breaded veal cutlet, weighing in at a hefty 450g are designed to be shared family-style, as is the rule in Italy.

See more: Hong Kong Restaurant News: Recent Openings at Chutney & Trattoria Piccolo, Fresh Faces at Arcane & Whisk, And More

Pizzas are, of course, a staple on any Italian menu, and Cantina's are baked using housemade dough with minimal yeast for a light and crisp crust, with the focus falling on the toppings instead. Cue options like squid ink dough pizza topped with Sicilian prawns and bottarga; and the Flora, laden with yellow cherry tomato, cardoncelli mushrooms, artichokes and spinach.

Desserts add a modern twist to tradition, with choices like tiramisu (served tableside), Sicilian cannolo, and basil panna cotta with melon coulis and mosto cotto syrup.

The a la carte menu is extensive, but those looking for a fuss-free dining experience can choose the tasting menu, priced at HK$728 per person. Cantina is also launching with a set lunch menu, as well as a free-flow weekend brunch from HK$788 up.

Cantina, Police Headquarters Block 01, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2848 3000, cantina.com.hk


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