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Nico’s Spuntino Bar & Restaurant – rustic southern Italian fare on Elgin Street

In case there aren’t already enough Italian restaurants on Elgin Street, Staunton’s Group has just opened up another, taking over the huge space left empty by Fat Angelo’s. However, Nico’s isn’t just another generic Italian restaurant; it’s a spuntino bar and restaurant, serving delights from southern Italy.

What’s a spuntino bar, you ask? It’s a casual eatery that serves snack-sized portions perfect for sharing whilst enjoying a few glasses of wine.  This, for me, is the ideal way to eat: as dishes are small, it means you can have a variety of things and not feel horribly greedy!

Nico’s is enormous, spanning around 2,500 square feet and divided into the casual spuntino bar at the front, a slightly more formal dining area at the back, and a gelateria to one side, serving one of Hong Kong’s (and Sassy’s!) favourite brands, I-Scream. The casual yet stylish décor complements Nico’s rustic menu of traditional simple southern Italian fare, and comes complete with an open front perfect for people watching.

While we waited for all the guests to arrive, we tried some Crocchette di patate from the sputino menu. While ham and cheese croquettes are normally one of my favourite snacks, these were slightly heavy on the potato and lacking in cheese or ham. Nevertheless, there was definitely something more-ish about them as I certainly remember eating more than my fair share at the opening party a few weeks prior!

Following this, a beautiful Burratina Fresca was presented before us: a huge knot of buffalo mozzarella that was interestingly silky on the outside, with a creamy and runny consistency on the inside. It was drizzled with green and red pesto, which I only wish there had been more of, as the cheese alone was a little too mild.

My absolute favourite dish of the day was the Caciocavallo Silano in Carrozza – a deep-fried smoked cheese. Need I say more?!

Also impressive was the seafood antipasti platter – the smoked fish was delicious, but it was the beautifully tender spicy baby octopus that stood out for me.

Nico’s pizzas, freshly pulled in-house, are a must-try. The crust is thin and crispy, exactly as it is in the Campania region of Italy and exactly how I like it. We tried the bestseller Mamma Assunta’s, topped with pork sausage and white mushrooms, and the Quattro Formaggi con Radicchio Rosso, both of which were delicious; the latter, with its creamy gorgonzola, was my favourite of the two.

Whilst the Risotto Carciofi e Guanciale didn’t leave a lasting impression, the homemade Tortelloni di Carne, stuffed with minced pork and beef and served in a mild tomato basil sauce, was comfort food at its best.

Nico’s prides itself on its Porceddu (roast suckling pig), and the meat was wonderfully tender and flavoursome, with contrastingly crispy skin. However, perhaps I chose the wrong piece, but there was a little too much fat and not enough pig on my plate.

The aged T-bone served on a sizzling plate was saved until last and caused quite a stir when it arrived, still sizzling, before us. The meat is cut to order, from between 350g to 1kg, so is perfect for sharing. The meat was a little on the chewy side but the gorgeous flavours made up for it.

Onto desserts… and as I’m not a coffee drinker, I’m not always a fan of tiramisu. However, Nico’s version might have converted me; the texture was just right and the flavour of coffee wasn’t overpowering. I loved that it was served in a sweet little glass jar too. An Amaretto toffee banana crepe was decadently sweet, with definite hints of almond, but the flavours of the cinnamon apple one were masked by too much cream.

The average bill at Nico’s comes to around $300 per person. Although not every dish was perfect, Nico’s has shown that Staunton’s Group is more than capable of attracting diners as well as drinkers to enjoy the casual fun vibe that this new addition to Elgin Street offers.

Nico’s Spuntino Bar + Restaura G/F, 49 Elgin Street, Central
2978 3949 www.facebook.com/NicosSpuntinoBar

Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!

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