Great dumplings, dim sum, Japanese and steak in Hong Kong: an Italian chef’s restaurant recommendations


Paolo Monti was previously the chef of Italian restaurant Gaia for 20 years, and is now the executive chef of the Rome-themed Ama. He is also a partner in the online Italian shop Borgovivo. He spoke to Andrew Sun.

I grew up in Rome, where I was born. My father was a hotel maitre’d all his life and I followed him in this career. My mother was always home cooking.

I started in a famous restaurant in Rome, as a pastry chef and gelato maker. One day, I decided to move and see the world. I first went to Los Angeles and then five years later came to Hong Kong. I was at Gaia for almost 20 years before I opened my own Roman restaurant.

If I want to go for Japanese, there’s a tiny place in Wan Chai where I have gone for years and to which I take all the chefs coming to Hong Kong. It’s called Doraya (Lockhart House, 451-453 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay. Tel: 2834 8851). They are famous for the tuna and the sashimi. It’s a very small place but very good.

Bluefin tuna steak bowl from Doraya. Photo: Zoe Mak
Vegetarian dumplings from Bafang Dumplings. Photo: Esther Cheung

If I want something very easy and local for a snack, I always like to go to Bafang Dumplings (various locations including 146 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai. Tel: 2892 1598). I love those Taiwanese dumplings and pot stickers.

If I have a group of people and want to go for dim sum served with the old trolleys, then it’s City Hall’s Maxim’s Palace (2/F, City Hall, 5-7 Edinburgh Place, Central. Tel: 2521 1303). I like their old-school style. I would definitely take a first-time visitor here. Dim sum is very representative of Hong Kong.

Paolo Monti is executive chef of Ama in Wan Chai. Photo: Ama
Pho Tai from Bep.

If I want some good Vietnamese, then I will go to Bep (four locations including 88-90 Wellington Street, Central. Tel: 2581 9992). They have a nice pho and I think it’s good quality all the time.

Sometimes, if I feel nostalgic and miss my old restaurant then I will go to Gaia (G/F, Grand Millennium Plaza, 181 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan. Tel: 2167 8200), especially to see my friend (and restaurant manager) Pino Piano.

For a good steak, I go to a place called Stekka Master (65 High Street, Sai Ying Pun. Tel: 2517 7771). They have a big grill but it’s a small place. And it’s all Italian beef.

Dim sum at City Hall’s Maxim’s Palace. Photo: Facebook / @Maxim’s Chinese Cuisine
Pappardelle pasta with a rabbit stew ragout sauce at Gaia. Photo: Jonathan Wong

For Chinese seafood, I would organise a junk and go to Po Toi island. It’s something for which you have to plan ahead but it’s fun. The restaurant right on the beach is called Ming Kee Seafood (Tai Wan, Po Toi Island. Tel: 2849 7038). We would order crab, prawns, everything.

In Rome, everything is changing so fast now. Things there yesterday are no longer there today. So few authentic trattorias are left. One is Checchino Dal 1887 (Via di Monte Testaccio 30, Rome. Tel: +39 06 574 3816). It’s a very old place as the name suggests.

This summer, I was in the Netherlands for one month and I had the best pizza there in a place called Bacio Pizza (Westzijde 102, Zaandam. Tel: +31 75 772 4853). It’s very small, run by a couple of Italians.

The guys make a magical pizza Neapolitan style. It’s the real thing. I ate there about five times. The pizzamaker is originally from Sicily but grew up in Milan. They have a good wood oven, all the ingredients. It’s one of those things you remember.


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