Slurping down the spaghetti

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 1996, 12:00am

As a child, Saturday lunch meant spaghetti bolognaise - spaghetti coated in a tomato and minced beef sauce and sprinkled with parmesan cheese - to me and my family.

We would sit around the large kitchen table, twirling and slurping the spaghetti. It became rather like a race, three children competing with parents to wind the strands around their forks.

Today, posh Italian restaurants in Hong Kong tend not to serve this dish but it can still be found in restaurants serving more traditional fare.

The Spaghetti House should at least know how to cook spaghetti which, as all Italian chefs will tell you, should be al dente or 'to the tooth', with just enough body for there to be resistance when you bite into it.

Unfortunately, the restaurant overdoes the cooking and the result is mushy and pasty. Its ragu - the sauce - is quite strongly flavoured, and the meat is tender but there is a synthetic edge to it. Worse still, it does not even offer the requisite grated parmesan.

La Trattoria in The Landmark prides itself on the authenticity of its Italian cuisine. Its pasta is cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of bite, but the sauce has tough bits of beef gristle which rather mars its buoyant flavour. Good parmesan cheese, though.

Rigoletto in Wan Chai is one of the oldest Italian restaurants in town and its spaghetti bolognaise is one of the best in town. The chef uses a mixture of veal and beef in his ragu; he is particular about not overdoing the frying of the minced meat in the sauce.

Freshly grated, crumbly parmesan and De Cecco, the very best brand of dried spaghetti, are used. A fresh sprig of basil is used both as a flavouring and a garnish.

Grappa's in Pacific Place does not strictly serve spaghetti bolognaise but wheels out linguine con salsa Toscana instead. Linguine, which means 'tongues' in Italian, is an oval variation on spaghetti. Grappa's tongues were a bit beyond al dente.

The sauce is chunky and lumpy with pieces of bacon, mushroom and diced carrot standing out.

The flavour is strong and heavy with red wine but it lacks sharpness and any concentrated tomato quality. Lots of grated parmesan.

The tiny Tutta Luna in Lan Kwai Fong does not list linguine bolognaise on the menu but it uses ragu in the lasagne and says it will never refuse a request for it.

The restaurant's ragu emphasises that tomato is long-cooked and tender. The sauce clings nicely to the pasta which is cooked just right.

The parmesan is freshly grated.

Just over the road and down the steps is the subterranean Il Mercato, where Italian chef Gian Piero turns out some of the tastiest Italian food in town.

This unpretentious and efficient little eatery produces pizzas like the Neapolitans and serves broad tagliatelle just like the Bolognese. The freshly made pasta glistens with a coating of rich, long-simmered, well-balanced ragu.

A generous sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan is topped off with a sprig of Italian flat leaf parsley. The best tagliatelle a la ragu bolognaise in town.