The oldest Italian restaurant in Hong Kong, La Taverna, was opened in 1969 by two Milanese brothers, Giuseppe and Aldo Macchetti.
They moved to Asia to tend to their father's export business in the 1960s, but quickly moved into the restaurant business. "They found there weren't any Italian restaurants that they and their friends could go to when they wanted a taste of home," says Raymond Chan, office manager of Macchetti Holdings, the restaurant's parent company.
The first La Taverna in Hong Kong opened at On Hing Terrace in Central, followed by one on Ashley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1973. At its height, the company had six restaurants here. The Tsim Sha Tsui outlet is the only one that remains.
With white stucco walls, dark timber beams, leather dining chairs, and copper jugs hanging from the ceiling, the restaurant feels like a dining room in an old Italian manor.
"The decor hasn't changed much since it opened. The [Macchetti] brothers wanted to create an environment that was more rustic and similar to what they would find in Italy. They sourced everything from Italy. Most of the decorations are now vintage," says Chan. An old cash register from the early 1900s sits in a corner near the entrance. "We don't use that any more. That's definitely an antique," Chan says.
The menu is mostly northern Italian, with hearty classics such as veal osso buco with risotto alla Milanese, although there is also the crowd-pleasing pizza, made to order in a wood-fired oven. The portion sizes would impress even the most generous Italian mama. Manager Sidney Lai says: "People have their favourites. Regular guests don't even need to look at the menu. They know they can come to us for these old-fashioned Italian flavours, so we don't change the menu much."
The menu contains ingredients that might be unfamiliar to some diners, but Lai, who has picked up conversational Italian in his 30-odd years on the job, is always more than happy to explain.
After Aldo Macchetti died in 2002, the businesses have been run by Giuseppe and his daughter. These include a resort in Bali, where Giuseppe now spends most of his time, and a winery which supplies the restaurant.
La Taverna, 36-38 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Tel: 2376 1945