Upon attending the first ever wine pairing dinner of one of our newest Hong Kong venues, DiVino Patio, my curiosity was sparked about the restaurant’s wine program and how it matches up with its food concept. DiVino Patio is the latest addition to the four other very unique restaurants, which together make up the DiVino Group. Based on a 1950′s grocery-store style, the kitchen offers up traditional Italian home cooking to be enjoyed in the restaurant’s cozy al fresco environment. The wine program is based on the Italian alla mescita cultural philosophy and guests are encouraged to try by the glass multiple types of wine during each single visit. At DiVino Patio, time seems to slow down, and the art of living, eating and drinking is enjoyed to the fullest.
I met up with Marco Di Giacomo, Restaurant Manager of DiVino Patio, to find out more about the food and wines offered at this already hugely popular Wanchai establishment. Marco described to me the concept behind DiVino Patio and what sets it apart from the other restaurants within the DiVino Group. He spoke of the inspiration behind the restaurant’s cuisine, as well as about the imported Italian ingredients used in the preparation of their dishes. He also explained to me the idea of alla mescita and how he manages to open so many bottles of wine without wasting any of them. Marco also let me in on some of the differences he has notices between the palates of his local and Western customers. When asked to choose a signature dish that best represents DiVino Patio, he chose the Porchetta (Spit-Roasted Suckling Pig) and paired it with Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni.
Our interview follows:
Hello. My name is Marco Di Giacomo. I am the Manager at DiVino Patio, the newest of the five restaurants in the DiVino Group. Each restaurant within the group has a distinct concept, so we’re not a chain group but instead a restaurant group with different concepts and different styles of food across it.
And how would you describe the concept behind DiVino Patio specifically?
We intended with DiVino Patio to go back to our roots. Among the other restaurants in the group we have two fine dining restaurants, one native Italian restaurant and a wine bar. With Patio, we went back to the roots, to traditional Italian home cooking. We decided on a 1950’s grocery-store theme, a place where you could buy your food and be able to sit down and eat as well. At the moment we call it “easy dining.” We try to create a nice, cozy atmosphere, with lots of wood, lots of warm colors, and an open kitchen where you can find hams and cheeses, as you would in any normal grocery-store in Italy.
Please tell me a bit more about the concept behind the cuisine here. Is there any region within Italy that is best represented on the menu?
The cuisine is mainly derived from Central and Central-Northern Italy, with a bit of Southern origin as well. We have a rotisserie, which allows us to roast a whole suckling pig every other day, a free-range rooster every day, and the original Italian sausages are spit-roasted every day as well. We consider these our signature dishes. We also have an Italian chef here, so half of our pastas are homemade and all the sauces are made by him as well. All the products we use are authentically Italian, imported straight from Italy.
And about the fabulous wine list you have here. I’ve heard you run the wine program here on an alla mescita philosophy. Please explain what this means and how it contributes to the concept.
Alla mescita philosophy is basically what you will find and have always found in Italy. The fact of the matter is that not everyone is going to drink a bottle of wine. We are a wine-drinking country. On a normal day in Italy you would be having a glass of wine at midday as an aperitif and one in the late afternoon, before dinner. Each region has a different grape variety and makes a different kind of wine, so Italy has over 300 different grape varietals. Therefore, it is pretty common to find wine bars that have many different wines and little glasses, which you can try a glass of each in. Other countries don’t have as many varietals. The most you will see in many countries is around 30 varietals. It has a lot to do with Italian tradition, and that is why we prefer offering the wines by the glass instead of by the bottle.
You must open many bottles then. How long do you usually keep the bottles open for before you can no longer serve the wine?
Usually we are lucky enough to see a bottle go in a single day. But modern day techniques also allow us to put special taps on the bottles and pump out the oxygen, so that way it can keep for a lot longer. Our usual rotation for a wine is no more than two days, and they are temperature controlled of course, so they keep during that time.
Are there any particular varietals that are specifically sensitive to how long they are kept open?
That has to do with the grape varietal. Delicate ones will have a bit more of a problem with storage, but then again in our case this doesn’t happen, because at the most it is opened for two days and then it’s gone.
I’ve seen you’ve been very busy…
Yes, we’re lucky enough to get around 100 guests for lunch and we get close to that at dinnertime as well. We also do an aperitif with a full buffet every night, so one single glass bottle is 100% gone in one day anyway. During the aperitif, you buy a glass of wine and you get a full buffet for free, so I get 30-40 people for that each night, so there’s no way a bottle stays. We move it.
And a bit about the composition of your wine list – is it made up entirely of Italian wines? Is there any particular region that is given preference on the list?
As we try to offer some of the local grape varietals of Italy that you will not find anywhere else, we arrange the wines by varietals on the list. 80% of the list is made up of Italian wines, because we are a 100% Italian restaurant with 100% Italian food. The other 20% of the wine list allows for foreign taste. Most people in certain areas are used to drinking certain wines, and they want it in a certain way and you have to cater to the clientele to some degree. But the reason we are alla mescita is that we hope to bring in new varietals for guests to taste and experiment with, instead of just having the same wine day in and day out.
And among this 20%, what other regions are represented?
Australia and New Zealand – these regions are very popular, especially for the Sauvignon Blancs. We also have a French Sauvignon Blanc and an Italian Sauvignon Blanc on the list, so we try to show them the differences between the different terroirs in the world through this varietal. Australian Shiraz and Cabernet we also have, because in Hong Kong they like the big red wines. Another one of our reds is from Argentina, a region famous for its Malbec, which was originally from France but is grown mostly in Argentina now. Those occupy about 20% of our list.
Which Malbec do you have?
Terrazas de los Andes.
A good one. Is there any region within Italy whose wines seem to pair best with most of the dishes you offer, or is it more of a region-to-region thing?
The best-represented region is Central-North Italy. A lot of people associate Italian red wine with a Chianti or Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino or Montepulciano, because they know these the most. Among white wines, they identify strongly with Pinot Grigio. These are the commercial, easy-drinking wines, which they have been told to drink so far. You will find these on the wine list, as well as some interesting wines from Sicily. The food mirrors the wine very well, as it does in Italy.
So you would say the varietals best known among locals are the Chianti and Sangiovese?
It’s what they know and what they think everybody is drinking in Italy. These are the Italian wines that are more commercial and better known around the world. It’s up to us to try to get them to experiment with other wines and open up a bit. As you know, wine is not the same every year. You need to have fun with wine and let yourself go and lose the concept that wines have to be a specific way. Instead of tasting wines for the customer, we let them taste the wine themselves. A good sommelier can put into your mind his opinion on what a wine is and if you don’t have a lot of wine knowledge, you will probably agree, even if your taste buds are saying something different. So what we try to do is make sure you decide, not us, what you think of a wine.
A “hands off” approach then, neat. I also happen to know that you have some fabulous wine tastings that you organize here. How often do you have these and how do you choose the wines to feature at these dinners?
The tastings aren’t really based on the wines we feature. The choice is based on what menu we have for the night and what wines pair better with that menu. The tastings aren’t about the wines specifically, but rather about teaching our guests how to taste wine and decide on their own whether they like certain types or not. You have your own taste buds and you should trust your own opinion 100%. My opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s. I want to teach people to drink and have fun with wine and be comfortable with wine as well.
So is it more pairing oriented? Do you want to show people how to match the flavors of a dish to a wine, or is it more about the wines?
I want to teach them how to taste wines and the simple, basic rules of pairing: either you have the wine go with the food or against the food. That is entirely up to you. You can choose a varietal that will be harmonious with the food or something that will contrast with it. And this gets into how people like to eat and how people like to taste. I find that a lot of institutions try to make this concept difficult, when it’s really not.
And a bit about the clientele here, is it mostly locals, expats, Mainland Chinese or tourists?
A lot of locals and a lot of Mainland Chinese, actually, because we are very close to the Eagle Tower and the Sun Hung Kai Centre, so they do come in and they do eat and drink with us. We are lucky enough to have a couple of Chinese managers who work with us and they translate for the Mainland Chinese guests. Because of the many offices in the area, we also have a lot of expats. So we have guests from all four groups, in equal ratio. We don’t cater to any one of them more than the other, or to anyone in general. We just give our guests 100% originality. Basically, we give you what you would get if you were living in Italy.
And in terms of wine preference, would you say there is a significant difference between the Asian and the Western palates?
There is a huge difference. Because of their spicy cuisine, they like the big, fruity reds here. They like the big, herbaceous and fruity Sauvignons as well. It is tastier to them and what they tend to prefer. If you’re a new wine drinker, though, your palate does tend to change with time. So, depending on how long they have been drinking wine, they will try new foods and they will try them with different wines. Wine evolves and the palate evolves with it. There is generally a difference, because we come from different places. For example, I come from Europe but I have been travelling the world, and my palate has evolved to taste many different wines as well, which I am quite comfortable with and quite happy to do. And I think that’s the same for everybody eventually.
And here do you offer different varietals to suit both of those preference types?
We have New World wines, which seem to be appreciated among the locals as well. But what I also do is make sure to have different Italian varietals that you don’t usually find, which can be quite similar to these and offer them as well.
And if you could choose one signature dish which best represents DiVino Patio and pair a wine to it, which dish and wine pairing would you choose and why?
I would choose the Porchetta [photo below courtesy of DiVino]. This is a slow-roasted suckling pig, fatty on the outside with lots of fennel and rosemary inside. The fat is beautiful, and the pig meat is very sweet as well. With the flavorful fat and sweetness of the meat and the herbs inside, you can pair with a big, full-bodied wine. The wine I would recommend with it is a big, luscious 5-varietal wine, made of 33% Montelpulciano, 25% Sangiovese, 5% Malvasia Nera, 30% Primitivo and 7% Negroamaro. It is called the Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni and you can only find in Italy. It goes very well with this kind of meat and it cleans up the fat of the pig a bit. It’s a very smooth drinking experience with the Porchetta.
Address: Shop 11, 1/F, Causeway Centre, Brim 28 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Telephone: (+852) 2877 3552
Monday to Sunday: 11:30 – Midnight (last order 23:00)
Saturday: 5pm onwards
Weekday Lunch: 11:30 – 15:00