Seven years, 23 restaurants, two Michelin stars and countless awards later, Black Sheep Restaurants goes back to the beginning, with the opening of a new soulful Tuscan trattoria, Associazione Chianti.
Tuscany has held a place of distinction in the Black Sheep Restaurants mythology from the start. Co-founders Syed Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark first crossed paths at Hong Kong’s Bistecca, a Florentine steakhouse. It was here, between searing steaks and pouring Chianti, that the nascent Black Sheep Restaurants was formed. As their restaurants developed, so too did its relationship with Italy, particularly with Tuscany. The region has become a major port for the group, who visit throughout the year to source ingredients, meet artisans, connect with producers and find inspiration.
With their newest opening, Hussain and Mark will introduce Hong Kong to their Florence through this updated trattoria. Beloved in Tuscany, trattorias are steeped in tradition. They are intimate, with warm service, simple dishes and great wines. “Trattoria is a ritual in Florence. Everyone goes at least once a week with their family. It’s not pretentious or precious. It’s good wine and soulful food that relies on simple, quality ingredients. This way of eating forms a backbone of Tuscan culture. We want to capture this spirit and bring it to Hong Kong with the same kind of renaissance thinking Florence is famous for, respect for the classics without being weighed down by them” says Hussain.
Working with Sean Dix of Dix Design Studio, Black Sheep Restaurants posed a simple question: ‘What if the traditional Tuscan trattorias were built today?’ The answer is Associazione Chianti. Its DNA is the same – an ingredients-focused menu, rustic flavours and flowing wine – but the interiors have undergone a revival. Expect bold patterns juxtaposed with warm accents and a window butchery.
Executive Chef Josh Stumbaugh has worked tirelessly to bring the flavours of Tuscany, known as cucina povera, to life in Hong Kong. Although the literal translation is cuisine of the poor, cucina povera is actually a way of cooking that focuses on using the best ingredients of the region with simple preparation alongside noteworthy cuts of proteins.
The centrepiece of the menu is I Tagli Del Macellaio, or Butcher’s Cut, offering a well-rounded selection of prime cuts that have been sourced by Associazione Chianti’s butcher from Black Angus cattle raised on lush pastures in Idaho ranches. After in-house dry ageing, the steaks are seasoned with a dry rub of Chianti aromatics before being cooked on a custom-made Tuscan broiler. Of course, the star of the show is Bistecca alla Fiorentina ($1198 and good for 3-4 people to share), thick cut, as per the Florentine saying, a steak less than three fingers high is carpaccio. Add on the Salsa di Manzo ($38), a Chianti and peppercorn sauce made in-house to enrich any of the cuts.
Elsewhere on the menu classic dishes pay tribute to Florentine institutions (and personal favourites of Hussain and Mark) such as Pollo al Burro Omaggio a Sostanza ($218), pan-fried chicken breast in butter, the signature dish at Trattoria Sostanza, or the Garganelli Omaggio a Cammillo ($188), housemade pasta with a rich Chianti beef ragu inspired by Trattoria Cammillo. All pastas are made fresh in-house and the Tagliatelle ($188) with prosciutto, peas and mint is a classic example of Tuscan ingenuity, ensuring nothing in the kitchen is wasted. Tuscans are called mangiafagioli, bean eaters, so no meal is complete without a side of Fagioli ($58), braised cannellini beans in soffritto and olive oil.
“A perk of what we do has meant that we have become regulars in Florence,” says Hussain. “It feels like a second home. The restaurants there know us, and we have become part of their community. As storytellers, it feels like our duty to honour their work in our city.”
As the name implies, a meal at Associazione Chianti is not complete without wine. After nearly a decade of researching, Black Sheep Restaurants has curated a wine list that features both familiar labels and smaller independent ones. These pours are things of passion, not rigour, and until now many have only been available in Italy. Stemming from a region steeped in history and producing some of the world’s best bottles, Black Sheep Restaurants is working directly with the wineries to provide exclusive pours as part of a selection that encourages wine lovers to explore the unusual and find their new favourite.
Dinner at Associazione Chianti is a step away from the hustle of Hong Kong, where you can live like a Florentine, if only for a night.
Associazione Chianti is now open. Average spend is roughly HK$800 per person.