Pici: Come for the Pasta, Stay for the Pasta

By Sophie Steiner, July 23, 2021

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The Place 

Italian comfort food seems to be the it trend of summer, and Pici, a Hong Kong chain that expands to Shanghai as part of the Pirata Group, fits right in. Opened recently in the Jing’an Kerry Centre, the made-fresh-daily pasta at wallet-friendly prices makes up for the fact that you’re in a mall basement. 

General Manager Borja Martinez Otero is running the show, a member of the team from Pici’s very first location, while Hong Kong-based chef Andrea Viglione just headed back to the island last week after setting up the kitchen and ensuring consistency with their other nine outposts. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The concept is as straightforward as the food – honest Italian comfort eats your nonna would make in a fast, casual setting to satisfy both the lunch and dinner crowd. And that it already does; the day we visited, every table was full before 6.30pm and their top-rated dish, the Taglioni Truffle (RMB158) , had already been sold out since lunch service. It’s only a month in, and they are clearly doing something right. 

The Food 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Although divided into two separate concepts in Hong Kong, Shanghai sees Pici and The Pizza Project come together in one space where diners can order from both ‘venues’ to the same table. Originally designed just for takeout, diners caught a whiff of that pizza-oven charred crust and wanted a slice or two for themselves. Happily obliging, the two became one for all that carb consumption in the same sitting. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The tight menu starts out with a selection of seven starters, of which the Homemade Meatballs (RMB78) can’t be ignored. A combination of minced pork and beef, the meatballs are soft with a nice textural chew. The house-made “grandma’s recipe” tomato sauce is delicate and fresh, expertly salted without being overly fresh – full of that tangy, real stewed tomato flavor that only comes from simmering for hours. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

One bite of the springy turtle-shell shaped Orcchiette ‘Nduja (RMB118) could make us forget we were just about anywhere... along with our name, date of birth and future ambitions – it’s hard to see past the next mouthfeel of something so delicious. Spicy ‘nduja sausage melts into a sauce that affords this dish its signature orange color. Stewed cherry tomatoes add a bright tang, while meaty chunks of Italian sausage add a new dimension of salt, spice and everything nice.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

After crushing hard on the ‘nduja pasta, we doubled down with a ‘Nduja Pizza (RMB88) – a pinsa-inspired crust, topped with spicy salami, smoked scamorza – a south Italian stretched-curd cheese – tomato sauce and fior de latte – a cousin to fresh buffalo mozz. While nothing beats a meat-topped goopy cheese bite, we would have preferred the salami to have more char and the crust a tad more flavor, but for the price and portion, this is still a clear win.  

Other pizzas span the standard Margherita (RMB78) and Quattro Formaggi (RMB106) to more creative pies like Tonno E Cipolle (RMB88) – with tuna chunks and capers – and Pesto (RMB118) with cherry tomato, burrata and creamy buffalo mozzarella. Unable to find your ideal pizza? Build your own options with pricing per topping is also available. 

DSC06551.jpgLasagna Classica (RMB98), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The OG mac n cheese, the Pici Cacio E Pepe (RMB88) involves thick, rope-like noodles made simply from semolina flour and water, tossed in a traditional Roman style cheese and butter sauce with a liberal hit of slightly acidic pecorino cheese. So chewy, so peppery, so creamy, yet we wonder if the Chinese palate will accept the obviously al dente noodles as much as we do. 

DSC06558.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's

The über uniform noodles in the Pappardelle Beef Cheek (RMB88) are chewy and egg-based, topped with a heaping portion of shredded beef ragu, slow cooked for eight hours with onion, carrot and celery. Rich and luscious, we advise planning ahead for the hour-long nap you’ll need from the stick of butter you just consumed.  

The wine list is simple, classic and not trying to compete with all the other wine bars Shanghai lays claim to. Modestly priced, you can get a glass for RMB48-68, along with prosecco, Lambrusco, digestifs, beer and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If you prefer to end your meal with something sweet, bypass the fairly pedestrian Tiramisu (RMB48) for the more unassuming Raspberry Panna Cotta (RMB48) – a well-balanced creamy bite of both tart and sweet fruit. 

Unsure what to select from the streamlined menu, Pici also offers a tasting menu for RMB188 per person that includes one starter – like Burrata Cheese (RMB98), Vitello Tonnato (RMB78) or Radicchio Salad (RMB68) – plus one main and one dessert.

The Vibe 

At the end of the day, you’re still very much so in a mall… there’s no escaping that. If you aren’t facing into the restaurant, you’re looking at about a dozen other mini food court-esqe stalls and an escalator. But, this is 21st Century China, and eating in a mall doesn’t have to mean the stale pre-made pizza crust and floppy lunch meat of the iridescently lit, suburban mall food courts of our pasts. So, if you can deal with the mall rats, Pici is golden. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The upside to the mall environment is extremely reasonably priced food, well-lit and welcoming modern décor with a half-open kitchen that mimics windows, and plants aplenty. The only major drawback, the (lack of) AC situation is borderline unendurable – even though this technically falls on the Kerry Centre, not Pici.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Making up for the heat, service is – in a word – efficient. You can tell this is a copy paste situation of a business model that works well at delivering consistently delicious food while churning through diners, so it comes at no surprise that Pici plans to open more mall-based locations in China in the coming months. Ray Kroc would be proud, and that’s a good thing in our book. 

Price: RMB88-188
Who’s Going: Those working in the Jing’an Kerry Centre, pasta lovers, Pirata Group fans
Good For: Efficient yet filling lunches, carb cravings, noodle comas 

See a listing for Pici. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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