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Frank’s reopens with new look, new menu, same Italian-American spirit

Allow Frank’s to reintroduce itself: Our friendly, neighbourhood Italian-American social club has reopened its doors on Wyndham Street after a month-long renovation.

The newly designed space, along with a new menu and cocktail programme, goes hand-in-hand with plenty of the classic red sauce, vinyl records and hip-hop attitude that we’ve come to expect and love.

“The new Frank’s menu is elevated, sophisticated and fun. I have no doubt that regulars and new visitors alike are going to love it,” says Chef Vinny Lauria, who expands the notion of Italian-American cooking, incorporating local ingredients and cuisine into a celebration of global flavours.

New menu highlights include the Lasagna Fritta (HK$165), the Mafaldine Bolognese (HK$170) and the Urchin Caramelle Pasta (HK$180), which mixes sea urchin, roasted tomato, ricotta stuffing and local fermented chilli into the same dish.

These dishes and others are presented by way of the restaurant’s new “menu-zine”, an in-house publication featuring Frank’s Originals, an ever-changing list of Specials, and features and interviews with the Frank’s family of chefs, bartenders, DJs and more.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same: Good food, good service and good times remain at the heart of the experience, something Red Sauce Hospitality founder Todd Darling insists for all old and new lovers of Frank’s.

“Frank’s is a social club. The only requirement to join is a love of hip-hop and vinyl, red sauce, and good drinks. If you think that sounds like you, come on down,” says Darling.

To mark the (re)launch of this family affair, we reached out to the crew behind Frank’s — Todd Darling, entertainment director Mike Darling, chef Vinny Lauria, bar director Alex Chatte and creative director Jay FC — to get the lowdown on 2.0, hip-hop on vinyl and how Hong Kong’s F&B scene has changed over the past decade.

What inspired the close and renovation to Frank’s 2.0?

Todd Darling: Red Sauce Hospitality always looks to improve what we have in the stable before expanding by opening new locations. We recognised that despite the immense success of Frank’s 1.0, there were limitations to the original design that were holding us back. We had pretty much inherited the layout from the previous tenants. We needed more space and more versatility in dining and drinking options for our guests. 

What’s different about the new Frank’s compared to the old Frank’s? 

TD: It’s easier to say what’s not new. Our commitment to hip-hop spun on vinyl, passion for hospitality, and, of course, our devotion to Italian-American cooking and craft bartending remains unchanged. We do have more space in the bar area, more air conditioning, more restrooms, a bar on the first floor in our dining and cocktail lounge that’s hooked up with hi-fi sound, and a brand new DJ booth with limited edition Technics SL1200GR turntables.

Instead of serving only Italian-American classics, we have added a long list of specials that are 100% unique and expand the definition of Italian-American cooking. We have developed a new cocktail programme that blurs the boundaries between the kitchen and the bar, with drinks named after Italian-American dishes and garnishes like fried pasta. 

How has local Cantonese cuisine influenced the new menu?

Vinny Lauria: When I moved to Hong Kong, I turned to local farms, like my grandfather did when he moved to America. The tomatoes I found in Hong Kong were far tastier picked ripe from vines. The sweet peppers plucked from bushes and roasted an hour later, drenched in olive oil, transported me back to Grandpa’s kitchen. With careful attention to tradition, I swapped ingredients and used local techniques. I saw Hong Kong as a region of Italy, and the Italian-American cuisine I grew up with began to evolve with me here. 

I fell in love with Hong Kong foods, such as the complex flavors of the century egg and the heritage of roast goose. But the dish I go back to again and again is a humble bowl of cha chaan teng noodles. It never fails me. In Italy, carbonara is an everyday dish, just like a bowl of noodles. In my carbonara, I use a form of pasta that’s between instant noodles and traditional spaghetti covered in egg and pecorino. The braised pancetta reminds me of the pork cubes that never disappoint. It’s finished with a burnt onion and black pepper oil.

What are some signature dishes that will excite the crowd?

VL: One of our favourites is the smoked black cod with shiitake vinegar and neonata. Neonata is a Calabrian condiment which uses baby white fish found off the southern coast of Italy and the fermented chilies that Calabria is known for. We use a seasonal baby silver fish known as bah fan yu and local chilies that we ferment in a similar way to recreate a local version of that condiment. Not only does the smoked black cod have a beautiful and delicate flavor on its own, but it serves as a great vehicle for the neonata. 

The cocktail programme has been updated as well. What’s new?

Alex Chatte: At Frank’s, my passion for local ingredients, traditional aperitifs and digestifs that I had dreamed about in the past came together. Staying true to who we are, I’ve emphasised Italian-American traditions. In the downstairs bar you’ll find a selection of thirteen forgotten classics made exclusively with Italian and / or American ingredients found only at Frank’s.

Meanwhile, cocktail connoisseurs can retreat from the lively main bar downstairs to the seductive cocktail lounge upstairs where we serve unique cocktails inspired by classic Italian-American dishes that blur the boundaries between eating and drinking, each with a unique sweet, savoury feel. Try the Alla Genovese inspired by a traditional pesto recipe and the iconic Tom Collins. I combined award-winning Old Tom gin with homemade toasted pine nut syrup, some freshly muddled Italian basil for fragrance and colour, then balanced it out with Italian lemon juice.

What’s up with the menu-zine? How often will these be published and what can we expect?

Jay FC: Frank’s is so much more than just another restaurant, so just another menu was not going to cut it. We had more to say, and more to share. We wanted our customers to get as excited as we do about all the ingredients that make up our secret sauce recipe, which is the unique Frank’s experience. As we developed ideas, we realised that what we needed was more like a magazine than menu — hence the menu-zine was born.

We list our incredible dining options, cocktails and wines, but there’s more to Frank’s than that; there’s our music, our people, our design, our photography, our ideas and our art. The ‘zine allows us to talk about some of these aspects and really get under the skin of who we are and what we want to share with people.

The Frank’s ‘zines are collectors’ items featuring essays and photography, and produced in numbered editions. Each month we introduce new dishes, new drinks and the monthly music theme, as well as having features on our people and a few other cheeky bits and pieces that will evolve as we settle into it.

What role does hip-hop play in the Frank’s and Red Sauce DNA?

Mike Darling: Red Sauce has had a classic hip-hop vibe since the beginning. When Posto Pubblico opened, it was the first restaurant to have a New York hip-hop soundtrack. The music at Fini’s was also very tied to hip-hop in that much of the selection was comprised of the original soul and funk that was heavily sampled by classic hip-hop artists. At Frank’s, we took it a step further, not only gearing the soundtrack around hip-hop and its stylistic origins, but by doing it exclusively in vinyl — the medium from which hip-hop and its culture was born.  

Courtesy: Frank’s

Tell me about your music programming. Who can we expect to see playing live and behind the decks?

MD: Starting in September we will push our vinyl-only music program further with the introduction of “A Journey Into Sound” — a monthly music theme that will take guests into an exploration of a specific musical focus. Since hip-hop and its stylistic origins serve as the base of our music program, it’s only appropriate that our first Journey, “The Foundation of Hip-Hop”, will revolve around the sounds that became the basis for hip-hop music and culture.

The upstairs dining room soundtrack will be a revolving selection of carefully curated albums that define that particular months theme. In the bar, Thursday nights will be entirely dedicated to the month’s Journey Into Sound with DJ Brahms and our own DJ Tiga as your tour guides. Our weekend resident DJs, DJ Fu and John L, will also be incorporating it into their sets using their own signature styles. In addition to our shifting monthly themes we have upgraded our DJ equipment in the bar as well as installed a brand new hi-fi system in the dining room to further enrich the musical experience.

Any favourite memories from the old Frank’s that you care to share?

TD: Frank’s is a very personal project for me. It’s named after my mentor, Frank Amen, whom I worked with for several years as a food runner, waiter, and manager before coming to Hong Kong. Hanging out at Frank’s brings back memories for me of being back in New Jersey and New York, working for Frank or eating in red sauce joints. My fondest memories are of team briefings led by Wahid, our GM, where he delivers a lot of the same wisdoms that were passed on to me by Frank, and I passed on to Wahid.

That said, hanging next to the DJs FU, John L, or Brahms listening to them blast Biggie’s “The Sky’s the Limit” on vinyl while the team gels and the guests sing along, swaying to the beat, sends chills over my body. 

Anything you’ll miss about the old Frank’s?

TD: My table! We demolished my favourite corner booth to make way for the new cocktail bar on the first floor. 

How has the Hong Kong food scene evolved in the decade-plus since you first opened Red Sauce? What excites you lately?

TD: There’s more premium but casual dining choices now than when we opened Posto Pubblico in 2009. It seems like there’s lots of conceptual restaurants that open up today. Content-driven marketing excites me. As a photographer and creative person I’m loving creating campaigns and sharing them directly with our audiences on social media.

What do you think has made Red Sauce and its restaurants thrive in Hong Kong?

TD: It’s our commitment to remaining authentic and working within the boundaries of that authenticity that allows us to stand the test of time, along with our continued investment in what we have. Our ideas for restaurants develop over years inspired by personal experiences and are not driven by a need to expand. For example, we won’t do a Japanese restaurant since myself or our partners don’t have an intimate connection to that cuisine. To us, that intimate connection between the owners and the restaurant is where authenticity starts. 

If you could go back to the beginning, what would you tell yourselves? 

TD: “Keep it real.” Of course.

Frank’s Italian American Social Club, Harilela House, G/F & 1/F, No. 79 Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong, +852 9097 9730

Nathan Erickson
Editor-in-Chief
Made in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has covered food, drinks, fashion and more from New York to Paris to Oaxaca. He enjoys street photography, buying too many hooded sweatshirts and he'll never turn down a tequila soda. Catch him on weekends hiking trails all over Hong Kong in hopes of finding his idol, Chow Yun-fat.