"Good evening, Susan," are not the words you want to hear when attempting an anonymous restaurant review. Yes, I was "outed", although, to be honest, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. But I'm pretty sure that my being recognised by the staff was not the only reason we had such a great meal at Il Milione. The entire meal was inventive and delicious, and that's not something the chef can change just because a restaurant critic walks in.
The service was, as expected, fantastic - and as I watched the waiters interact with the customers at other tables, I could see that we were not the only ones receiving attention. We knew we were in for a really good meal the moment the bread was placed on our table: it was a generous selection of individual rolls, including one flavoured with pork fat and a jet-black one with squid ink, plus crisp grissini and slices of unsalted bread.
Il Milione specialises in the cuisine of Umbria, which uses olive oil rather than butter, and the bread was served with a beautiful, vibrant green extra virgin oil. We told our waiter that we wanted to share everything, and the chef split our starter, two pasta dishes and our main course.
First up was an amuse-bouche of crisp shaved artichoke with a cube of mortadella, mint and balsamic vinegar - a delicious precursor to the meal. A starter of poached cod perched on a bed of creamed salt cod with organic chickpeas (HK$230) came with fine shreds of candied orange zest, which brightened the flavours, and delicately crisp cod skin, which gave textural contrast.
We were then given a complimentary course that combined two ingredients I wouldn't have thought would go well together: oysters and goat cheese. The oyster tartare was served in a bowl with goat cheese foam and tiny squares of pasta that we were told were filled with anchovies.
Tender, thin pasta featured in the ravioli filled with Bresse chicken cacciatore and served with chicken broth, celery, capers and crisp chicken skin (HK$200). The Verrigni chitarra spaghetti, with raw and cooked Sicilian prawns and cherry tomato confit, (HK$260) was a delicious tangle of pasta with a quenelle of the raw chopped prawns that we mixed into the pasta.
Our final savoury course of pan-fried pigeon breast (HK$400) was very rare and tender, but the meat was eclipsed by the "open ravioli" with a rich, smooth paste of rich, livery-tasting minced pigeon (with innards, we suspect) and spices.
A pre-dessert of lemon custard with sponge cake, strawberries and basil calmed our palates. My guest disliked the iced almond milk with mulled wine sorbet, candied tangerine and custard fritters (HK$120), which had peppery fresh rocket leaves and rocket sponge cake. Less challenging, flavour-wise, was the dessert of crispy lentil connolo with pistachio mousse and blackberry sorbet (HK$120).
The post-dessert mignardises were so lavish and fun that it made us laugh: there were about 10 bite-sized sweets that included a delicious madeleine, "ugly but good" cookies, lemon with white chocolate and blood orange with olive oil.
Il Milione's entrance is discreet, by the way. The door leads to a bar. Go up the steps to find the cosy, low-ceilinged dining room.
Il Milione Bar & Ristorante Italiano, G/F Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Road, Central, tel: 2481 1120. Open: Monday-Saturday, noon-midnight. Price: about HK$660 without drinks or the service charge