Hong Kong restaurant reviews

Hong Kong’s top restaurants: Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Central – truffle heaven

Umberto Bombana is known as the king of white truffles, and his three-Michelin-star Italian restaurant features the tuber heavily. Dishes are small and expensive, but beautifully crafted and presented

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 5:06pm

Nothing awakens reminiscence like an aroma, Victor Hugo once said, which is why diners at Otto e Mezzo Bombana may have seen a small woman do a sizeable swoon in the entrance to the restaurant recently. Truffles – the smell of grand, old opera houses – fill the air at this establishment and are the reason I scanned the menu for dishes that promised a romantic experience led by the nose.

When we visited, almost a third of the dishes on the trim menu featured black truffle, making my fingers dance over the choices before pointing to “Melanosporum” black truffle risotto (HK$520), a decadent delight enhanced with an aromatic Italian cheese and Jerusalem artichoke. And to finish the meal, we ordered black truffle gelato (HK$250).

First up, though, were three rounds of bread (the crispy, milky breadsticks vanished first) to see us through lengthy course intervals, possibly because the place was full. In fact, three-Michelin-star Otto e Mezzo is so popular that, had someone not cancelled the previous day, it would have been more than a month before we’d have been given a table on a Friday or Saturday evening.

The fact that chef Umberto Bombana was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and that Otto e Mezzo came in at number four on the same list, probably has made the place even more in demand.

When Hong Kong chef Umberto Bombana served Madonna the wrong dish

It doesn’t take long to understand why people wait. Bombana takes classic Italian fare to another level. He also offers a staggering (in choice and price) wine list: one of my guests ordered a 2009 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino (HK$1,680), from Schiena d’Asino, a small Tuscan winery belonging to a family member.

Favourites that evening came mostly from the appetisers and pasta. Marinated Fassona beef (HK$380) was served in two dumpling-sized mounds wrapped in Jerusalem artichoke, one subtly flavoured, the other spicy and enhanced with anchovies, which we preferred. Roasted octopus and roasted artichoke

(HK$290) was memorable for the ridiculously tender slices of meat.

Among the pastas, we especially enjoyed the burrata cheese ravioli (HK$270), which was mild, sweet and, yes, melt-in-your-mouth gorgeous, with bits of sun-dried tomato to give it an edge.

And we liked the cavatelli, shellfish ragout and sea urchin (HK$390). The little pasta shells swam in a clean but rich broth – the perfect dish to have when you’re feeling off-colour and want something delicious and delicate without a hint of gumminess.

A surprise among the mains was the Brittany Blue lobster with braised vegetables, sea urchin and lobster emulsion (HK$580), which came with a request from my guest for it to be “j-u-s-t” cooked. The kitchen would need to be consulted, we were told. What they produced was perfect.

And just to be pedantic we ordered the baby lamb from the Pyrenees (HK$490). Apparently younger than 10 weeks old, it was bambino-like in size. The wee portion, tasty as it was, did not sate hunger. Which is why we ventured into the cheese ageing room and ordered a selection (HK$160). Most pleasing was a cheese created with cow’s, goat and sheep milk, and an intense house-made orange-marmalade compote.

But we still had room for the black truffle gelato (HK$250), which was just as well. Umami heaven, the bliss was enhanced with crunchy hazelnut and pistachio.

So was it overkill, with two truffle dishes alongside appetisers, pasta, mains, cheeses and desserts? In the course of almost five hours, no. Besides, the portions were all uniformly small.

That said, 24 hours after the meal it was clear one of us was still thinking about things truffley when I received an SMS message applauding the way in which they had been served. My friend liked how the waiters had shaved a black truffle with “wild abandon” onto the risotto, without any pretentious weighing before and after.

That memory alone was worthy of another twirl.

8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, 2/F, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, tel: 2537 8859. About HK$1,470 without drinks or the service charge.

While you’re in the area:

Restaurant review: Spiga in Central – good seafood and great desserts, but avoid the pizza

Restaurant review: The Chin’s in Central – elegant, high-end Chinese food at a price

Restaurant review: Lee Lo Mei in Central - classic Hong Kong dishes get a modern makeover