Friday, February 24, 2017

8½ Otto e Mezzo Hong Kong

The name Umberto Bombana, a native of Bergamo, is no stranger among Hong Kong's gastronomy lovers especially in the world of (high-end) Italian cuisine. A couple of years after the closure of Toscana where he used to be the head chef, Chef Bombana established his own restaurant (located in the Alexandra House) in which he has more freedom to express his passion and talent. The identity of the food is unmistakably Italian. The dishes often looked simple, a reminiscent of comforting Italian home cooking, yet they're refined and detailed displaying distinct flavors and textures generally only found in the fine dining institutions. However, Bombana does not limit himself in terms of the origin of the high quality ingredients used at his restaurants. For instance, it's normal to find Japanese seafood and beef, French blue lobster and even Australian truffle in the Otto e Mezzo menu. Bombana believed that in order to create the best possible dishes, he had to be able to use the finest produce from around the world.

I had the opportunity to dine at Otto e Mezzo (the name is a tribute to the chef-patron favorite movie by a top Italian director, Federico Fellini) last November. Oct & Nov have always been identical with the season of white truffle from Piedmont region. It's also widely known that Umberto Bombana is often considered as "the king of white truffle". After this meal, I finally understood why such recognition was valid. The Alba truffle dishes here were all served as part of the a la carte menu and I was fortunate to be able to savor some of them. I learned that Chef Bombana loved mixing the small and big size of fresh truffles when he shaved them in front of the guests. As expected, white truffle dishes were not cheap but the generous amount of the sliced truffle justified that. 8-10 grams of Alba truffle per dish was the standard. Please see the pictures from the link below to believe. What I had for the dinner:

Amuse-bouche: Potato cream soup with wild mushrooms and a couple slices of white truffle - The soup was warm, tasty, creamy and not too rich; complemented nicely by the musky Alba truffle. The Autumn mushrooms were fine - a good way to whet my appetite

Roasted Hokkaido Scallop with Wild Mushrooms, served with mushroom jus and braised / crisp salad - Both scallops were well prepared (lightly battered and pan seared), sweet and tender; the middle flesh was cooked medium. On the top, there were raw & crunchy porcini and at the bottom, there was wild matsutake. The sauce was delicate mushroom jus. A very enjoyable dish

Confit "Taiyouran" Organic Egg served with Potato Emulsion, Confit Potato, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Alba White Truffle - The earthy Alba truffle shavings were very generous. Egg + (white) truffle is match in heaven. Even better when a special egg such as an organic Taiyouran was used. The egg was naturally sweet with its bright/rich orange & runny yolk without dominating the aromatic and exquisite Alba truffle. The creamy potatoes brought the dish into harmony while the nutty & meaty girolle enhanced the dish overall delight. Excellent!

Homemade Tagliolini served with Butter, Parmesan and Alba White Truffle - Another 'sea' of white truffle; who could refuse such lavish shaving of aromatic truffle? Fresh tagliolini + Alba truffle is another classic matching. The sauce was simple and flavorful, supporting and absorbed well by the al dente pasta. Of course, the (lots of) pungent & luxurious white truffle on top brought this 'humble' Italian noddles to (a much) higher level and vice versa. A must-have dish @ 8 1/2 during the truffle season especially in Oct - Feb

"Fassone Veal" Tenderloin served with Braised Artichokes, Mushrooms, Aromatic Cheese and Alba White Truffle - Yes, I've never got enough of this precious fungus from Alba for this meal. The veal meat, lightly 'breaded' and medium/medium rare in the middle, was incredibly tender (despite being lean) and inherently sweet with lingering flavor. The relatively light & clean veal helped to intensify the white truffle flavor. The sauce and 'cream' artichoke nicely connected main ingredients. Superb main course!

White Truffle Gelato served with Chantilly, Nougat and Crisp Chestnuts - There were a few things here (that worked well together): the 'whipped cream' was not too sweet, the vanilla gelato was decent, the nougat and chestnuts gave crispy textures. Except the strong Alba truffles, the rests of the elements here had moderate & pleasant flavor - decadent

To accompany these many wonderful dishes with Alba white truffle, as per the sommelier's recommendation, I drank a glass of 2005 Barolo Ceretto, Bricco Rocche (a red wine from Piedmont region using Nebbiolo grape). I enjoyed it very much; the pretty wine in deep crimson color was bold and concentrated, having good tannin, fruity nose, and long finish. It matched the best with the veal. Since the staff poured a generous portion, one glass of alcohol was sufficient for me. The meal was indeed excellent. The amount of white truffle served was 'shocking' in a good way. Umberto Bombana's focus was how to optimize the Alba truffle's flavor and fragrance instead of the mushroom acting as a supporting element. In addition, the simple and delicious food focusing on a few (top + luxurious) ingredients by highlighting their texture, flavor and freshness was very suitable for my palate.

Centrally located near the financial district and high-end shopping areas, 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo's dining room (which can comfortably seated 50 people or so) interior design was contemporary and clean. As you entered the restaurant, you would find a bar and a few small tables. From the floor to the ceiling, the elegant decor was consistently using sleek dark wood. Walking further, the main dining room felt "open" with a few mirrors, long panel windows overlooking the Chater road and walls decorated by modern paintings. The chic and relaxing atmosphere was beautifully supported by professional and warm hospitality. I never had difficulties finding any staffs whenever I needed something. There were at least 2 Italian gentlemen managing the dining room and they're attentive and sincere without being obtrusive. The rest of the staffs were doing fine too. Initially, I knew that I would have a very good meal here. Little did I know that by the end of the dinner, this would rank as the best dining experience I've ever encountered in China (better than my meals at Robuchon au Dome or Sushi Shikon). Well done Chef Bombana and his team! Picture of the dishes: Otto e Mezzo Nov '16

Food: 96 pts

Service: 94 pts

Overall: 95.5/100