Friday, 20 March 2015

Lupa by Mario Batali - bringing a bit of the Big Apple to Hong Kong

Wandering around Central one evening we heard some pumping beats coming from somewhere overhead.  A closer inspection skywards revealed a small yellow sign above Theatre Lane, announcing the location of Lupa by Mario Batali.  As soon as FMUS saw the sign he knew we had to try it out.  We had previously dined at Eataly, one of Batali's many NYC establishments while on our Manhattan odyssey (see post here), and were keen to try out another of his ventures.  

Everyone knows the myth surrounding the foundation of Rome - Romulus and Remus, originally left for dead but suckled by a she-wolf on the banks of the Tiber, rose to form the new city of Rome.  Remus was killed by Romulus over a dispute about whether to build on the Palantine Hill or Aventine Hill, but the iconic image of the twins suckling on the lupa (Latin for she-wolf) has remained as steadfast as the great city herself.  It was only fitting that an Italian restaurant should take the name of the she-wolf, as a symbol of simple Roman style dining.  It helps that the restauranteur in question, Mario Batali, is one of the biggest names on the US and now international dining scene....

Mario Batali is Seattle-raised but trained under Marco Pierre White, before spending three years in Northern Italy honing his craft.  He returned to the US where he has established many restaurants, and in the process been a recipient of the James Beard Award.  While the original Lupa can be found in Manhattan's uber cool West Village area, Lupa Hong Kong is a collaboration between Batali and his business partner, Joe Bastianich, who together opened Babbo in New York and Eataly.  With this heritage we were pretty keen to see what Lupa had to offer.

Learning the hard way about reservations in Hong Kong, I decided earlier in the day to book a table for dinner.  However, upon arriving at the restaurant, we saw that the dining room was very large, and a reservation on a quiet Tuesday night may not have been required (but better safe than sorry).  One of the first things that we noticed at the top of the escalators is the Terrace, a cool outdoor bar area which also serves food.  It was on this terrace that the cool music was playing a few weeks prior.  I could see this would be a good spot on a warm summer's evening for a cocktail (or two)...There is also a copy of the famous she-wolf statue, however due to the lack of a decent camera for this meal, no good photo can be provided...

We were seated right by the front window, which gave us a good view of Queens Road Central and up towards Lan Kwai Fong, and, after having an opportunity to review the menu and place our orders, were served some bread and a small bowl of Zucchini.  Not being particularly hungry (still getting over a dodgy corn dog), I decided to start with the Carpaccio Di Manzo, a beef carpaccio with arugula, parmigiano and black truffle.  I was looking forward to a dish of delicately sliced beef with shavings of truffle, but when the dish was presented I was a little surprised with the amount of arugula on the plate.  I was also surprised when starting to eat it by the lack of seasoning on the plate, and the lack of flavour of the truffle.  The beef itself was nice and tender, but could have benefited from some seasoning and a little less arugula.  

FMUS decided to try the mushroom soup, which was thick and coarse, with lashing of cracked pepper and a swirl of olive oil.  Mushroom soup seems to be in vogue at the moment and there are some amazing and creamy soups out there.  The Lupa version was OK, but it didn't set the world on fire.  The main issue that while it had a lot of cracked pepper, it still needed some additional seasoning and possibly something to give it a creamier flavour and texture.  Nevertheless, it went down well and was still enjoyable.

Being the sucker for lobster that I am, as a main I chose the Linguine All'Astice, linguine with lobster, cherry tomatoes and braised leek.  My first bite was disappointing, as I had a forkful of undercooked linguine, however that must have been sitting at the top of the pot, as the rest of the linguine was perfectly cooked.  There was further disappointment when I found a piece of cartilage still attached to some of the lobster, but I guess it proves the lobster was fresh....  Like most great Italian pastas, there were few ingredients working together well, and if not for a couple of bites (cartilage and hard pasta), it would have been a sensational dish.

While I'm a sucker for lobster, FMUS is a sucker for a good risotto.  His main was the Risotto Ai Gamberi Rossi di Sicilia, risotto with red prawns, seafood and fresh herbs.   The risotto was laid out traditional style, flat in a large plate and there was plenty of fresh seafood sitting atop.  We find it a little disconcerting at times with a large prawn head taking pride of place on the dish.....  I guess it's to show that the prawn is fresh, but it really gets in the way and is hard to get to the prawn flesh..  We much prefer when there are prawns in a risotto completely peeled, yep, we know its a good restaurant and trust that the prawns will be fresh.  The risotto itself was well cooked and had beautiful flavour that tasted of the sea.

I could not feat another bite, so begged off dessert, but FMUS did have a look at the dessert menu.  As I was not having any, he decided also not to partake in something sweet (unusually), and we called for the bill.  I couldn't fault the service staff all night, they were attentive yet not overbearing, and always ready with a smile.  For a change we were not left sitting there waiting forever for the bill to come back (which is a bit of a pet peeve I must admit), but were quickly and efficiently on our way.  

While my meal had some errors, I could see how Lupa would be a good spot to meet up with people for a meal and a few drinks after a long day at the office.  The decor is warm yet not rustic, and the open kitchen provides a good view of the staff hard at work.  I am keen to head back to the Terrace to try some of the bar food, and of course a few drinks!


The bread and a small bowl of zucchini puree 
The view from our table
Lots of decanters!
The kitchen staff hard at work

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