Wednesday, 21 October 2015

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana - The Italian King

When you visit a three Michelin Starred restaurant, you have a certain level of expectation.  I had very high expectations going in to my reservation for 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana, not just because it was three Michelin Stars, but because it was the first Italian three star restaurant located outside of Italy.  There was added pressure though, the purpose of my visit was for our 18th wedding anniversary, so  it was a special occasion too.

It had required careful planning to get into 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo for our anniversary dinner.  The restaurant is one of the most popular and consistently packed restaurants in Hong Kong and long range reservations are a requirement.  The fact that Umberto Bombana's fine diner has been open since January 2010 and it's popularity has not diminished at all in Hong Kong's ultra competitive dining scene is a testament to his genius.

That 8 1/2 Ottoe e Mezzo received two Michelin Stars within month's of it's opening signified that something special was going down, but in December 2011, Chef Umberto's legend was secured with his third star.

Yeah, expectations were high!

Given its three star status, its location in the ritzy Alexander House and our was our anniversary, we dressed the part and I have to say were looking quite spiffing.  We arrived a little early but once our reservation was confirmed, we where whisked away to our table inside the elegantly presented dining room. Our waitress appeared with leather bound menus and set about explaining the options, including a tasting menu.  She also complimented me on my choice of shirt (bright pink paisley), so we were off to a good start.

We did consider the tasting menu, for about two seconds!  While it looked OK, there were way too many delicious looking options on the a la carte menu, so our choice was easy.  As we decided on our options, a bread plate was presented and our waitress poured the table's extra virgin olive oil onto our plates.  The oil was wonderful, it had a slightly peppery twang to it and was incredibly light - best of all, it paired perfectly with the bread (which was topped up throughout the night).

There were moments of angst while we tried to decide on the makeup of our meal, but we eventually made the tough decisions and our dinner commenced.  First out was a little amuse bouche of burrata  cheese, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and the most finely diced cherry tomato imaginable.  Not to labour a point, I was staggered that such knife work was possible!  The sweet burrata and slightly acidic tomato were a superb match, but what surprised me most was the hit of saltiness from an olive slice!  I will normally do anything to avoid olives, but the addition really helped set off the little bite.

Our starters actually arrived very quickly, maybe a little too quickly.  SC had chosen the seared red tuna belly which was ever so lightly cooked and immaculately presented with  fennel pollin, thinly sliced radish for heat and colour, cherry tomato along with a tomato and citrus emulsion and topped with a healthy serve of Calvisius elite caviar.  It was jaw droopingly pretty but also incredibly tasty and well balanced.  The texture of the tuna was still firm, which was a nice contrast to the soft salty caviar.  There was an underlying sweetness to the dish provided by the tomato and citrus emulsion that danced on the palate long after the dish was consumed.

I'd chosen the Lobster risotto, of course!  Well, it was the only risotto on the menu and I really wanted to see what a three star risotto would taste like, particularly since I'd not yet found a great risotto in Hong Kong.  The risotto was served traditional style, in a relatively flat plate and looked delightful.  I could see each and every piece of rice, as well as thinly sliced pieces of lobster tail sitting under an emulsion from a lobster bisque.  Everything was perfect about this dish, the lobster slices were wonderfully sweet and expertly cooked, the rice was al dente and had just a little bite to them and the underlying flavour was bitter sweet.  I loved it, so much so that instead of devouring quickly, I savoured every bite.

It was time for mains and this was where things took a turn.  SC had decided on one of the specials and chose the agnolotti filled with succulent veal with a very light sauce and covered in white truffle. There was an impressive amount of beautifully fresh white truffle shaved onto the plate, which covered the agnolotti like it had been in a snow blizzard.  This was the crux of the issue with the plate.  The agnolotti was incredible, perfectly cooked pasta with tender and full flavoured veal.  The truffle was fresh and earthy with that wonderful umami hit right at the back of the palate.  The sauce? Well, there was not enough sauce with the pasta to counter the generous amount of truffle, so the overall dish was too dry!  A shame, more of the sauce to counter the piles of truffle would have really elevated the dish.

My main was not without fault either.  I'd chosen the short rib with beef tenderloin which was accompanied by whipped potato and a red wine and plum sauce.  The beef tenderloin was wonderful, a perfectly cooked medium rare and full flavoured, the beef short rib was so tender it literally melted in my mouth and the red wine and plum sauce was rich and perfectly matched to the beef.  My issue was with how tiny the piece of tenderloin was - seriously, it was tiny!  I also loved the whipped potato on the plate, it was light, soft and creamy, just the way Michelin starred potato should taste.  The big disappointment on the plate was the 'vegetables' that accompanied the dish.  They really felt like an afterthought, the carrot was also tiny and really very dry and unpalatable, as was the half cherry tomato.  So much so, they really detracted from the overall dish and should not have made it through the pass.

Thankfully, dessert completely redeemed the issues with our mains.  SC kicked off with a modern tiramisu, essentially a deconstructed tiramisu.  There was a thin layer of coffee flavoured mascarpone cheese, topped with coffee panna cotta and mascarpone gelato all topped with a dusting of chocolate powder and the obligatory gold leaf.  Finishing the effect was a curl of tempered chocolate.  The whole effect was mesmerising!  The dessert ate well too, with the clear and balanced flavours of a traditional tiramisu wrapped up in the very contemporary take on the classic Italian dessert.

My choice of dessert was simple, especially once I spied the Limoncello soufflé!  After waiting the allotted twenty minutes for the soufflé to be prepared, I was super impressed with the immaculate looking dish.  The soufflé had risen wonderfully, but more-so it was as incredibly light as you would hope to believe possible.  It was seriously good cooking..  There was a very strong lemon flavour from the soufflé, which was offset by the slightly sweeter mandarin sorbet that accompanied the dessert.

Up until the arrival of our desserts, our meal had progressed very quickly, much faster than I would have liked.  If it wasn't for the mandatory twenty minute wait for my soufflé, we could have been done and dusted in just over an hour!  Not what I really want or expect from a three Michelin starred restaurant, where you want to savour and linger over every morsel and moment.  What was weird also was that our petite four was delivered at the same time as our desserts!  Was it a way to speed up the meal also?  Not sure, but it felt a little like it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the service, which was exactly what you'd expect from a three star restaurant.  Our waitress was knowledgeable about the food and wine and was able to offer numerous expert opinions to SC for wine pairings for each of her courses.  It also didn't feel rushed, it's just that it was so effective that our meal was over too quickly.

Was I happy with the 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana meal?  Of course, it was fantastic...  But, it wasn't without fault and for a three star restaurant, you're expecting faultless - especially when thinking about the hefty price that comes with the stars.  We had a terrific time and will fondly remember our 18th wedding anniversary....  But I will remember those little faults.

Our petite four came out with our desserts - never seen that before!
Our waitress knew just the right wines to pair with our meal
I loved these little oil dispensers, the wide lip prevented oil spillage!
Simple and elegant place settings

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