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Chef Umberto Bombana is the recipient of Asia’s Best Restaurants’ Lifetime Achievement Award 2017

[UPDATE: Never let it be said that Chopstix isn’t prepared to admit changing our minds from time to time. On our recent return visit to 8 and a half Otto e Mezzo Bombana we were pleasantly surprised at the vast improvement in service. There seems to be a high ratio of staff to customers and the whole operation is now very slick. We’re still not sure about the 3 Michelin stars but nonetheless less, bravo Bombana. Read on for our original review.]

Within seconds of sitting down at my table at 8 and a half Otto e Mezzo a waiter appears from nowhere to whisk away my coat. You may think there is nothing special about that act but this is Hong Kong and no one has ever offered to take my coat to a cloakroom in any restaurant, Michelin starred or not.

Next a cute stool arrives for my handbag and the Maitre d’ is over offering a glass of champagne. So far so slick. 8 and a half Otto e Mezzo, named after the Frederico Fellini film about a search for inspiration, has been a Hong Kong favorite since chef Umberto Bombana opened it. But just recently its appeal has reached stella heights with the Michelin guide elevating it from two to three stars, the only Italian restaurant outside Italy to achieve this status. With all this in mind I’m chomping at the bit to eat here.

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A glance around the room reveals an unfussy, sophisticated decor of chocolate leather, smoky marble floor, glass and mirrors. Massive windows look out on to one of the city’s upscale shopping thoroughfares with neon signage from the likes of Armani and Bulgari which I imagine is reassuring for the luxury conscious, well heeled Hong Kongers and and expat bankers who make up our fellow diners. On to the menu: “Oh good, it’s short,” says my husband just as I was thinking the same thing. At the risk of sounding spoilt I’ve developed a menu fatigue lately, ploughing though all those endless lists and descriptions. Give me a well chosen, succinct choice like this one any day.

We opt to share a starter – the warm lobster salad – and it arrives neatly divided between two plates which is a nice touch. The sweet lobster pieces and salty wafer thin ham is a classic combination and the depth of flavor of the dish is impressive. The pasta courses continue to impress. My artisanal chitarra, a squared spaghetti, and my husband’s cavatelli with shellfish ragout both demonstrate the skilled layering of flavours only achieved by a master.

There’s a lull before the next course which normally I would be grateful for but this one lasts a little too long. I notice that Bombana has come out of the kitchen and is surveying the room then approaching certain tables where he is greeted like a movie star. We steel ourselves for our turn but alas he doesn’t come.

 

Our mains arrive however. I’ve chosen from the steak section, one of Bombana’s signatures, while my husband, wavering between sea bass cooked in Sorrento lemon and a Milanese veal chop, plumps for the latter which is Flintstone-esque gargantuan. I feel smug about my choice of perfectly cooked tenderloin and short rib in a plum sauce with whipped potatoes.

Again we wait longer than seemingly necessary for our plates to be cleared and pudding offered. The staff have been unfailingly pleasant all evening but if there is one question mark at all over that third star it is a certain inattentiveness and polish.

When the dolce menu comes it is a tantalising offer of sizes and numbers: limoncello souffle in small, medium or large, a “coffee trio” and Grand Cru chocolate in five styles. We go for the last two. My chocolate brulee, fondant, cream and ice cream is heaven – the jelly didn’t add much for me, and distracted slightly from the ice cream it was mixed in with but I’m nitpicking here.

Bombana is out on the restaurant floor again and by this time we feel like the only people he hasn’t spoken to. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen now and it’s time to leave. The buzzy bar area is still going strong and by the time we reach the cloakroom my coat has been correctly picked out for me. A very sweet ending to finish on.

8 and a half Otto e Mezzo, Alexandra House, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong.

This story was originally published in 2012

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