Over the past few years, Umberto Bombana has become one of the most famous chefs in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Following his expansion into Beijing and Shanghai, QLI asks whether the food is still as good as it was before the expansion of the Bombana empire.
When Otto e Mezzo was awarded its third Michelin-star, the Hong Kong food community discussed this at great length. Was this a restaurant worthy of the highest possible accolade in the world of cooking? Were other restaurants in the city not more deserving of it? The Hong Kong version of the little red book of gastronomy is filled with questionable ratings, but this was one of the most controversial decisions the inspectors took in the city.
Whilst the restaurant itself was certainly very good at that moment, it was clear that the three stars were somewhat generous. Fuelled by the success of the original Otto e Mezzo, however, Bombana and his partners opened a second restaurant in Shanghai, and Opera Bombana in Beijing. A fourth fine dining restaurant will open in Macau, and a pizzeria/simple eatery has opened in Hong Kong (it being awarded a Michelin-star greatly surprised some local gourmets). By and large, Mr Bombana is doing very well it seems. His warm, generous character has been well received in Hong Kong and in the Mainland, where he is one of the most famous Western chefs. The question that inevitably comes with rapid expansion is that of consistency and quality control. Can a team be trained quickly enough to be able to stomach the loss of key figures?
Whilst the service, run by former Ducasse-man Maxime Ejoff is as good as it was under Danilo Nicoletti, the food at Otto e Mezzo seems to lack the consistency it had a few years ago. Take for instance lobster with sea urchin, and gnocchi. What sounds like a divine combination ends up being disappointingly low on flavour. The lobster sauce does not quite have the depth, and intensity to bring the various elements together. The lobster is a little tough and dry, whilst the type of sea urchin somewhat clashes with the dish, rather than creating a harmonious set of flavours. Similarly, Burrata ravioli with tomatoes, olives and aubergines could be cooked a little shorter, and seem pedestrian for a restaurant of this calibre.
Thankfully, there are still great dishes to be had here, and the safest option seems to be one of Bombana’s specialties: truffles. Instead of serving tiny quantities of truffles, Bombana is generous when it comes to these fungi. This makes even the simplest dishes such as a risotto a real delight. Even better is Piemontese Fassone with truffles. Cooked perfectly, with a slightly crunchy, charred crust, and juicy, tender meat, the excellent jus, and generous shaving of black truffles make this a fantastic dish where the main protagonists fully show their qualities.
There is a lot to like about Otto e Mezzo. The lively atmosphere in the dining room, the generous truffle portions, and the warmth of Umberto Bombana, who walks around and chats to those who keen to exchange a few words with the chef. On the other hand, the food seems to not be quite on the level one would expect from a 3 Michelin-star restaurant. Those who can visit without expecting that level of perfection will have a very enjoyable meal at Otto e Mezzo Bombana.