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I first got to know Mario Batali through his TV shows, including Iron Chef and my favourite, Spain… on the Road Again. As a big fan of the critically acclaimed chef, restaurateur, award-winning author and television personality, I couldn’t wait to try Lupa which recently opened in the heart of Central.
With his business partner Joe Bastianich, Mario has created an uber-successful restaurant and culinary empire in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore. For his first of the three restaurant that he plans to open in Hong Kong, he chose to bring Lupa’s simple and rustic Italian experience with him.
As we walked into the distinctively New York-style dark wood, tiled floor indoor restaurant section, we were greeted by a giant bronze statue of Lupa suckling Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers and central characters of Rome’s foundation myth. A dramatic entrance for the namesake restaurant, and very different from the trattoria atmosphere of its New York brother.
Italian food is all about maximising the flavour by using local and seasonal ingredients, cooked in olive oil and served very simply and lightly. So I am glad to see that the kitchen’s concept is to create dishes as traditionally Roman as possible, while skillfully substituting and supplementing local, fresh ingredients. The result is a uniquely Roman menu with a New York/Hong Kong balance.
My lovely friend D and I ordered a selection of Carne Grande to share as the Osteria Romana in New York cured the meat in-house. On the wooden block came a selection of Prosciutto di Parma, Lingua, Testa, Salame and Coppa. Although I did not expect the meat to be cured on site, the Lingua was exceptional. Soft yet substantial with truffles and sweet onion.
D picked the confit half duck with grape vinigarette for the main and loved it. The skin was golden crispy yet the meat is still soft and tender. It was perhaps a little overly salty for my palette but overall not a bad choice.
My secondi for the evening was the amazing braised pork shoulder glazed in apple and Sicilian bitter liquor. The pork shoulder was cooked to such perfection that it melted in my mouth. The sauce was a great balance of sweet and savoury with a hint of vinigerette, not dissimilar to the Shanghainese dish Tung Po pork belly, but far less fatty and greasy. The cucumber also kept the palette fresh and light. This is my favourite dish from Lupa hands down.
Those who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I have a big sweet tooth, and I never end an evening without sweets. I wanted to try the Lupa Tartufo but it was out, so I settled for the peanut chocolate bar with chocolate lemon sorbet. The chocolate bar was rich, buttery and chocolatey, and the slightly crunchy texture was a great hit. However, the chocolate completely overpowered the citrus fragrance in the sorbet.
D ordered the Espresso Bonet (Crème Fraiche, Cocoa Nibs) and apparently it tasted just like any ordinary Tiramisu. Decent but nothing to write home about.
Overall a great addition to the smart-casual Italian eateries that have become very popular recently, and nothing can beat the Central location. Pork shoulder and peanut chocolate bar were winners for the evening, and can’t wait to go back to try the pizza and snacks in the lovely La Terrazza.
Add: 3rd Floor, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2796 6500
Note: After the smart-casual Lupa, with its wood-fired pizza oven and outdoor terrace, Batali will open Carnevino a couple floors above it on Queen’s Road Central. The upscale steakhouse will feature an aging room to create those “pungent steaks that Americans love and the Chinese will dig.”
The third restaurant will be in the “windhole” of the brand new Hysan Place in Causeway Bay. Batali and his team will create a greenhouse-like structure and serve Neapolitan-style pizza, pasta and meats.