8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA
Once dubbed the best Italian chef in Asia, Umberto Bombana was last year unofficially upgraded to the top Italian chef outside Italy, after his restaurant landed the only three Michelin stars granted to any Italian dining establishment beyond home turf. And while his pastas and produce-driven creations are constant crowd-pleasers (just try and get a dinner reservation with fewer than five weeks’ notice), Bombana’s personal choice that best exemplifies his technique is a simple lobster salad and Elite Calvisius caviar with celery jelly, cous cous, winter leaves and champagne dressing. Served cold, the quality of the lobster meat shines, cooked lightly so it still almost resembles a sashimi. The celery-root jelly, set just so, adds bounce and moisture, while the caviar is a mild accompaniment. The cous cous makes for an unusual addition, but almost soaks up all the flavours of the sea, and the dish ends with the crunch and refreshment of the winter leaves.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
When it comes to Joël Robuchon, Michelin stars are the norm rather than the exception – the chef holds some 28 stars across his restaurants, and that’s bearing in mind that many of his establishments are situated in cities that don’t even boast a guide. His Hong Kong outpost, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, holds three of those, and accomplishes the seeming impossible, maintaining a personable, hip cosiness even in the face of considerable pomp and grandeur. This comes thanks to lots of bar-style seating, and a red-and-black colour scheme that reads more hip club than fancy French restaurant (plus a dandy little jardin out back). What’s exemplary about L’Atelier’s signature dish is the fact that so very little is done to it – La Pièce de Boeuf Wagyu, or pan-seared Japanese Wagyu beef with aromatic arugula salad, is divine in its restraint, a marbled cut of A4 Kagoshima meat just barely seared so that it’s pleasantly chewy at first bite, and then so irresponsibly fatty that each taste gets impossibly better. A pièce de résistance, indeed.
“It must be the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world,” comments Richard Ekkebus, culinary director of Amber, referring to the nine stars held in total across four restaurants under the Landmark brand. Ekkebus’ own restaurant holds two of those stars, earned for his elegant modern French cuisine. Almost as well-known as the restaurant itself is the jewel in its crown, the sea urchin in a lobster jell-o with cauliflower, caviar and crispy “seaweed” waffle, a dish that signifies the best of what Amber has to offer without overshadowing other dishes. Originally served in a sea-urchin shell, as of the end of last year the course has found a more indestructible home in the form of a custom porcelain recreation from Feelings by Sylvie Coquet, finely ridged and offering a befitting delicate fragility. The dish itself is the stuff of dreams, a trip to the seaside that traverses the sweetness of the urchin, the gentle light cream of cauliflower, the unique texture and complex infusion of flavour in the lobster jell-o and the finishing crunch of what’s basically a seaweed chip, the culinary equivalent of that joy of digging your feet into rough, wet sand. What makes the sea urchin really sing is the absence of borax, a food additive that accompanies most specimens in order to assist in preservation, but also adds a bitter aftertaste. “But you’ll get that at most starred establishments,” Ekkebus adds.
There’s been some talk about the ability of Western Michelin inspectors to judge the quality of Chinese restaurants, and even greater debate about the validity of certain choices. Luckily, The Square has cleanly avoided this controversy, holding steady with its Michelin star since the guide was inaugurated in Hong Kong five years ago. Though it falls under the Maxim’s group’s purview, this is hardly a chain restaurant, offering high-quality clean Cantonese without MSG. Says Head Chef Wong Hon Keung, “We aim to offer great Chinese food but with elements of Western presentation.” That goal is ably achieved in sautéed lobster balls with crabmeat and crab-roe sauce. One-and-a-half South African lobsters are used in each dish, with smaller specimens chosen for the texture, and accompanied by scallops, crabmeat, crab roe and bamboo pith. Each bite is a meaty mouthful, hefty in quantity but easily gulped down and surprisingly addictive. Given that Wong has had 22 years with the group to perfect the dish, that’s no surprise.
PHOTO: EDMON LEONG
8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA