It has been a momentous year for 37 year-old chef, Enrico Bartolini.
He has opened four restaurants in Italy (Milan, Bergamo, Castiglione della Pescaia and Venice). Three of these, which were opened in as many months, were awarded stars in the Michelin Guide Italy 2017 on 15 November, for a total of four stars.
As a result of this Michelin triumph, noted Italian publications praised his talents and Sergio Lovrinovich, managing editor of the Michelin Guide Italy, said: “there is no doubt, 2017 is the year of Enrico Bartolini.” This rising star chef is on fire.
His final opening for the year, and for now, is Spiga, his first restaurant in Hong Kong, which opens on December 5.
Earlier this month, I spent three delicious days in Milan with Bartolini, his staff and his family, uncovering among other things, his aspirations for Spiga.
“My idea for Spiga is to answer the question, What is the flavour of Italian cuisine currently? Our identity is Italian, the cuisine at Spiga is Italian – not just Italian sounding. It is cuisine for the modern Italian living in Hong Kong, and for those that want a true taste of Italy as it is today.”
The name Spiga, which translate to ear of wheat, is important and meaningful for Bartolini. “It has always been a prestigious ingredient for me, that gives me a sense of wellness, cultural and nutritional wellness. When I was growing up each year on 19 June we would collect, dry and hang 19 spiga in the kitchen for good luck, and as a chef it offers so many possibilities. For me spiga is something great, full of possibility, so is [my restaurant] Spiga.”
To bring a current taste of Italy to Hong Kong, Bartolini will focus on popular cuisine classics, such as ossobuco alla milanese – dishes that are familiar in name, but that show an evolution, and are contemporary in preparation, taste and presentation. Pasta is to feature in dishes such as tagliatelle with chicken ragu and Norcia black truffle and linguini with lobster and asparagus. Fresh pasta is made in house, and dry varieties are supplied by artisan producers.
There are also creative signature plates (the Sicilian red prawns that are half fried with tamarind sauce sound particularly intriguing) and a tasting menu, highlighting modern dishes from the chef’s own classic tasting menu served in his two-star restaurant in Milan. A menu which Bartolini says “is considered one of the best experiences you can have in Italy, by noted Italian food critics.” That menu features dishes such as beetroot risotto with gorgonzola sauce and ravioli with olive oil and lime, roasted octopus and cacciucco sauce.
This view point, and the dishes that follow, is a key part of what, for Bartolini, will define Spiga in Hong Kong.”Discover what we are eating now in Italy through our contemporary interpretation. We are generous, we know ingredients. Our recipes are educated ideas, historical visions, but interpreted with modern eyes.”
At the heart of it all is ingredients. “I am passionate about ingredients – you can say it is an obsession,” says Bartolini. A chef mentioning a passion for ingredients is bordering on yawnsville, but with Bartolini this passionate obsession is something I witnessed first hand, numerous times. Spiga will import the majority of ingredients from Italy, from seafood to tomatoes to citrus.
When it comes to competition, he is unfazed. “Spiga is a restaurant of today, of a big city, it’s going to be so different it will stand out”. This confidence is not cocky ego, it is a confidence that comes from success, something of which he continues to have plenty.
Spiga is a combination of all that is important to Bartolini — heartfelt, authentic, exceptional and current Italian cuisine, made from outstanding ingredients, with consistency and quality in everything. When you add the other factors exciting to Bartolini — its Central location, chic outdoor terrace, and interiors from Asia’s hottest designer, Joyce Wang — you have, in theory, a recipe for Spiga to be the most exciting, most relevant, Italian restaurant in town.
For a more detailed insight into Enrico (the chef, the man, his passions and his guilty pleasure), that reveal the story of all that influences his dishes, including Spiga, read the exclusive, behind-the-scenes article to be published in the February 2017 issue