Mario Batali’s Lupa in Hong Kong

With the many great dining places in Hong Kong and only 2 days to spend, we had a hard time shortlisting our picks. Mario Batali’s Lupa, however, was a no-brainer. With fantastic anecdotes about their New York branch, we were excited to try famous Mario’s trattoria food.

Lupa boasts of a long, open kitchen, where chefs send out their creations to frenetic servers. It looked orderly, clean, and organized…..a credit to the kitchen brigade working in it.

The in-door dining area was spacious, cozily lit, and done elegantly with starched, white tablecloths and fine cutlery. But the ambiance remained casual and relaxed, which I appreciated. Lupa also had outdoor seating for the smokers and their wood-fired pizza (apparently, not available indoors). I didn’t bother checking it out so can’t comment.

I loved the tall pepper mills! Definitely a showpiece!

The name Lupa comes from the Italian word for she-wolf, and as per the menu, the restaurant is named after the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. So the picture of a gigantic wolf with 2 babes nursing at her teats was emblazoned on the menu. Not your average cover, and well, rather strange for me.

The menu was very extensive! So large that we all had a hard time choosing, since there were just too many choices that sounded good. Though we pride ourselves in our appetites, I don’t think any of us could tackle both a primi and secondi course, with an appetizer and dessert to boot.

While choosing our dishes, we started off with this excellent wine.

Since we were a large table (10 hungry women!), we were able to order a lot of different dishes, much like our experience in Bistronomique (see my entry about Bistronomique here). Of course we all made each other promise to share.

For starters: sardines, golden raisins, and pine nuts on a bed of bulgher wheat. The sardines were cured in citrus (as per the menu). This was quite interesting, because the flavors were delicately balanced: the sweetness of the raisins, the tartness of the sardines, and then the crunch and nuttiness of the pine nuts. The portion was small enough to just whet my appetite (and I had to share it with the others!).

Truffled Crema Fritta: fried, breaded cream laced with truffle “essence”. I think this lacked truffles. I know its supposed to be just a whisper, but this wasn’t even audible. And as fried cream is already quite bland, this was more just texture for me: crunch.

Arugula and shaved Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) was a light salad. The peppery arugula was tossed in a light vinaigrette. Not much play with the flavors, since the arugula was the dominant taste.

This was the winner of appetizers: creamy cow’s cheese with smoked prosciutto.

For mains, my order was the black spaghetti with spicy pork sausage. I was attracted to the squid ink pasta, and what’s not to love about spicy pork sausage? The server warned me repeatedly that it was VERY spicy, but I waved her away, confident in my tolerance for spice.

Unfortunately, the server was right. This dish just had ONE taste: heat. I couldn’t taste anything else, so the squid ink pasta, mint and anything else  was just wasted. Such a shame. And yes, I LOVE spicy food, but this was just a one-note dish.

The saltimbocca was the winner of the evening, though unfortunately, terribly unphotogenic. But trust me, it tastes much better than it looks. Underneath this pink, unappetizing mass is a bed of wilted spinach, which paired beautifully with the saltimbocca.

The crispy duck looked impressive and mouth-watering, and we loved the idea of HALF A DUCK! Skin was crispy (as advertised), and we enjoyed this dish.

I forgot what this dish was. Maybe squid? Well, whatever it was, it didn’t make much of an impression.

The dessert menu:

The Espresso Bonet. Not memorable. It doesn’t even look familiar.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake: again, not memorable.

The Date Torta: again, not memorable.

Our feedback card.

So, in short: Lupa fell short from my expectations, but perhaps my expectations were because of the superstar celebrity chef Mario Batali. Some dishes were good, the ambiance was cozy, and the service competent. Personally, this wasn’t worth the price, but it’s a nice date place, including with bragging rights.

3/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road, Central
2796 6500