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

Bistronomique in Hong Kong

Chef David Lai, who trained in Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco and Hong Kong, has opened his second restaurant, Bistronomique. A casual French bistro, Bistronomique offers classic French bistro fare such as Salade Lyonnaise and Creme Brulee, but with a little edge.

The restaurant itself is a little out of the way. We had to take a cab, and walk a bit, and the street was a bit deserted….not the usual hustle and bustle in the busy streets of Hong Kong.

Interiors are quite bright and well-lit, with no frills. The restaurant is simple: a long narrow room, with banquette seating. This was on a Saturday, lunchtime, and it was full. Good thing we had reservations for our table for 10 ladies.

Bistronomique is not cheap, but they do offer a very affordable Set Lunch Menu. Several of us had this, and were quite satisfied with portions and quality.

For those of you who are curious about their ala carte menu, here are some snapshots. As you can see, their menu is quite extensive.

Always a nice way to start a lunch: chilled white wine!

For starters, I had the herb-crusted bone marrow, on a bed of salt. This, of course, came with some thinly sliced toasted bread. Grab a toast, spread some marrow, and sprinkle just a teeny bit of salt. Swig white wine. Deeelicious!!!! The herb crust was the  WOW factor with this dish. It added a whole different layer of flavor.

Since we were a lot, we got to order a lot of different things, and we were not shy to share with each other. This is the foie gras ‘torchon’, which is a tower made of chunks of foie gras, accompanied with a side of mushrooms (which paired excellently with the foie gras). Note the sprinkle of (probably sea) salt on top.

This was the daily soup. If I remember correctly, it was a creamy leek soup. Quite frothy and light, though full of leek flavor.  A great starter, since it didn’t fill you up too much.

Loved the lardons in their Salad Lyonnaise, but then, who doesn’t like bacon?

Their Caesar Salad came a little deconstructed, but tasted good as well.

Pan-fried pork chop. I love eating pork, but this just tasted all right. Impressive size though!

Duck breast. How French can you get?

This looked beautiful and tasted wonderful. Lobster cassoulet!

This was the “daily fish” on the Set Lunch Menu, and to me, this was the best tasting dish all around. The play of flavors between the roasted red peppers and the grilled fish (I forgot exactly what it was, but it was a firm white-fleshed fish) was perfect!

This was my order. Black pork belly. The famed uber-tender black pork, belly cut. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, this was a little under-seasoned for me. Or maybe I just expect my pork to taste more than just fatty (don’t get me wrong…I have no problem with fatty cuts!).

Mushroom Risotto. Always unphotogenic, but such comfort food.

Desserts in French restaurants are always anticipated. A very, VERY, dense chocolate pot de creme…..

A mille feuille (though to me, the wafers were a little burnt….)….

…and the best thing EVER…..creme brulee with truffle oil. SO good.

So, as I said, expect simple French bistro food in Bistronomique. Nothing fancy really, but wonderful, high-quality ingredients, with just enough of a chic twist to elevate it to fancy fare.

Shop B, G/F, 1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Western District
Tel: 2818 8266

The Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong

Think of the words “Four Seasons Hotel” and immediately images of luxury, pampering, plush, and posh come to mind. At least to my mind they do. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that our girls’ indulgent weekend in HK was going to be spent at the Four Seasons. Indulgent indeed.

We checked in around 8am in the morning (rather groggily after a 5am flight), and the hotel lobby was rather quiet. The front desk was also free from any other guests checking-in or out, so getting our rooms was a breeze. The front desk clerks efficiently checked us in, gave us our keys, and took care of our bags, all with a smile.

The rooms looked like your average deluxe hotel room. I was a tad let-down, since, as I said, I was really expecting a lot from the Four Season. But well, you can’t REALLY complain when your room comes with fully loaded with these goodies:

But as I said, I’ve seen these amenities before in other hotels, so they weren’t such WOW factors. We DID abuse the Nespresso though.

Forgive the mess: I forgot to take pictures before we made ourselves at home.

So, all in all, so far my impression of the legendary Four Seasons Hotel is….well, it didn’t stand out. It was a nice hotel, yes. But as nice as the Four Seasons of my imagination? Far from it. Maybe I should have managed my expections.

On our last day, we discovered the spa of the Four Seasons.

It was a hidden sanctuary, tucked away behind a forbidding door, that opened into a shangrila (oops, sorry, wrong hotel!).

Well-stocked with (more) amenities, we made ourselves at home while waiting for our ride to the airport. I couldn’t take any pictures of the jacuzzi or massage rooms, as there were several women there pampering themselves.

As a bonus, there was a cute boutique that had swimming suits and other pool-lounging wear, just in case you forgot yours.

Lest I forget to mention, the service at the Four Seasons Hotel was superb: immediate, unobtrusive, courteous, and always with a smile. But then again, you’d expect that from a Four Seasons.

HK Art Fair 2012

A trip to Hong Kong’s much anticipated Art Fair was a convenient excuse for 7 women to get away for an indulgent weekend. Indulgent because not only did we stay in the Four Seasons, but we also lined up a series of serious eats. While the Art Fair was (supposedly) the primary reason why we were going, it was looking more and more like a foodie trip.

My confession: I am an art imbecile. Unfortunately I am one of those that cannot appreciate anything I can’t recognize, and my knowledge of art borders on nothing. I even took a summer class in art appreciation in Fordham many, MANY years ago just to  improve my (lack of) knowledge, but it didn’t do much good. But I do have an open mind, and a love for learning, so I was looking forward to my weekend of art and culture. And food. Yes, mustn’t forget that.

We were lucky enough to snag a couple of VIP passes, which essentially let us in a few days before the general public, as well as allow us access to the VIP lounge. So registering and getting in wasn’t a bother at all.

So here are a few pictures I snapped of random pieces and installations. There were huge halls of art works, so don’t think that these pictures are even remotely representative of what was shown.

This was one of my favorite pieces.

Up close, you can see that the faces were actually made from puzzle pieces. Cool, huh?

This ship is from the same artist (my apologies….I didn’t get the name).

Being a Beatles fan, this one of course caught my eye.

And up close……the lyrics of certain songs!

Same method for Darth Vader.

Now I had to take a picture of this……

I don’t want to sound flippant, but I have a lot of these in my apartment building. 🙂

This piece, made of pink sweaters, caught a lot of attention. I won’t get too detailed in the description though. But if you’re curious what these are supposed to represent, feel free to make a comment, with your email, and I can elaborate. 🙂

And there were a lot of them too!!

There were pieces from the great masters, such as Picasso. I wonder how much they were going for.

Definitely this Art Fair is for the serious collectors and not duffers like me. But I would definitely go again next year!

For those who want to read more about the Art Fair, click here.