Just as Marco Polo introduced something of his Western heritage to China, at fine-dining restaurant Il Milione (named after the book by the famous Italian explorer), one Michelin-starred chef Marco Gubbiotti is proudly introducing the cuisine and culture of his native Umbria to those not in the know here in Hong Kong.
Yet while the restaurant’s name looks to the past, the décor is of the future, with a cocoon of a dining room that features walls draped in gold silk and a lowered ceiling like a slice of giant honeycomb.
We were there to sample the new summer menu, so after a vintage 1930s cocktail at the glamorous bar, we sat down to an amuse bouche of beef cheek terrine with bell pepper sauce and the very un-Italian ingredient, perilla (Japanese shiso leaves). Terrine seems a strange title for this dish which is more a morsel of extremely tender beef; pleasant enough but not memorable.
The restaurant makes all its own bread and eight varieties are presented at our table along with fresh and spicy Viola Olive Oil, directly imported from Umbria. Viola has consistently been voted one of the best olive oils in the world and at Il Milione, great olive oil is offered the same respect as great wine; the attention to detail paid to both is impressive.
Our starter of sirloin carpaccio marinated in green tomato water, cucumber, basil, soft quail eggs and caviar ($290) was delicious enough, though a little lacking in texture and seasoning. Caviar seemed a strange addition to an Italian dish but I was told one of the largest caviar fish farms is in Umbria and has been producing some of the best European caviar for the past 20 years.
Next came a traditional pasta course, homemade tagliolino, Umbrian summer truffles, anchovies and green beans ($420). The pasta was divine and the very generous portion of truffles a decadent treat but again seasoning seemed lacking. Salt isn’t used in traditional Umbrian cooking; the anchovies would have been a good substitute but in this dish they were confined to a light drizzle of sauce – not enough to lift what could have been a 100-percent stunning dish.
The main course, pork done three ways – crispy suckling pig, herb-crusted rib and terrine of pork cheek with apple and rosemary ($360) – was a display of the chef’s skill and attention to detail. We were instructed to start with the terrine which was rather bland. The rib was a fantastic idea but the meat’s subtle flavours were overpowered by rosemary. The suckling pig, however, was truly sublime – in fact, I would have preferred this in a main course size.
Dessert was a unique sweet take on minestrone; a chilled fruit soup of hazelnut pasta, iced small apples, lentils, pineapple, raspberry, passionfruit sorbet and mango sauce ($130). A nice quirky idea and a fresh and vibrant palette cleanser after such a heavy meal, but again the balance of flavours swung one way – to passionfruit on this occasion.
Il Milione is a fabulous dining experience; ambience, service, knowledge, attention to detail – none of these can be faulted. The food is executed with immense skill and dedication, too. However, you get the sense that this refined take on rustic and unpretentious Umbrian cuisine may not appeal to everyone.
Must try dish: Crispy suckling pig, herb crusted rib, head in terrine, stew of organic lentils and ripened pork cheek, apple and rosemary.
G/F, Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Road, Central