Don’t arrive in Hong Kong expecting to find anything remotely reminiscent of that fantastic little trattoria you found on your last Roman holiday; this city likes its linguine with a side of luxury. Il Milione — named for the travelogue of that famous Venetian-in-China, Marco Polo — is the latest haute Italian to enter the Hong Kong restaurant scene, though it’s certainly not the first. Favorite Otto e Mezzo, by chef Umberto Bombana, and Lupa and Carnevino, by Mario Batali and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Joe Bastianich are strongholds. And chef Pino Lavarra was recently appointed to revamp Tosca, at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
The sleek, golden-hued dining room at Il Milione may evoke modern Milan, but owner Marco Gubbiotti hails from the bucolic hills of Umbria, in central Italy, where he runs the award-winning La Bastiglia. “We came across an opportunity we couldn’t refuse, to bring the best of Umbria all the way to Asia,” he said, “and where better to do this than Hong Kong? Diners in Hong Kong are sophisticated and adventurous, and they seek authenticity, so I knew that this would be the perfect city to start with.”
Gubbiotti admits some concessions to local tastes. “Hong Kong foodies love their fish,” he said, but added, “Umbria traditionally doesn’t incorporate much seafood, as it is geographically far from the seas, being a landlocked region. However, nowadays, we have the luxury of easy access to all sorts of ingredients to prepare in Umbrian ways.” The menu includes tiny anchovy ravioli with goat cheese and a decidedly un-Italian Cancale oyster; seared scallops with Castelluccio lentils; and passatelli in lobster broth. And his molten chocolate cake is served with a Sichuan peppercorn cream.
Il Milione also showcases a classic Italian aperitif, offering seven versions of the Negroni cocktail with selections made with Farmer’s organic gin, Campari bitter, Mancino Rosso Amaranto, orange and pink grapefruit bitters and even a secret recipe made especially for the restaurant. “Negronis are the quintessential Italian aperitivo, so no true Italian experience is complete without it,” Gubbiotti said.
Time will tell if Hong Kong natives and visitors agree.
Photos Courtesy of Il Milione