A month after the grand opening of LUPA Hong Kong by Mario Batali, the buzz of the latest Dining Concepts venture has not died down in the slightest. Lunch is a largely corporate affair packed with investment bankers, lawyers and other immaculately suited professionals who spend hours lingering with a glass of wine after their meals. The restaurant is almost a safe haven for them; an excuse to not retreat back into the day’s work and really, who can blame them?
Atmosphere: Unlike the original trattoria-styled LUPA in New York City, the Hong Kong establishment designed by Lisa Eaton and Zanghellini Holt sits on the third floor of the new LHT building in Central and features beautiful dark wooden furniture sprawled across a comfortable 5,500 square feet dimly lit indoor area and an impressive open terrace for al fresco dining.
Given its location in the middle of the business district and the demographic of diners, we weren’t surprised to feel austere and serious undertones in the restaurant. Of course, for something more casual, head onto the terrace for happy hour drinks.
Food: Lunch is offered as a buffet featuring a selection of antipasti, salads, desserts and your choice of a main, or the possiblity for one to select something their extensive a la carte menu. According to executive chef Zach Allen, who leads the kitchen team as Batali’s protege, ingredients are sourced as locally as possible but reflect the same dishes available in the original LUPA, after all, why change what’s been successful for so many years?
We start off small with the peperonata (HK$48), a wildly colourful ramekin of sweet and sour pepper relish with basil and pieces of fried bread. Although it was an interesting starter dish and presented well, we were disappointed that the fried bread was slightly overdone and lacked the invigorating flavour of the usual appetiser.
On the other hand, the corzetti (HK$178) at LUPA Hong Kong was a delicate dish with each two inch coin-shape individually stamped and presented with rabbit ragu and cured pork belly. We would have liked the ragu itself to be cooked a little longer but were delighted that the seasoning was just right and the coil embossing on each flat pasta helped retain the sauce, thus enhancing the flavours of each mouthful.
We were most impressed with their braised pork shoulder (HK$208). Each bite was fall-apart tender, slightly charred on the outside and well flavoured with a combination of apple and Amaro Averna sauce. The dark glaze of Sicilian liquer allowed for an aromatic caramel sweetness well balanced by the slices of cucumber, chili and grated ginger. Having been braised for over four hours, we didn’t expect anything less!
Verdict: There’s a reason people have flocked to LUPA Hong Kong and have continued to create problems with their booking systems, even now. Many have associated this to the name and celebrity status of Mario Batali but there is definitely much more beneath the surface.
Although there’s room for improvement as with all newly opened restaurants, we eagerly anticipate the developments in the near future as well as the next two establishments (steak restaurant Carnevino above LUPA and a Sicilian-styled venture in Causeway Bay) which Batali will launch in partnership with Dining Concepts within the next year.
LUPA Hong Kong, 3/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, +852 2796 6500
This post was originally published on Lifestyle Asia, Review: LUPA Hong Kong on 5th June, 2012