The world works in mysterious ways. When I first moved to Hong Kong, ten years ago last month, I was invited to attend a white truffle dinner at Toscana at the former Ritz Carlton Hotel. Although I was working in PR at CNN, I volunteered to write up the experience, tough gig that it was:
Fast forward almost exactly a decade and Hong Kong and I are both older, if not necessarily wiser. To my great surprise, another invitation comes through to the truffle dinner, my first since 2005. This is, clearly, a very lucky ticket indeed. Chef Umberto Bombana at Otto e Mezzo is the Willy Wonka of white truffles, holder of the rare and highly-prized tubers which have intoxicated gourmands for centuries.
The evening sold out quickly, even with tickets at a cool $8,800 per person. Yup. But, all the proceeds went to charity – I was invited by the restaurant owners and ate alongside another journalist in the private dining room.
But the evening isn’t just about truffles, Barolo and wagyu. Far from it. It’s about young mothers with crisis pregnancies who have nowhere to turn other than Mother’s Choice. Foster care, adoption, support services for pregnant girls, their mission is to ensure ‘no baby girl or boy is left alone in Hong Kong’. They do it with extraordinary compassion and dedication and deserve every cent they receive more so than any Hong Kong charity I can think of. You can donate to them directly online here
As I said back in 2005, “Few chefs were as qualified to cook the stellar ingredient as Signor Toscana from Bergamo in northern Italy”. If anything, the affable Italian has only increased his prowess. Seeing him at work, shaving the truffles, occasionally stopping to sniff them, this was truly a master at work.
The dishes were, of course, extraordinary, even before they were covered in a crazily-generous carpet of the white gold. There’s not much point in sowing the after shots, but here’s the abalone and scrambled egg: (the truffles all have different colours and markings – the more reddish hues come form a truffle found under a willow)
A breathtaking veal agnolotti with porcini emulsion:
A root vegetable risotto in the hands of an Italian master, served in the only three Michelin-starred Italian restaurant outside of Italy, can only ever be the best risotto you’ll ever eat, even before it is covered:
Amongst a galaxy of stars, the standout was the chestnut emulsion with diced foie gras and the Mayura beef tenderloin, actually from Australia. I’d like to one day be embalmed in the whipped potato and ham which accompanied it.
To finish, a sublime roasted pear, zabaglione and mascarpone ice cream. With more white truffle.
In hindsight, my description of the truffle taste back in 2005 still rings pretty true today:
“An extraordinary taste, unlike any other, of musky, smoky richness, vaguely redolent of garlic. If Tolkien’s Middle Earth were to be served as a dish, then this was it.”
Each course was accompanied by a parade of wines which grew in complexity and intensity, including:
This wasn’t one of the glasses poured, but could well have been:
At the end of dinner, we joined the dining room for the charity auction of lots including truffles, magna of Barolo and other wines to make you weep, as well as holidays in Italian luxury properties.
My arms were kept crossed throughout in case I scratched my nose and inadvertently bought 500g of Alba’s finest. But many did bid – and generously – resulting in an astonishing total raised for Mother’s Choice of HK$2,563,000. The big event of the night, the 900 gram number, was bought by Mr Sam Chan for a cool HK$833,000. Once again, Hong Kong outbid those linked via satellite from the wonderfully-named Hall of Masks in the Castle of Grinzane Cavour,:
The evening was a testament to the generosity not only of the diners and bidders, but ultimately to Umberto Bombana and his brilliant team at Otto e Mezzo. Umberto explained why Mother’s Choice was especially close to him, a beautiful personal anecdote – reinforcing that there can be no doubt that this unique fixture on Hong Kong’s culinary calendar will only go from strength to strength.