It´s been said that bad feng shui dooms some Hong Kong restaurants even before they´ve opened. Examples abound of spots where, despite great dining rooms, big name chefs and enticing menus with top produce, the experience never quite cuts it. A case in point comes in the heart of Central where Spiga has taken over the former space of Lupa, a surprisingly underwhelming joint despite having Mario Batali´s name on it.
The chef in this latest incarnation – Spiga means ear – is Enrico Bartolini, seemingly something of a celebrity back home thanks to having two Michelin stars in his Milan restaurant by the age of 33. By any stretch, that´s very impressive.
Physically, it´s also a different proposition, both inside and out. For the latter, the terrace is an absolute beauty. It was always prime real estate, but under uber designer Joyce Wang it is now sleeker than ever. A shame then that a tedious dry January meant their interesting cocktails weren´t able to tempt me, but plenty of other diners were hitting them up.
Inside too has undoubted wow factor. This is serious date night, corporate dinner or splurge territory. The welcome was one of the best in a long time from a beaming and warm reception desk, while the drinks menu boasted what was either a typo or brilliant wordplay: drought beers.
It´s essentially upmarket, contemporary Italian with the usual entrate, secondi and contorni, while interestingly pizzas are also available from $168 up and a five course tasting menu runs $788.
To kick off, a dinky amuse of beetroot came with celeriac puree and gorgonzola before´Patata uovo e uova´, namely soft potato puree with capers, salmon roe and lemon. This is by all accounts a Bartolini signature, and while it was tasty enough, it was a slightly odd combo – especially to start. Maybe we´re so used to ikura in Hong Kong that it was discordant pairing it with what was essentially mashed potato.
The breads were then pretty underwhelming, a surprise in an Italian restaurant, as they hadn´t felt the warmth of an oven for some time.
A tagliatelle with a ´ragout of white chicken´ and black truffle was much better . It´s hardly rocket science to acknowledge that truffle is always welcome, but here it wasn´t even needed given the great depth of slow-cooked flavour in that sauce. The pasta was very well made, as you´d hope and expect.
The main event of veal came with a very good potato millefeuille, the meat falling apart on cue, but needing more of that unadvertised sauce.
Other dishes on the menu intrigued such as ´Seared tuna belly with apple, and Szechuan pepper sauce´. On paper it sounds seriously odd, but not knowing much about Bertolini, maybe it´s his thing to throw in a few dishes from left field into an otherwise very Italian menu.
Desserts were a strong point in the form of a lovely chocolate foam with brilliant hazelnut ice cream, then an intriguing creme brûleé with cherries and iced blueberries. Not your usual combination, again.
Service was friendly and attentive throughout. It´s also important – and fair – to stress that this was essentially still the soft opening, so some of the surprising kinks, such as the bread, may well have been ironed out by now.