An Italian in Hong Kong
For nearly a quarter century, Chef Umberto Bombana has been an ambassador of authentic Italian taste in Hong Kong. But he did not plan it that way.
When he arrived in 1993, a short assignment managing Toscana in the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong was supposed to be just a mere stopover before moving on to greener pastures.
When the hotel closed, the time was right to hang his own name on the door and Otto e Mezzo Bombana was born in 2010. The restaurant won two stars from the Michelin guide in its first year of operation, followed by three stars in its second year, an honor it has maintained ever since. Otto e Mezzo is in fact the only three-star Italian restaurant in the world outside of Italy. He is also ranked No. 4 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which itself is a spin-off of the World’s 50 Best, where the restaurant ranks number 60. This year the organizers of 50 Best gave him a Lifetime Achievement award.
But Bombana kept things in perspective. “I think both [Michelin and 50 Best] have been factors in developing the restaurant business in Asia,” he commented. “I tell my guys that awards are important, Michelin is perhaps the most important international guide, then Asia’s 50 Best, but most important of all is our customers.”
He has a reputation for being a little shy in interviews. “Ah!” he exclaimed coyly. “It’s part of the work. I was born in the kitchen and I’m always in the kitchen but one needs to learn to communicate more.”
Years of experience have helped him overcome his reservations about speaking to the public. The chef has made promoting Italian products and Italian cuisine, and most notably Italian truffles, his life work. He was also enthusiastic when talking about his adoptive home. He can be seen saying a few words in Cantonese about delicious, fragrant food in Hong Kong in a video made for the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
“When you’re working, in my opinion, Hong Kong is the ideal city,” he said about the special administrative region. “I like working with my team here, they’re good guys. There is a steady flow of customers. Also if you find the right suppliers you can have the best products from around the world. There are no restrictions in Hong Kong and there are no import taxes so working conditions are good.”
What keeps customers coming back is the fresh pasta that he showers with truffles at the table; sgroppino, a blend or sorbet and gelato whipped together in another table-side show-stopper; and a seasonal menu that reflects the finest produce available, like an ethereal asparagus foam with morel mushrooms and celeriac in the spring. The restaurant also boasts an wide-ranging wine cellar reflecting excellent producers from all over Italy and around the world.
OTTO E MEZZO BOMBANA
Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road
Central, Hong Kong
T: +852 2537 8859