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8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana

Feb 29, 2012
by Justin Fischer

Area: The newly redeveloped Rockbund. Otto e Mezzo Bombana is the first restaurant to set up shop in this tony tract of renovated colonial buildings. Just across the way is a fitting neighbor, The Peninsula, with all of its chic luxury label boutiques and bellhops in flat-top hats.

What it is: If you've spent much time dining around Hong Kong, you've probably heard the name Umberto Bombana dropped from time to time. The 20-year veteran is more or less synonymous with Italian food in the city. He built a sterling reputation at the legendary Toscana in Hong Kong Ritz Carlton. When the Ritz was demolished in 2008, he helped to open The Drawing Room, an acclaimed Italian restaurant in its own right, in Hong Kong's branch of the JIA hotel. By 2010, he'd blazed his own trail with 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana. It didn't take long for the Michelin Man to take notice and award the place two stars practically out of the gate. Then, just last December, he bestowed a third, making 8 1/2 one of only five restaurants in the Hong Kong enjoying such prestige. The buzz, of course, is that the Mainland is ripe for a review by the tire company, so Shanghai seems the obvious next place to ride the wave.

To helm the kitchen of the Shanghai branch, he's enlisted Shanghai-born, Washington, D.C.-raised Alan Yu as his executive chef. Yu has a fairly impressive resume himself, having not only worked under Bombana in Hong Kong, but served at the stoves in Jean Georges' New York flagship as well as Citronelle in DC, neither of which are strangers to Michelin stars.

His collaboration with Bombana has resulted in menu of deceptively sophisticated studies in northern Italian cuisine. Most of what's on offer adheres to a philosophy of "less is more". Think simple pastas like burrata cheese ravioli with black olives, eggplant and cherry tomatoes or pappardelle with lamb and porcini ragout -- all made in house, by the way. Mains are equally straightforward with dishes like poached amberjack with wilted spinach, olive oil and onion sauce or classics like a breaded veal chop milanese. Elsewhere on the menu are seemingly unlikely combinations like foie gras with fresh eel. They also make use of some pretty cool specialty ingredients that you don't find around town too much, like bottarga, the cured roe of the gray mullet.

Desserts come courtesy of Soyha Takahashi an alumnus of Marina Bay in Singapore as well as the former Justin Quek venture Le Platane here in Shanghai. Takahashi has a flair for unconventional combinations like strawberry rice barvarois with chamomile ice cream as well as simple pleasures like an apple tart or a deconstructed tiramisu with lady fingers marinated in marsala wine.

As for the wine, the list is long enough to warrant a table of contents. You'll find an ample representation from everywhere that's anywhere, with the requisite selection of high nebbiolos from Piemonte, Super Tuscans and first growth Bordeaux.

Atmosphere: This is a prime piece of real estate situated just a stone's throw from where Suzhou Creek feeds into the Huangpu. So, as you'd expect, the scenery is stunning with panoramic views of the Pearl Tower and the northward stretch of Lujiazui and The Bund. Inside, Japanese firm Design Post has created a unique combination of steel and stone. The ceiling is studded with faceted sheets of polished steel that sparkle like diamonds when the lights are dimmed. To diffuse some of the flash, the walls are lined with cream-toned limestone inlaid at intervals with lacy, Rorshach-like patterns of stainless steel. The space is book-ended with two large-group dining areas that are separable by movable partitions. The centerpiece of it all is a glowing glass booth, their aging room, where they hang whole Bellotta hams (the good stuff!) and store a rotating selection of cheeses.

Damage: About what you'd expect to pay at a brand with three Michelin stars under its belt. Soups, apps, pasta and risotti all start at 90rmb and top off just shy of 200. Meat and seafood dishes are anywhere between 250 and 390rmb. There are a few "for two" options as well, like a 1kg bone-in rib eye. this will set the two of you back 1,300 kuai. There is a five-course degustation menu at 688rmb per person, 1,288 with wine pairings. Speaking of which, the wine list runs a broad gamut -- anything from 350rmb South African Chenin Blanc to 38,000rmb Lafite. Fortunately, they don't tack on a 15% surcharge, so no surprises when you get the bill. But, as the menu states, gratuities are welcome. In this city, they probably shouldn't hold their breath.

Who's Going: Management tells us that in their first few weeks, clientele has largely been industry -- hoteliers, restaurateurs, media types like us, etc. We reckon there have been plenty of civilians as well, namely die-hard foodie types who want to be able to say they ate here before it got its stars.
February 20

Associate Mission Building,
6-7/F, 169 Yuanmingyuan Lu,
near Beijing Dong Lu


6087 2890

Bar: Daily, 4pm-late
Restaurant: Daily, 6pm-12am

Goose Liver Duet 120rmb

Wagyu Tenderloin Carpaccio 170rmb

Burrata Cheese Ravioli 150rmb

Pappardelle with Lamb & Porcini Ragout 130rmb

Poached Amberjack in Lemon 230rmb

Roasted Suckling Pig "Porchetta Style" 350rmb

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