There are probably as many sparkling, glamorous fine-dining restaurants taking up residence in Hong Kong’s dining scene as there are colourful Prada and Celine bags being carried down Canton Road and Queen’s Road Central. Think establishments occupied by bankers and financiers stopping by for a meal while discussing property values and stock stakes; places with just the right amount of attentiveness that doesn’t (heaven forbid) cross the line into actual friendliness (Hongkongers need their personal space); spots with just enough words in a European language on the menu (most commonly French) to look sophisticated and worldly enough while ensuring enough familiar ingredients (scallops, steaks, lamb chops and pastas) so as to not throw the taste buds into a loop.
These places are a dime a dozen. So when a new one comes to town, what makes it stand out from the rest? That is our question for Il Milione, the new dazzling Italian dining destination located on the ground floor of Central’s Hutchinson House. Il Milione focuses on Umbrian cuisine by renowned Umbrian chef Marco Gubbioti.
We push through the restaurant’s chic brass doors and encounter Il Milione’s smashing bar. Well spaced, the bar is a nice spot for pre-dinner drinks. The noteworthy tipple menu is designed by talented mixologist Giancarlo Mancino and spotlights vintage 1930s cocktails with Mancino’s Negroni Ragazzino taking centre stage.
Il Milione’s dining room is also a looker with simple white tables arranged around various shelves of wine and a bold dark ceiling lined with golden circular mirrors framing the entire space. Along one side of the wall is a faint shadow of the semi-open kitchen.
Umbrian cuisine is a very rustic type of Italian cooking which focuses on simple, seasonal ingredients and uncomplicated preparation. The à la carte menu demonstrates this philosophy fairly well with its list of seafood, pasta and meat options. The starters have bold names like Tartara di Manzo ($230) and Capesante Rosolate ($240) which are basically just beef tartare and seared scallops, respectively. The tartare comes atop a small bed of greens, topped with a deep-fried egg yolk. It’s a neat presentation but doesn’t quite possess the taste punch we were hoping for. Even the creamy egg yolk doesn’t redeem this dish – it’s left wanting in seasoning. The capesante comes a bit more fully flavoured thanks to the lentils and chestnut foam but the scallops are over-seared and tough to chew.
For our pasta selection, we go for the lesser-known Passatelli ($330), a pasta formed of breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese and lemon. Paired with a lobster tail and lobster broth, the dish is more impressive in words than it is in bite. The passatelli has a stuffings sort of texture to the noodles but could do with being mixed with something a little zingier, like tomatoes or chillies, instead of the mellow lobster broth and meat. To satiate our meat cravings, we opt for the Manzo ($380), a combo of stewed beef cheek and grilled sirloin paired with puréed knob celery, chard and Italian seared peppers. This tender and tasty dish finally provides some of the seasonings we’ve been craving all night, albeit in fairly bite-size portions. The Zuppa Inglese ($120), a custard concoction of chocolate and berry sauce brewed under an Italian-style meringue and matched with spongy ladyfingers completes our meal.
Although the food could do with a bit more flavour, the restaurant seems to be taking special care in tweaking and working out the kinks in its menu (we were given several samples to test). The service is also friendly and unpretentious and the bar looks too good not to try. Perhaps Il Milione might not be one in a million just yet but it has the potential to get there. Janice Jann
Tartara di Manzo $230
Capesante Rosolate $240
Zuppa Inglese $120
Total (for two) $1,430.00
G16-21, G/F, Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Rd, Central, 2481 1120; il-milione.com. Mon-Sat 12pm-12am.