Dining Concepts’ latest venture, Lupa, has been causing quite a stir. It’s still in the soft opening phase but I was desperate to check it out and see if it lived up to all the hype, or if it was just another average Italian restaurant, of which Hong Kong has plenty.  Headed by celebrity chef Mario Batali and his business partner Joe Bastianich, who together have a whole range of restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore under their belts, I had high hopes that my meal at Lupa would be both flawless and delicious.

 

In Italian, Lupa means female wolf, in this case referring to the she-wolf that saved Romulus and Remus, a big, slightly disturbing statue of which greets you as you enter the restaurant. I have been called Lupa or Lupita all my life, but the Spanish translation of magnifying glass (don’t ask) is very different.

Aside from the strange she-wolf statue, the décor at Lupa is very elegant with a lot of dark wood, tiled flooring and classy light fittings. For a more casual dinner or a pre- or post-dinner drink, there is also La Terrazza, a beautiful spacious terrace that will no doubt draw in the masses once more people start to discover it.

La Terrazza

There is no other way to describe the service than absolutely terrible. We had to wait forever for our order to be taken, and then forever and ever to actually be served. The waiters also either didn’t know how to answer our questions or, quite unprofessionally, read from the notes they had scrawled onto their menus. Not quite what I was expecting from such a hyped-up, prestigious restaurant brand, but all I can hope for is that this will improve once the restaurant is officially open.

Carne Grande

Thankfully the quality of the food made up for the terrible service. The starters menu is divided into verdure, carne, insalate, pesce and fritti. We chose a few to share between us. The Carne Grande, a platter of cold cuts that includes Parma ham, salami, coppa, testa (head) and lingua (tongue) was beautiful. Proscuitto di Parma is always a winner, but I was also particularly struck by how delicious the testa and the lingua were, the latter lightly fragranced with parsley and citrus.

Baccala with olives and citrus

The Baccala with olives and citrus was divine: a medley of exciting fresh flavours such as grapefruit, mandarin and walnuts to balance the saltiness of the fish. I absolutely loved this dish.

Arancine and Ricotta fritters

From the fritti menu, we tried the Arancine and the Ricotta fritters. Arancine, little risotto balls, are one of my all-time favourite Italian starters as I love the combination of textures of the lightly seasoned risotto, mixed with stringy mozzarella cheese, all coated in crispy breadcrumbs. Although not the best arancine I have ever tasted, the Lupa ones were still very good. The ricotta fritters were interestingly laden with green olives, giving more flavour to the usually fairly bland ricotta cheese. Although the first bite was delicious, after a few more bites the saltiness of the olives became a little overpowering.

Garganelli with oxtail ragu

On to the mains, the Garganelli with oxtail ragu was not quite as exciting as it looked. The pasta was perhaps just a touch too al dente, which took attention away from the delicious melt-in-the-mouth rich sauce. It appeared to still be cooking on the plate however, as the further into the plate we went, the less al dente the pasta became.

Veal Saltimbocca

The Veal Saltimbocca was a real success, the beautifully tender meat first pounded to a thin layer and then topped with prosciutto and sage, all sitting atop a bed of delicious wilted spinach.

Ricotta gnocchi with fennel and sweet sausage

Although very tasty, gnocchi can sometimes sit far too heavily in the stomach, which often puts me off ordering it. The Ricotta gnocchi with fennel and sweet sausage, however, was somehow lighter and softer than usual. The fennel and sweet sausage sauce was wonderful; again it was not too heavy, and I particularly liked the way the slightly bitter fennel taste was balanced by the sweet sausage and tangy tomatoes.

Peanut chocolate bar

The main courses were not huge portions, meaning of course that there was more space for dessert! Two of the desserts we ordered involved chocolate; with only a day to go before the end of Lent, I was determined to not give in and had to resist what looked like incredible desserts. Apparently the Peanut Chocolate Bar was buttery, rich and reminiscent of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. If you like Reese’s, as I do, I can imagine this dessert is a winner.

Lupa Tartufo

Lupa Tartufo was also a hit: a huge ball of creamy hazelnut ice cream encased in dark chocolate sauce – what is there not to like?!

Date Torta

Somewhat reluctantly, but because there were few non-chocolate options that took my fancy and yet I had to have something, I ordered the Date Torta. This incredible tart, which I can only describe as tasting just like Christmas, might have even been better than the chocolate desserts. The pastry was light and crumbly, the filling gently spiced with cinnamon and other Christmassy flavours, and the slightly sharp date jam all corrected my belief that desserts must be chocolate-based.

When prices are as high as Lupa’s (we paid $800 a head!) you obviously want your experience to be perfect. At the moment, this is not yet the case, but if Lupa manages to sort out its problems with service, then it would be on the right track to being a very good Italian restaurant that I would definitely return to. Rustic, delicious-looking pizzas are served on La Terrazza, so I’m definitely keen to go back and see how these fare.

Lupa

3/F LHT Tower
31 Queens Road Central
Hong Kong

Tel: +852 2796 6500

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