I don’t know if it’s the dim lighting, abundance of wine or frou-frou waiters wishing you “bon appetit” at every turn, but there’s something about Italian restaurants that just fits in with a date night. When the hubby and I headed to Michelin-starred IL Milione in Central for dinner, I knew we were in for a treat. This restaurant is all about formal fine dining, from the white tablecloths to the fancy silverware to spiffy servers coming around every five minutes to refill your water glass.
The dining room is beautifully bathed in a golden light cascading from the circular gold mirrors along the ceiling. Amidst the sophisticated setting, we immediately put on our “formal airs” — straight posture, phones away and folded napkins across our laps (this lasted up until we were distracted by the arrival of the warm bread basket!).
Helmed by Culinary Director Chef Antonio Varriano, the menu here focuses on using simple, seasonal ingredients in rustic preparations. The Umbrian region is best known for its truffle, cured meats and olive oil — a good sign of what was to come! First up, the drinks — IL Milione has a fantastic selection of vintage-style cocktails, whiskeys, brandies and customised gin & tonics, which range from lemongrass to grapefruit to lime zest & juniper berries. While I’ve never had a lemongrass gin & tonic, it certainly sounds intriguing.
On this occasion, I opted for the Japanese Grape cocktail, made from vodka, creme de kyoho, pineapple juice and egg white — simultaneously light and strong, the flavours were perfectly complementary, coming pretty darn close to my perfect cocktail! Also worth noting was the hubby’s Smoky Old Fashioned — the smoke was infused table side which was delightful for us to watch and also gave the drink an extremely potent smokey aroma, definitely a “man’s drink”!
In a good mood already, we turned our attention to the dinner menu, which offers a spread of antipasti, pastas, seafood, and meat, including a hefty 1.2kg Florentine steak. Instead of spending ages poring over the menu, we chose to simplify things and go with one order of the degustation menu ($1,190 per person) and a few dishes at random off the à la carte.
The degustation menu started with a skewer of prawn and scallops with seawater spring onion and edible flowers. This dish was sophisticated, light and refreshing, and the perfect way to kick off the meal. The scallops and shrimp were plump and tender, and allowed to shine with just a faint complementary aroma from the seawater.
Following the skewer came a platter of ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese, pear and mint. Again, this dish was just enough to whet the appetite without being overpowering. I particularly loved the accompanying pea purée with burrata flakes — delicious! My only complaint was that the ravioli wrapper was a bit hard and would have benefited from a few more minutes of cooking time.
Of course we couldn’t resist ordering lobster when we spotted it on the menu — here it comes breaded, swimming in a spicy lobster bisque with coconut flavoured polenta. It was altogether a beautiful preparation and equally palate-pleasing, with varying textures from the foam, bread crumbs and polenta. We only wished there was more lobster meat (but isn’t that always the case?)
Only two words come to mind when recalling the caramelized fois gras in a port wine reduction: pure bliss. It was entirely gluttonous, in other words, exactly what I would want to be served at my last supper! The smooth and creamy fois gras was enhanced by the rich, sweet reduction, and we couldn’t help but devour the plate, despite the blow to our arteries.
Onto the mains — off the degustation menu came a Surf and Turf, beef tenderloin and lobster prepared with two sauce reductions. The bite of cream-soaked lobster was perfect while the beef was tender but could have done with a bit more seasoning. The carrot and zucchini matchsticks seemed a bit out of place, but I suppose you need to give the illusion of healthiness at some point?
Off the regular menu, we chose the Wild Boar rack served with pear jam and red onions. I had never tried boar before, and thought I would take this chance to expand my culinary horizons. The meat was pleasant and tasty enough with a slightly sweet, nutty quality — definitely not as gamey as I would have expected, although I can safely say I still prefer beef! The hubby loved this dish, enjoying the departure from the usual steak or pork.
Sufficiently stuffed, we carved out what little stomach space we had left for something sweet. Off the degustation menu came this lovely molten lava cake (always a winner in my book) that was just as it should be: oozing at the break of the fork with lush, velvety, sinfully sweet melted chocolate, offset by cool bites of vanilla ice cream.
In the name of food research, we also opted for another delectable-sounding dessert off the dolci menu, pumpkin cream with crumbles of wild berries, peanut sorbet and fried sage. It tasted as whimsical as it sounds; the pumpkin cream was maybe a bit much (would have been better with a few dime-sized dollops as decoration) but the peanut sorbet and wild berry crumble together was simply divine.
For the quality of ingredients, preparation and service you’re getting, it’s reasonable that prices at IL Milione are a cut above your average date night Italian spot, with starters from $200 and mains from $300. This is definitely the place to spend and splurge on special occasions or when you really just need an enchanting evening away from changing nappies and eating Pizza Hut delivery with the kids! We fully enjoyed our experience at IL Milione, and will be back soon to ‘rekindle the romance’.
IL Milione, G16 – 21, G/F Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Road, Central, Hong Kong, 2481 1120, www.il-milione.com