The giant of Italian cooking who has driven his native cuisine forward over 25 years in Asia
Federico Fellini’s film, 8½, famously explores the artist’s struggle for creativity and search for greater meaning in life. Despite naming his restaurant after the Italian director’s cinematic masterpiece, Umberto Bombana appears to wrestle with no such demons. Instead, this culinary auteur has long thrived on the daily challenges of thrilling diners across Asia with his exquisite Italian dishes.
After almost a quarter of a century cooking in Asia, Bombana is established as not only the most high profile but also the most influential Italian chef in the region. His signature restaurant, 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong, remains the only Italian restaurant outside Italy to hold three Michelin stars – a status it has retained for six years now – and has been a mainstay in the higher reaches of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list since the regional ranking’s inception in 2013.
A bastion of contemporary luxury, the 55-cover dining room is located in the Landmark Alexandra designer mall in the Central district. From its opening in 2010, bagging a table here has been one of the hottest tickets in town, initially building on the reputation Bombana established during a long stint heading the kitchen at Toscana in the city’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. Now it pulls in gourmet travellers from across the globe eager to experience the chef’s distinctive and highly contemporary cuisine, albeit with roots firmly planted in tradition.
In recent years, the Bombana restaurant empire has spread further, encompassing equally feted fine dining manifestations in Shanghai, Beijing and Macau, as well as two versions of his trattoria concept, CIAK, in HK. In all his destinations, the focus on high-quality produce – from caviar and lobster to veal and truffles – remains paramount.
However, the Bergamo-born chef does not limit himself to the ingredients of his homeland, adapting many local favourites such as abalone and sea urchin into his menus, pushing Italian cuisine forward in the process. Bombana, humble and easy-going in person, says it is Asian diners that motivate him to meet world-class standards. “Introducing Italian cuisine to Chinese guests taught me the importance of being progressive, dynamic and creative and has shaped the way I work,” he adds.
Not by chance, though, is Bombana known as ‘the King of white truffles’; his seasonal truffle menus have become a luxury dining fixture for Asia’s wealthy but discerning gourmets. Such elevation of the already esteemed fungus to cult status has earned him recognition from back home – he is a Worldwide Ambassador of the White Truffle – as well as multiple accolades in Asia.
Ultimately, the chef-restaurateur is more akin with Fellini himself – creative, talented and influential – than with the film director’s tortured alter ego in 8½. Bombana sees the food he creates, and the happiness he hopes it triggers, as a joyful celebration of Italian art and culture. The fact that he succeeds is the achievement of a lifetime.
8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
18 Chater Road
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2537 8859
Read the interview with Chef Bombana