At his newly opened restaurant Estro, Antimo Maria Merone pushes the boundaries of Neapolitan eating. We speak to the chef about his nation’s delicacies and its daring evolution past the peninsula.
Getting into Estro, chef Antimo Maria Merone’s new restaurant in Central’s Duddell’s Avenue, you’re transported into one other dimension. Clearly influenced by artwork, a millennial aesthetic, auteur films and, in a really delicate method, the chef’s hometown of Naples, the spacious eating room appears to be like like no different restaurant in Hong Kong.
Nonetheless, don’t look forward to finding Amalfi lemons on the tables or pseudo-vintage chairs from conventional trattorias of the Sixties. As a substitute, Merone labored with celebrated designer André Fu to create an area that takes inspiration from the elegant salotti (dwelling rooms) of the nineteenth century. Fu reimagined this idea by including up to date furnishings, eccentric wallpapers and a splash of cosmopolitan class, which you’ll additionally discover in Merone’s haute Italian menu.
Merone is a part of an avant-garde of Italian cooks who’re making an attempt to redefine the which means and evolution of their delicacies around the globe. Though he strongly believes that what he’s doing at Estro isn’t distinctive, he’s decided to indicate the variety, adaptability and fine-dining potential of Italian meals. Past consolation and ease, which made the delicacies from the peninsula one of the fashionable and well-known on the planet, there’s certainly much more to discover.
Merone talks right here about Italian delicacies, the which means of authenticity and the idea behind Estro.
Chef Antimo Maria Merone on Estro
Inform us about your profession.
I began cooking professionally after I was 25, which is fairly late. I had a 10-year hole from a few of my colleagues as a result of I studied finance first and determined to comply with my ardour later. Professionally, I began cooking in Berlin. Then, prompted by my household, I went to Alma [cookery school] to review Italian delicacies. After that, I labored for Philippe Léveillé at Miramonti l’altro, and that’s why I moved to Asia as a result of he opened a restaurant in Hong Kong and I got here right here as his head chef. In 2014, I began working with chef Umberto Bombana and moved to Macau in 2015 to helm Otto e Mezzo Bombana there, the place I labored for six years. Estro is my first private venture. My spouse, who’s a neighborhood designer, was closely concerned within the aesthetics of the restaurant and got here up with loads of particulars that make the restaurant what it’s.
What’s the concept behind Estro and the way lengthy did it take you to finalise the idea?
Estro is a dream that has been in my drawer for a very long time and that fortunately grew to become actuality. I’d been pondering of opening my very own house for some time however I didn’t even know the place to do it. I used to be in Macau and I couldn’t even visualise my restaurant. Final 12 months I obtained caught right here in Hong Kong due to Covid and I began pondering that perhaps it was the best time to deal with what I wished to do and to start out engaged on an idea or a marketing strategy. I put down some concepts and I began to visualise what I had in my thoughts when it comes to the aesthetics of the house, the meals I wished to serve and the story behind the restaurant. I additionally began to speak to potential traders and I created a small deck.
What I wished from the start was a powerful sense of heritage. I’m from Naples and though I’ve spent greater than half of my life overseas, it’s nonetheless the place that has a particular place in my coronary heart and it at all times will. The thought was to create a restaurant with Naples in its coronary heart and the remainder of the world in its thoughts. I’m happy with my origins they usually signify a giant supply of inspiration, however on the identical time, they’re not limiting my creativity of the chances of what I can do and discover.
Estro, which suggests inspiration in Italian, is various. Sure, we’re making an attempt to refine some historic dishes however we’re additionally making an attempt to make use of substances that don’t exist within the South of Italy and, taking it out of context, we method it in a Neapolitan or fully totally different method. I would like the meals to be important, evocative and it has to signify me. I’m not saying Estro is particular or distinctive, nevertheless it’s distinctively mine.
Discuss us by means of the restaurant’s design and aesthetic.
I had a number of conferences with André Fu, who designed the house and did a tremendous job. I principally gave him some references about Napoli, the outdated city and the aristocratic salottos typical of the nineteenth century, situated in enormous residences with excessive ceilings. We’ve got some retro-chic parts, wallpaper and different references to that. All these inspirations have been reimagined by means of the eyes of André, a neighborhood designer who translated this for Hong Kong. He mentioned earlier than that the house is impressed by my character, which he considers to be eclectic.
Do you suppose Estro may work in Italy?
Sure, truly. The method is up to date and it may additionally work in Naples. After all, the connection between the market, the dishes and the concept behind them is at all times direct. So, perhaps, it might be even simpler for me to serve this meals there, as a result of some dishes are actually a click on into your reminiscence. In the event you’re a child from the South, you’ll immediately recognise the inspiration behind these reinterpreted dishes in a second. Right here, it’s totally different. I’m telling a narrative that most individuals are experiencing for the primary time. If I have been in Italy, I’d most likely use extra Asian substances and influences, as a result of it’s a part of my story and who I’m.
Do you suppose the notion of Italian delicacies as fantastic eating is altering?
Completely. And I’m tremendous completely satisfied to be a part of this period by which Italian meals is type of evolving. Not the meals itself, however the conception of what Italian delicacies is and what might be achieved with it. Outdoors of Italy, it’s been extraordinarily tough for my colleagues who got here earlier than me to vary the notion most individuals have of our delicacies. There are only a few examples of people that’ve been profitable in making an attempt to push the boundaries of Italian delicacies outdoors of the nation.
One is certainly Luca Fantin in Tokyo, who’s been doing it for 10 years. He’s pushing and pushing to vary this conception and present how various, difficult and fascinating Italian meals might be. It’s actually exhausting and reductive to summarise our delicacies to, say, 10 comforting dishes that everybody loves. There are such a lot of regional variations and dishes and ramifications inside every area.
What’s much more fascinating is that, whereas we’ve got an historic historical past, Italy is a brand new nation. We’ve been unified for 160 years. Every space has a really totally different historical past and subsequently culinary custom and heritage. No person has ever written an encyclopaedia of Italian meals the place every part is categorised and labeled. Italian delicacies isn’t codified like French delicacies is, for instance. There’s an interesting micro-diversity that provides numerous potentialities. Even the idea of authenticity may be very various relying on the place you’re from and your expertise.
How do you discover the stability between custom, innovation and telling a narrative in every dish?
The road may be very skinny. What I attempt to do is to maintain the preliminary flavour of it alive and intensify it, to enter its roots to wash it up. With the primary chew it’s good to expertise the unique flavour. I feel a very powerful factor is to actually push the depth of the flavour to its full potential.
Are you able to speak us by means of one dish that represents your philosophy and Estro?
Our Genovese, which at first I believed was too rustic to place into the menu. It’s a super-traditional recipe from Naples, our ragù. What we do at house is to prepare dinner the pasta with the sauce after which use the meat afterwards as one other dish. Right here at Estro, I don’t prepare dinner the meat with the onions. The roasted onions change into a jus after which, individually, I prepare dinner a brief rib. This jogs my memory of the standard sequence of consuming it in my household, served in a small single chew.
That is the primary restaurant you’ve opened as chef-founder. Have been you scared earlier than launching Estro?
Sure. A restaurant like it is a large funding. I’m turning 40 and I stored pondering, “This must work out.” Then there have been all of the expectations once we opened the restaurant. I used to be scared that we weren’t prepared, that we weren’t the place we wanted to be. I feel, ultimately, I’m very glad, I feel we opened at a time once we have been able to ship the idea in the best method, when it comes to service and the meals we serve. After all, there are nonetheless issues we’re engaged on.
What are a few of your favorite eating places in Hong Kong?
VEA by Vicky Cheng, Caprice and Yardbird.
PHOTOGRAPHY ALISON KWAN