Testina, the first opening of 2022 for ZS Hospitality Group, swung open its doors in early February following a windfall of stars (of the Michelin variety) to the restaurant group’s portfolio. ZS Hospitality Group’s Ying Jee Club, Hansik Goo and Whey were recently awarded two Michelin stars and one Michelin star respectively, adding to the star power of the group.
Testino, which means “head” in Italian, takes a nose-to-tail approach to modern Italian cuisine. Created in partnership with acclaimed Milan-based restaurant Trippa Milano, Testino pulls authentic flavours from the traditional Italian dining table and reimagines them, creating elevated, refined dishes. Echoing the ethos behind Trippa Milano, Testino incorporates “every part of the animal” on its menu, ranging from offal to rare cuts of meat, giving the dishes robust flavour and unique texture.
Head Chef Marco Xodo has over two decades of experience cooking in Italian kitchens across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He was most recently the chef de cuisine at two-Michelin-starred 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana Shanghai before making the move to Hong Kong. He spent several months at Trippa Milano with Chef Diego Rossi to understand the restaurant’s concept in order to bring an authentic experience to diners in Hong Kong.
Upon walking into the venue, guests are transported to another time and place via the convivial, rustic interior varnished with a touch of retro. Mustard-yellow walls, palladiana flooring, plush olive-green furnishings and an easy-going soundtrack of Italian classics evoke the breezy vibes of Milanese trattorias of the 1970s. The main dining room comfortably seats 34 diners, with an additional five seats at the bar counter. There’s also a private dining room catering to gatherings of up to eight.
Both tasting menus ($588 or $788/person) and à-la-carte options are on offer. Not wanting to overthink things, we left our menu selection in the trusted hands of Chef Xodo.
Since the onset of dining restrictions, we’ve developed a nifty habit of day drinking – after all, it’s six o’clock somewhere in the world! We started with pretty glasses of bicicletta ($108), a Campari, soda and wine blend, and amaro sour ($118), a fruity concoction infused with citrusy notes. Both drinks transported us to a sunny, summery day beside the Italian seaside – a travel destination we desperately crave to return to.
There is no shying away from carbohydrates at Testina; the bread basket is a bountiful contrast of textures, ranging from crispy bread batons, to chewy sourdough, to fluffy olive oil-infused focaccia.
The lingua tonnata ($278) is a slight variation on the classic Italian dish of vitello tonnato, using veal tongue instead of veal loin. We really enjoyed the slightly chewy texture of the tongue; it helps to prolong the enjoyment of the rich, umami tuna sauce on the palate. We used the bread to wipe off every last drop of that delicious, creamy sauce.
We’re not big on eating offal, so the trippa fritta ($198) did give us pause. However, we went with our gut instinct (no pun intended!) and trusted the chef – and were pleasantly rewarded with fried honeycomb beef tripe infused with the aroma of rosemary. The crunchy strips reminded us of pork crackling, but with more chew. This is a quirky starter that goes perfectly with drinks.
We recently encountered the Montoro onion at nearby Italian fine diner Estro, and we instantly loved the delicate sweetness of this root vegetable from south-western Italy. In the Montoro roasted onion and Sicilian capers ($168) dish at Testina, the onion is slow-roasted with olive oil and salt to enhance its sweetness. The onion’s flavour is contrasted with briny capers and dried tomatoes for extra pops of flavour. Airy, crunchy cubes of toasted bread add textural contrast, and the creamy potato and onion sauce melds all the flavours.
The homemade tagliatelle with duck ragu ($228) utilises the same variety of duck used for Peking duck. The duck is slow-cooked, then pulled apart to create a luscious sauce. A fresh, herby bouquet helps to lift and lighten the rich sauce.
The gnocchi di zucca ($178) sits on an umami-rich bed of Parmesan fondue and is topped with crumbled sausage and Parmesan shavings. The single large pumpkin gnocchi is quite light and fluffy, and its natural sweetness strikes a delicious balance with the savoury cheese and sausage accompaniments.
This was our first time trying codfish tripe ($288), and the sticky, gelatinous texture reminded us of fish maw. The only difference is that Chinese fish-maw dishes are made with rehydrated and dried fish maw, while Testina’s version uses fresh fish maw. Paired with spicy ’nduja sausage and bell peppers, this dish packs quite the punch. The sticky sauce uses a technique similar to pil-pil sauce from Spain’s Basque Country, where garlic, olive oil and cod are prepared with constant motion to emulsify the fat into a sauce. Fresh garden peas add pops of sweetness, while the frothy white polenta, usually paired with fish in Italian dishes, adds a creamy finish in order to neutralise the palate. Amalfi lemon zest provides a touch of freshness.
A nod to the restaurant’s name, the pig’s head with salsa verde ($258) is a hearty, wintry dish paired with robust greens and Romanesco florets. Flesh and fat from the pig’s head is slow-cooked for six hours, then pressed into a terrine and pan-seared to perfection. Topped with horseradish shavings, this sticky, collagen-rich dish is worth the calorie splurge.
Speaking of calorie splurges, the charcoal-grilled bone marrow ($188) is another worthy contender. Accompanied by toasted sourdough and a herb salad, which acts as a palate cleanser, this decadent dish is best shared. With just a sprinkle of sea salt, it’s heart-stoppingly decadent.
Because two desserts are always better than just one, our meal concluded with a summery mulberry tart ($118) over a bed of mascarpone cream and a crumbly hazelnut cake ($148) in a pool of Piedmont hazelnut zabaglione. The hazelnut cake feels like a warm hug on a cold day, one of the rare occasions when hazelnut is a main flavour highlight and not eclipsed by the use of chocolate.
Testina offers a uniquely exceptional dining experience that dances between the boundaries of rustic Italian comfort eating and fine-dining finesse. We thoroughly enjoyed the use of often overlooked cuts of meat in this elevated setting. We recommend going for the chef’s selection of dishes – all you have to do is sit back and enjoy, perhaps with a few cool glasses of bicicletta alongside.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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