Head Chef Marco Xodo of Milanese Trattoria Testina on Reimagining Nostalgic Classics

Testina, which recently opened its doors in Central, brings to Hong Kong reimagined classic recipes inspired by the Milanese Trattorias of the 1970s.

Created in collaboration with the team behind Trippa Milano, one of the trendiest restaurants in the city, Testina (the name means “head”), introduces local diners to a largely unexplored aspect of Italian cuisine. The menu focuses on reimagined Lombardy recipes rooted in the old practice of utilising every part of an animal, including lesser known cuts.

Head chef Marco Xodo, a Bombana alumnus, talks us through the concept behind Testina, his career and what to expect from this retro-inspired modern restaurant.

In Conversation with head chef Marco Xodo of Testina

Lombardy native Marco Xodo

What can diners expect from Testina?

Testina is a collaboration between ZS Hospitality Group and Trippa Milano. It is a modern trattoria concept inspired by the philosophy of Trippa, which is to shine a spotlight on offals and rare cuts of meat, transforming the overlooked or lesser-known ingredients into culinary delights. The name Testina, meaning “head” in Italian, is reflective of this philosophy.

The menu at Testina is based on traditional recipes passed down through generations, renewed and refined with my personal style derived from my culinary experiences over the years, presenting soul-satisfying dishes meticulously prepared with sophisticated techniques, to be enjoyed in a retro and cosy ambience.

Can you tell us about the connection with Trippa Milano?

Prior to the opening of Testina, I flew to Milan to work alongside the exuberant chef Diego Rossi in Trippa for three months, to learn deeply about the concept behind it. I was amazed by the range of fresh and quality ingredients that they sourced from local producers, in particular offals, that I had never actually used in my cooking before.

Chef Diego with Chef Marco and the Testina team at Trippa Milano

Testina and Trippa are like brothers, they share the same DNA but have their own personalities. Here in Testina, our philosophy remains the same; almost 90% of our ingredients are imported from Italy, in order to showcase the authentic taste. As for the menu, it is also based on Trippa’s, but with a unique twist. For example, you can find “Vitello Tonnato” in Trippa but “Lingua Tonnata” in Testina. Instead of veal meat, we use veal tongue from Italy which is cooked at low temperature and sliced in carpaccio style, giving an extremely soft texture to eat with light and foamy tuna sauce, and Sicilian capers.

Lombardy cuisine is not as well-known as other Italian regional cuisines. What can we find at Testina that is typical of the area?

Lombardy cuisine can be associated with northern Italian cuisine or regions like Piedmont and Veneto. Due to the relatively colder autumn and winter in the area, people there usually eat heavier food with richer flavours, including proteins like beef, veal and pork as well as risotto and polenta, in order to keep warm. In Testina’s menu we have “Risotto alla Milanese with Pork Cheeks”, which is a very typical Lombardy dish that contains rice, saffron and butter.

How’s Testina different from other Italian restaurants in Hong Kong?

I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with Ms. Elizabeth Chu (the Chairlady of ZS Hospitality Group), who has a vision of bringing innovative, original and quality restaurant concepts to Hong Kong’s ever-growing dining scene. Despite the vast amount of Italian restaurants in Hong Kong, Testina has a unique positioning in the market, with its highlight on the diversity of offal ingredients to use in northern Italian cuisine, presented in a refined setting. What I like about Hong Kong is that diners here are very open-minded and adventurous about trying new things and I hope they will enjoy this new Italian dining experience at Testina.

Testina’s ‘Lingua Tonnata,’ made with veal tongue and tonnata sauce

What are your favourite ingredients to use?

I like exploring all kinds of ingredients. I feel like being a chef is like playing with legos: we can stack up and combine bricks to create a different shape every time. If I had to choose, I’d say meat, especially the unknown cuts which are usually more challenging. Summer is my favourite season for vegetables and fruits.

Tell us about some highlights from the menu.

In addition to “Lingua Tonnata” that I mentioned above, we also have “Testina” Pig’s Head, which is a signature dish named after the restaurant. The pig’s head is slowly cooked for six hours until it becomes soft and tender, then pan-fried. It’s seasoned with black pepper and salt, and topped with salsa verde, which is a green foamy sauce made with parsley, garlic, olive oil and anchovies, and acts as a palate cleanser for the meat. The dish is garnished with turnip top (cime di rapa) and horsedish shavings.

Another highlight is the Tagliatelle with Duck Ragù, our signature pasta. It is made with the same recipe from our brother restaurant Trippa, but we use duck from Beijing that is normally used for Peking duck. The duck is slowly braised twice, first in its own fat, and then again with handpicked duck meat and skin with marsala wine, braising jus and tomato sauce made from roasted cherry tomatoes. It is a time and labour intensive dish that we make with passion.

‘Testina,’ a signature dish made with pig head and salsa verde

Tell us about your background.

I was born in a small town called Seregno, near Milan. Over the past twenty years, I have worked in prestigious kitchens in Europe, Middle East and Asia, including Armani Hotel Dubai and Ritz Carlton Hotel Riyadh. I landed in Shanghai in 2013 to work at 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana as chef de cuisine, where I worked closely with chef Riccardo La Perna to build a solid base for the restaurant, and achieved two Michelin stars in the first year of the Shanghai guide in 2017. After working there for seven and a half years, I joined Hong Kong-based ZS Hospitality Group in late 2021 to open Testina.

Testina, 3/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central; +852 2798 0668

Source: Prestige Online