Oh là là, and along comes yet another French restaurant, except this little place is slightly different as it’s apparently the first traditional Northern French brasserie on the Hong Kong scene. Replacing Philia on Arbuthnot Road, but retaining the DJ booth for private functions, (not sure if busting out Eminem and Beyoncé is good for the ambience, but meh), Brasserie de L’ile is casual; a place for people watching, having a café au lait or enjoying a quick meal and warm, buttered, crusty bread. Like the function of brasseries in France, the turnover is quick, but that doesn’t mean you can’t while away the time sipping on Chardonnay. The menu is not too dissimilar to what you’d find in other French eateries in Hong Kong, but Northern French cuisine seems to be all about moules-frites, and Brasserie de L’ile delivers. The mussels are exceptional. We had a mahoosive 800g pot of the Ibérique mussels with chorizo, which is enough to feed a nation, though you can also have the slightly easier-to-manage half-portion if you don’t want to feel like a beached whale afterwards. The mussels were exquisite; small and therefore packed with flavour, the soup was delicious and tastes even better when a hunk of buttered bread soaks it up. Definitely the best mussels I’ve had in HK thus far. They also came with homemade fries which were drool-worthy.For starters we had the Cold Cut platter of homemade pork (locally sourced) rillette and terrine, Bayonne ham and saucisson, and also the Warm Goat’s Cheese salad. I adored the terrine, which had a lovely hint of fruitiness from the prunes. The rillette on the other hand was barely flavoured and extremely light, and needed a flavour boost from a slice of saucisson and a piece of bread. The goat’s cheese salad was superb. I’m a cheese fiend, so it doesn’t bother my nose at all if the cheese is smelly and strong, but those of you who shy away from goat’s cheese normally, may enjoy this salad as Chef Bruno Gautier imports the very mild, young, soft Soignon Saint Maure cheese from France. The slices of cheese were ever so slightly grilled to a translucent pallor and had a light herby seasoning. I was really having a wonderful meal and it didn’t stop with the starters and mussels. We were treated to a plate of Steak Tartare which was excellent as well. The beef had a fantastic chunky, coarse texture and was seasoned and spiced wonderfully.Chef Bruno told us that steak tartare should always be prepared not more than fifteen minutes beforehand and at de L’ile, they mix in the egg by hand and cut it coarsely with a knife, rather than use a machine as in other establishments. I think it made all the difference to the taste, as I’ve not previously enjoyed a steak tartare to this level. Or maybe I was high from the outstanding but strong cup of coffee I had at the start and a glass of wine. But I don’t think so. It was genuinely tasty. To end the meal, we had these gorgeous tiny profiteroles. They were ‘pop-in-your-mouth’ goodness. The food’s great, the prices are extremely reasonable, so what’s the catch? If you’re deaf, then this place is perfect for a laid-back meal with friends on a sunny day. However, the noise pollution on Arbuthnot Road is truly horrendous, horns blaring, trucks trundling slowly by, which is a mighty shame because the place is very inviting when they open it out at the front. Maybe it was an off-day, but it’s not the best place for wooing, unless you want to use a megaphone to shout those three little words.
Chopstixfix rating: 4/5
Brasserie de L’ile, 4 Arbuthnot Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2147 2389. Opening times: 12pm to 1am – Monday to Saturday
You can also read this review on Sassy.