Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong

Appealing to the Sens-es?

3 Comments

Private kitchens are so intriguing to us expats. When I first moved to HK and heard about them, I remember thinking that the label ‘private’ gives these places such an air of mystery and, for lack of a better word, coolness. The idea of knowing about a secret place to eat is appealing and fun, and more often than not, they make great venues for group dining. And for a while these mini restaurants, holed up in apartments or random, seemingly abandoned or dodgy-looking buildings held their appeal and garnered a strong following of patrons eager to have something different or perhaps better than what we can get at a regular restaurant.  From what I recall, many of the private kitchens used  to price their meals extremely reasonably as well, which made me feel that I had stumbled across not only an eatery that many did not know about, but also a place that served fantastic food at fantastic prices. What’s not to love? However, all good things must come to an end, and I feel that this is the case with some private kitchens beginning to lose sight of what used to make them so attractive, including high prices and serving food that strives too hard to set itself apart from everything else on offer. This was the case with newly opened private kitchen, Sens, which opened its apartment doors in February and specialises in ‘modern French Asian fusion’. Blending two or more cuisines together takes a certain amount of bravery, especially as not all flavours and ingredients necessarily work together. I sometimes think that the novelty of making a ‘collage’of cuisines becomes the element that a chef relies on, rather than the taste. With Sens set up in a residential apartment in Causeway Bay and sitting only six to eight people at a time and for one sitting only, it makes for a cosy environment.

Sens Private Dining

Sens Private Dining

A group of seven friends and I went along one Sunday evening last month, guaranteeing a night of good company. Corkage is 50HKD (private kitchens have started charging for corkage which I find irritating!) , but with everyone working the next day, it ended up being a fairly non-alcoholic night, with eight us sharing a very sensible one bottle- livers saved, hooray! Our friendly host, Joy, who opened Sens with her chef partner Michael Druont, welcomed us into her home, which had been cleared to make way for the prettily decorated dining table in the centre. Full respect to Chef Druont who we observed navigating a typically sized HK kitchen (i.e. TINY) with impressive skill, (I can barely cook bacon and eggs without making my kitchen a complete bomb-site, I have no idea how he churned out a 6-course meal replete with presentation).

I accidentally blew out the candle!

I accidentally blew out the candle!

Chef Druont, who had his own restaurant, Fleur de Sel, in France and subsequently worked in San Francisco and then for Starwood Hotels in New Caledonia, has a passion for French fusion and since his move to Asia, has been passionate about combining Eastern cuisine influences with French. At Sens, he has created a six-course degustation menu for $800 per person, a rather hefty price for a private kitchen, especially when I can have a veritable feast at that price at some fantastic restaurants in HK. So was the meal worth that pricing? Ingredients-wise, yes, I can see why they would want or need to charge that much as the menu was very seafood-heavy with uni, roe, scallops and jellyfish and also included duck and foie gras. However, we all were in agreement that there was not a particular dish out of the six that really wowed us.

To start there were Canapés- a fairly standard plate of tasty mini bites of prosciutto with sun-dried tomatoes, smoked salmon wound around cream cheese and smoked ham.

Canapés

Canapés

A pre-course taster was an Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto which was creamy and well-seasoned, whetting the appetite for the entrees and mains. Our first entree was the scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa. If I had to choose one dish that I enjoyed the most, this would be it. The scallop was quite perfectly prepared and I liked the contrasting nuttiness and texture of the qunioa against the bouncy scallop. The foie gras was a little over-seared but added a good, fatty flavour to the dish.

Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto

Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto

Scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa

Scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa

The prettiest dish of the night was the next entree- Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé. The ikura (salmon roe) were fresh and the egg nicely poached. Presentation was lovely, but the addition of the jellyfish coupled with the roe AND the uni created an overpowering taste of the sea that drowned the petite egg and its glorious yolk. I would have much preferred the egg served with the jellyfish and the roe only, or just with the uni, to bring out the best in one of those ingredients.

Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé

Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé

Our first main was chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce. The ravioli filling was quite tasty but the pasta was a little dense. None of the flavours in that dish particularly stood out and the mushroom sauce tasted a lot like the asparagus and mushroom consommé that we had at the beginning. I think it would have been better if there was less sauce and the clams and the chicken did the talking.

Chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce

Chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce

Our penultimate main was a filet of Seabass on a bed of puy lentils and baby pak choi. The topping of roe gave this dish a wonderful burst of colour but the presentation was not enough to carry it through, as sadly the seabass was a tad overcooked. The lentils did not add anything to the dish and were lacklustre.

Seabass with puy lentils

Seabass with puy lentils

If the last two mains had made an impact or had been prepared perfectly, it would have saved the menu somewhat, but our final main- duck breast with raspberry sauce, was also overcooked for some of us (I was fortunate and had the slightly pinkier section of the duck). This for me was something that was fundamental, especially when you are charging your patrons $800 per head.

Duck breast with raspberry sauce

Duck breast with raspberry sauce

With the mains finished, we had our dessert to look forward to and we were told to expect their signature dish which arrived in the form of a Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit. The idea behind this dessert was clever. I liked the creativity of using tomatoes as a sweet, but the execution was poor. The tomato itself was not sweetened and the accompanying rosemary cream was savoury. When mixed with the berry confit, the concoction was fairly unpleasant. I commend Chef Druont’s attempt to fuse these flavours together, but unfortunately I ended up feeling like my palate was stuck awkwardly in no-man’s land of neither savoury nor sweet. The cream reminded me of roast lamb (I am sure this was not his intention) and the tomato was not only not sweet, it was bland.

Signature special Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit

Signature special Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit

Sens has a long way to go if it wants to establish itself. Chef Druont’s ability to present his dishes is good, but the ingredients and the flavours need some further thought. The menu was too seafood and too cream heavy and the sauce flavours too similar. The ambience was a little stiff and the lighting a little too fluorescent and harsh to make this a really intimate dining experience. I keep coming back to the pricing, but honestly, at $800 per person with corkage fee (I know that at $50 this may seem nominal but most private kitchens do not charge), I would expect much much more for my money. The dessert was extremely disappointing and I hope that they take the time to improve the execution as I believe Sens does have the potential and is worth keeping an eye on. But for now, they should experiment and perfect their menu.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

$$$$$$$$$$

Sens Private Dining and Catering, B3, Floor 25, Pearl City Mansion, 22-36 Patterson Street, Causeway Bay. Tel: 6165 5483

{This was by invitation (only me though) but the rest of my party paid for theirs and I split the bill with the rest of them}

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Author: chopstixfix

Michelle Ng is a Brit born Chinese-Malaysian who has loved food since time immemorial. She is a firm believer in "Live to Eat, not Eat to Live".

3 thoughts on “Appealing to the Sens-es?

  1. I’ve been long intrigued by the idea of Hong Kong’s private kitchens but upon arriving here and researching them have found most of them actually unattainable due to cost or the amount of people required for a booking. The dream was to find hidden little gems, as you say, tucked away in people’s homes…places that felt ‘homey’ and slightly illicit. The advertising alone seems to belie the myth of a lot these places, not to mention the price tags. Have you found any that you think really fit the mould of what a private kitchen SHOULD be? I’d be really interested to try any recommendations as this is a huge part of what we wanted to uncover in Hong Kong.

    • Hey waterfallsandcaribous! Thanks for following the blog and for your comment. There are a few private kitchens which I think fit the mould of homey, and slightly ghetto with good prices but they are Sichuan! Si Jie and Yu Chuan (both in Wan Chai) definitely epitomise my idea of a private kitchen. I also enjoyed my dinners at Gong Guan, a Shanghainese in Sheung Wan. I recently went to White House Kitchen in Causeway Bay which was quite nice but the prices edge towards the $500 mark.

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