Wan Chai market is not a location that springs to mind for a French restaurant, but Serge et le Phoque is like a chic tourist quietly taking in the local culture. Strange as the setting may seem at first, interior designer turned restaurateur Charles Pelletier did make a good point when he remarked to me that it was like having a giant TV in their restaurant- all day entertainment and people watching. Their floor-to-ceiling windows give the space a lot of light and coupled with the muted blend of wood, white walls and pistachio green leather booths create an airy, relaxed atmosphere.
Together with Mr. Pelletier, the other powerhouses behind Serge et le Phoque are Chef Frédéric Peneau, former co-owner of famed Le Chateaubriand with Iñaki Aizpitarte and Café Burq and Chef Christophe Pelé, formerly of La Bigarrade. Serge et le Phoque (Serge and the Seal) may be a random appellation, but it was named after and by Peneau’s son Serge, who thought it made sense as another of Peneau’s ventures is Le Dauphin (the Dolphin).
The kitchen produces beautifully plated contemporary French cuisine and Mr. Pelletier explained that they did not want the portions to be too big as their vision is for diners to enjoy their food “with their mouths not their stomachs”. Don’t worry about going hungry though, their 3 course set lunch menu ($250pp) allows you to feel utterly satisfied without being stuffed to the rafters. You may even avoid the dreaded food coma.
The eventual presentation of each dish belies the actual complexity of technique that has gone into it which makes the meal even more of a gastronomic enjoyment. We started with a lovely amuse bouche, a sensational mouthful of toro with raspberry and shiso dressing. For starters the Asparagus with Mizuna and Orange was a heady blast of citrus which could be a little overpowering for some, but the asparagus was crisp-tender.
We loved the thickly sliced Red snapper ceviche which was fresh and bouncy in texture but the real star was the hen egg with squid ink, grilled corn kernels and fried fish. It was one wonderful, gooey mess of deliciousness.
Our surprise middle course had me longing for more. Two pieces of chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe were spot on tender and slightly caramelized.
For mains, the choice is simple but vague- Meat or Fish. As there were two of us, it was only sensible to have one of each. The fish main course was a Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt. For Meat it was Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring. Both dishes had to be admired for their aesthetics but Rach and I felt the pork belly had the edge in terms of a complete taste. The pork was fantastic, its crackling prepared to crunchy perfection and I liked the kick of the Harissa paste. The Red snapper was lovely too but its flavours were less punchy.
To end we had the chocolate lover’s Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts and the Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine which I was most excited about. I love Dacquoise which is traditionally a dessert cake with almond and hazelnut meringue and cream. In their amazing mini bite-sized version, the Vanilla cream and Nougatine made it irresistible and we tried our best to convince them that opening a little shop selling these would be met with much enthusiasm. We also had a taste of their Brie from Alléosse, Paris which was creamy and rich and served with a plum and lemon compote.
It has been a while since I was truly excited about a French restaurant in Hong Kong, and now that it has been open a few months, I think most of the initial hiccups some may have encountered with service have been ironed out. They are sticking to a set menu for both lunch and dinner, where a 4-course dinner set is $550pp or you can have the 3-course Hugo’s menu for 2 which gives you the option of sharing a 1kg Cote de Boeuf ($1450) or a 700g of Quasi d’Agneau ($1250). Lunch is definitely great value and I do think the food and attention to detail, the hospitality of Pelletier and the Wan Chai market entertainment, will make Serge et le Phoque anyone’s regular hangout.
Chopstixfix rating: 4/5
Serge et le Phoque, B2, G/F, Tower 1, The Zenith, 3 Wanchai Rd, Wan Chai, 5465 2000.
Mon 7pm-10.30pm, Tue-Sat noon-2.30pm, 7pm-10.30pm.
This review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong. This tasting was by invite- many thanks team Serge et le Phoque!