Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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The Crêpe Escape

One of my first memories of a stonking good crêpe was back in uni days sinking my teeth into a glorious example of one from La Crêperie de Hampstead, which is London’s most typical Parisian Street Crêperie and rather legendary amongst North Londoners. Fast forward an X number of years (I cringe at the actual number) and a different part of the world, and I’m sitting down in La Crêperie in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. This Brittany restaurant chain is going from strength to strength, with branches in Sheung Wan and Wan Chai, as well as in Shanghai, Vietnam, Taipei and Phnom Penh. Their latest location in L Square in Lockhart Road is more spacious than the others but somehow still feels cosy, with little details that reflect the maritime culture of Brittany.

La Crêperie Causeway Bay

By kind invitation to their new Causeway Bay restaurant, I was able to take my temporary guy-tai friend along with me to nosh on some savoury and sweet pancakes. I was honestly rather excited, as for reasons that escape me, whenever I have tried to go to their Wan Chai branch randomly over the years, it’s always been shut! Though that is probably more my fault than theirs as I recall being struck by a hankering for pancakes at bizarre hours. Anyway, moving on….

So, they did try to tempt me with their Brittany cider (which I later had when I finally went to the Wan Chai branch for dinner with friends a fortnight later, which was delicious – tart with a sweet edge and very refreshing), but as it was a working day, we felt it safe to stick to their apple juice. Whilst this information is not of any import, what I’m trying to express is how much I loved their dinky little bowls that the cider and apple juice were served in. Très mignon! It reminded me of the bowls of hot chocolate my French exchange’s mum used to serve me for breakfast (the only highlight of that hideous exchange programme).Apple cider

La Crêperie’s menu is quite extensive, with most of the ingredients imported from France. The main feature of the menu is of course the famous dish for which Brittany is known for- the galette. Most people are familiar with the normal dessert pancakes, but galettes are the savoury counterparts made with buckwheat and loaded with a variety of tasty fillings.

To accompany the launch of the new branch, there are naturally, new dishes on the menu. Nothing quite whets the appetite, especially when in a ravenous state, than the tempting wafts of black truffle. The black truffle made an appearance on our first dish- two mini galettes ($98). These were cooked (a little on the crispy side) with a quail egg bouncing seductively in the middle, emmental cheese and slices of French cooked ham draped around the egg yolk, before being finished off with aromatic blobs of black truffle paste. These were actually delightful little bites and although the galettes were a tiny bit overcooked on the bottom, they definitely left guy-tai K and I in eager anticipation of the full-scale versions.Mini galettes

Our next starter was the pan-fried foie gras with caramelised apples, apple cider and salted butter caramel sauce. This particular dish was no different to many of the standard foie-gras dishes peppered about HK restaurants, but I was happy to see a generously sized piece and the foie-gras had a gorgeous, crispy, sweet glaze and I did enjoy the accompanying apples which gave the dish a bit of a lift.Pan fried Foie gras

For mains, we shared the new galette on the block- La Capitaine ($128). This seafood creation boasted pan-fried scallops (on point) nestled on a fondue of leek, bacon, cream and flamed with Jameson Irish Whisky. The flavours came together excellently and we wolfed the entire galette down in silence- such was our enjoyment. I love how simply the dish was presented, but don’t be fooled as it is quite filling.La Capitaine

To end, we had the “Sexy Suzette”, which is a celebration of the famous “Crêpe Suzette” and in this version, is served with Mövenpick passion fruit and mango sorbet, lime juice, grilled almonds and flamed with Cointreau (HK$88). The Crêpe was lovely, the sorbet delish (it’s Mövenpick, what’s not to love?), but the Cointreau was just a tad too strong for my taste, though it did jolt me awake just as I was skimming the surface of a food coma.DSC_1893 Sexy Suzette

K and I had a great meal at La Crêperie, and in fact, I returned, this time to their Wan Chai branch, a mere two weeks later (you don’t go in 4 years and then you go twice in a fortnight!). This time I had a more cheesy galette- Les Poulains, which had French raclette cheese, ham, smoked ham, potatoes and pickles lovingly wrapped in a crêpe. Omnomnomnom. Highly recommend this one if you like raclette, and what could be better than raclette in a galette?! And because I was extremely hungry, I followed that up with a sweet pancake. Le Sextant is a deliciously sexy concoction of Vanilla ice cream, caramelized apples and the all popular salted butter caramel. Pancake heaven. Unfortunately my friends, no photos of that particular outing as we were all too busy eating, or perhaps I should just blame it on poor lighting. In any case, if you are craving a serious crêpe escape, look no further than La Crêperie, which is probably coming to a neighbourhood near you, if their popularity is anything to go by!

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

La Crêperie Causeway Bay, 8/F, The L Square, 459-461 Lockhart Rd. Tel: +852 2898 7123 / La Crêperie
WanChai, 1/F, 100 Queen’s Road East. Tel: +852 25299280 / La Crêperie Sheung Wan,G/F, 69 Jervois Street. Tel: +852 26794666

Meal at Causeway Bay was by invitation- many thanks to the kind hospitality at La Crêperie and Jin Communications.


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Marmite, not as you know it

Another new French restaurant graces the streets of Soho. You can also read it on Sassy:

A little slice of Paris has come to Staunton Street. Injecting a little “oh là là” into Soho life, is the new addition to the Aqua group, La Marmite, serving up classic French Bistrot cuisine. The restaurant is not named after that most beloved (or hated) spread, much to the disappointment of my friends who were wondering how many dishes could be created from Marmite, but in actual fact, means cooking pot in French.

Affordable French cuisine can be quite difficult to come by, but La Marmite strives to offer its customers no frills, hearty and authentic French fare without emptying the wallet.

If you’re wondering about how authentic the food is, despair not, as along with Head Chef Renaud Marin, there is an all French team including Michelin-star Chef Philippe Orrico, Pastry Chef Alexis Watrin , and Maitre’d David Noblet.

I want to first of all sing the praises of David Noblet, who is possibly the most patient Maitre’d ever to work in Hong Kong, due to the demands of yours truly. I asked for a table of 12 for dinner on the Saturday night of the Rugby Sevens, and that number steadily expanded on a daily basis to a whopping 18 people on the day. David was lovely, and very good-natured about it all, rearranging furniture and keeping me posted on how they would be able to accommodate all of us. In the end, he managed, fitting our group on the top floor of the restaurant, so we’d have it all to ourselves! David and the Chef also asked that we decide our budget and create our own 3 course set menu from the à la carte, so they would be better able to serve us. After casting votes, my friends and I settled on the Burgundy snails in parsley butter, Foie gras crème brulée and steak tartare to start, followed by the poached Silver Cod, Rabbit Pie, Rack of Lamb or Oxtail for mains. Our desserts were a selection to share, chosen by the Chef.Out of all starters, the firm favourite was the steak tartare which was seasoned wonderfully and extremely fresh, down to the cracked egg on top. I had the foie gras crème brulée which was creamy and smooth and served with sour dough toast. There wasn’t nearly enough toast to spread the foie gras on, but that wasn’t a problem as I ended up eating large spoonfuls of it. Don’t judge.The snails were a hit with the guys; good portion size, well cooked and not overwhelmed by the butter.There was a bit of food envy going on at the table when the mains showed up. Only a couple of people went for the rack of lamb, which looked (and tasted) amazing and those of us who ordered the rabbit pie, were immediately asked to carve it up and distribute precious wedges of it.The Silver Cod was presented simply, and though delicate in taste, could have done with slightly more seasoning.  The oxtail was succulent and served shredded with coquillettes or pasta shells. It didn’t have as much of an impact in flavor, as perhaps was expected, but was nevertheless a pleasing dish. The carnivores amongst you, however, might want to opt for the rabbit pie, which had lovely tender chunks of rabbit, foie gras and also some offal. Herby, bold and extremely delicious. More gravy would’ve been perfect.To finish off, we sampled the tarte tatin, crème caramel and a riz au lait (rice pudding). All three were of a high standard, successfully reflecting the aims of the Aqua group, to have a restaurant with good quality food at decent prices.If you’re a Francophile, or simply want to sit back and relax over a café au lait or wine, look no further than La Marmite. The atmosphere is distinctly Parisian, helped by unpretentious décor- on the walls hang vintage French posters and an open front, reminiscent of Parisian cafes.

Bon appétit mes amis!

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Marmite, 46 Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2803 7808

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Part 2: Relishing the Robatayaki

The best part of my interview with Chef Patrick was, of course, the eating! Here’s what we had:

To start, we had the sashimi served on ice.

“The freshness comes out and is much cleaner when served on ice. You get the wow factor and it’s visually more attractive.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve been eating sashimi and sushi incorrectly…. I just dump all my wasabi into the soya-sauce and dunk the sashimi in!

You should put the amount of wasabi you want, on top of the sashimi or sushi and then put it in the soya-sauce. You mix the flavours in your mouth rather than in the soya-sauce”.

Hmmmm…whoops. What’s this?

“This is the butterfish. It is very difficult for us to attain, but it’s beautiful. Here, the butterfish has a citrus dressing- yuzu (Japanese lemon) with ginger and garlic, served with white asparagus on top of a pesto type dressing (shiso leaf paste mixed with rapeseed oil). The acidic taste brings out the delicate texture of the fish.”

Do you have a favourite fish?

“ I don’t have a favourite fish. And even if I do, I will convince mnyself that I don’t have one. I like to be fair and open-minded and to keep things neutral. If you believe one fish is better than the other, then you will never want to try the other fish, even if it is prepared in a different way!”

After that divine first ‘course’, next up were the Foie gras in plum wine and King Crab Tempura. Both were exquisite!

“The foie gras is marinated in plum wine and poached in its own liquor. Then it is served with seaweed and a squid ink bread. The Red king crab is harder to find than normal crab but has a sweeter texture. Here we serve the tempura with tensu sauce and green tea salt which is the traditional way of serving tempura.”At this point, Chef Patrick orders the house sake and explained how they are working on developing the Shoju they make in-house and how they want to create a bigger and more fun variety of shoju for the customers. At the moment, he says, shoju is not as popular as sake, but he is working on that!

Third course; and he’s ordered the Roka signature Black cod and prawn dumplings and the grilled Hokkaido scallops. There are 3 types of dumplings on the menu, pork and scallop, beef and kimchi and black cod and prawn. The black cod and prawn is more popular in Hong Kong and is therefore not available at their London branches.Last up, before dessert, we had the spicy lamb chops marinated in coriander pepper and served with a cucumber and red onion cleanser. The lamb is from Australia and therefore “milder” to cater for those who aren’t big fans of lamb. Amazingly tender meat, and just the right amount of ‘zing’ for the palate.The classic miso eggplant was delicious but what was utterly incredible was the Black cod in sweet miso sauce. Chef Patrick told me it takes 3 days to prepare this dish, which involves soaking the cod in salt water for 12 hours, drying it out then marinating it for 24 hours. All that work clearly pays off!To end, a sumptuous dessert platter on shaved ice was produced in which was nestled sesame and green tea sorbets and two desserts- the valrhona chocolate cake and the jasmine sundae with yuzu-granite. The jasmine sundae was my favourite, gorgeously refreshing. The whipped jelly cream with layers of orange jelly, strawberry and orange coulis topped with yuzu shaved ice and jasmine icecream (made from jasmine flowers) was a perfect balance of fruitiness, acidic bite and crunchiness.

As you can imagine, I was completely and utterly stuffed after that sumptuous feast, and so very grateful for the opportunity to dine and learn, not just about Roka itself but also about Japanese cuisine, from such a passionate and innovative chef.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Roka, Pacific Place, Level LG1, Shop 002, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. Tel: 3960 5988, info@rokarestaurant.com.hk

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A little slice of Paris

Being a Londoner, I was comforted to find a Soho in Hong Kong too and I was delighted to discover an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and boutiques. A few months ago J and I tried Café de Paris, a small restaurant on Elgin Street. I remember sniggering slightly when I saw the name as it shares its name with a club in London that my friends and I used to visit on many a drunken night at university. However, a club it is not. Instead you will find a quiet bistro, simply and cleverly decorated with a few select pieces of luggage reminiscent of an interior of a 1940s train at the Gare du Nord Paris station.

Last week I had a sudden craving for French onion soup so we went back for dinner to see if the food was as good as I remembered.  Shortly after sitting down, they brought some piping hot French bread with anchovy butter to start. They were doing a foie gras special menu so J ordered a curious starter of foie gras on a tarte tartin while I went for my soup. The foie gras came as a fat piece and J commented that it tasted a bit weird at first as it was like eating dessert, only instead of custard, he had goose liver instead. Overall he liked it but said the foie gras would’ve been better if sliced into 2 smaller pieces rather than 1 big chunk. My soup was delicious- gooey cheese and lots of onions in a wonderful clear broth.

For mains J had the 10 oz steak frites (US Angus rib eye) which came with a side salad, and I had the sole Meunière with steamed potatoes. His steak was well prepared with a generous helping of garlic butter. My sole was perfectly pan fried and very fresh but I was struggling to finish due the huge bowl of soup I had! I loved the French music in the background and the impeccable service made the evening extremely enjoyable. The ambience in the restaurant is lovely and there is a quaint window table where you can sit and just watch the world go by.

Next time I will try to make it to dessert, but that night my stomach just couldn’t accomodate anymore so I was left drooling at the menu and staring longingly at the words “Crême Brûlée”…. sigh.

Chopstick rating: 4/5 for good food and good value

Café de Paris, 23 Elgin Street, Soho, Central. Tel: 2810 0771

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