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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Serge et le Phoque- C’est Magnifique!

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.IMG_9197 Serge et le Phoque

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.

Their menu is seasonal and changes once a month, with all ingredients flown in from Japan or Europe, but all their meat is from Hugo Desnoyer, the famous Parisian butcher.Simplicity and elegance

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.

Amuse bouche- toro with raspberry and shiso dressing

Amuse bouche- toro with raspberry and shiso dressing

Asparagus with mizuna and orange

Asparagus with mizuna and orange

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.

Red snapper ceviche

Red snapper ceviche

Hen egg with squid ink, girlled corn kernels

Hen egg with squid ink, girlled corn kernels

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Fried fish- too addictive!

Fried fish- too addictive!

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.

Chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe

Chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe

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.

Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt

Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt

Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring

Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring

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.

Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts

Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts

Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine

Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine

 Brie from Alléosse

Brie from Alléosse

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!


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Appealing to the Sens-es?

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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A touch of France in a Le Creuset dish- Bistro Du Vin

French restaurants and their air of je ne sais quoi seem to generate much excitement in HK, leaving people all hot under the collar. With a bevy of unpretentious French eateries popping up around town of late (e.g. La Cantoche, Les Fils a Maman), Bistro Du Vin in Kennedy Town is the newest addition to the scene. Created by Les Amis Group who also own Piccolo Pizzeria and Cepage, it’s already attracted a fair bit of attention with its rustic, home-style and finely executed dishes.

Kennedy Town, like the other hip foodie hotspot Tai Hang, is starting to come into its own and Bistro Du Vin is another reason to hop on that tram, enjoy the ride west and explore the area.

Bistro Du Vin

Bistro Du Vin

The interior is welcoming and eclectic with a lovely collection of unconventional but distinctly French antiques; delicate drawings of can-can dancers, Mickey Mouse vintage prints and tastevins (small metal cups used in times gone by to assess wine by candlelight) adorn the walls in a charmingly haphazard manner.

Bistro Du Vin's eclectic interior

Bistro Du Vin’s eclectic interior

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The owner’s passion for wines from the Burgundy region is evident by the extensive wine collection housed at the back of the restaurant, which in itself adds a decorative flair to an establishment, capturing the essence of a Parisian bistro quite successfully.

The interior creates the right ambience, but what about the food? The compact menu has a good selection of ‘Les Charcuterie, Pate et Rillettes’, ‘Les Entrees, ‘Les Oeufs’ and ‘Les Plats Prinicpaux’, as well as the all-important ‘Les Desserts’. A mini chalkboard at each table showcases the appealing selection of daily specials; that day, I sampled the baby squid a la plancha as well as the bouillabaisse. But before plunging into the mains, the homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes were an absolute must.

Daily specials on mini chalkboards

Daily specials on mini chalkboards

All three were superbly prepared, with both the pork and duck paté vying for attention from my knife! The duck paté was beautifully smooth and rich, and was scrumptious with the sourdough bread. Given a choice, I normally prefer rillettes as I’m a particular fan of its more rustic texture, and in this case the fat-encased duck rillettes came out top, with me eating it on its own (no bread required!) and having to stop the waiter from whisking it away.

Homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes

Homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes

The baby squid a la plancha were delightfully fresh and I adored the simple seasoning and squeeze of lemon that brought out the flavours. This was definitely one of the highlights of the meal.

Baby squid a la plancha

Baby squid a la plancha

Although the bouillabaisse, presented with aplomb in a blue Le Creuset dish, was teaming with sea life (mussels, prawns, crabs, fish), the thin broth was lacking the robust flavours that would have reflected the many hours of stewing – though it still makes for a great way to fight off our current cold spells!

Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

Egg-lovers will be interested in the ‘Les Oeufs’ section and I would be surprised if diners didn’t enjoy the home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce. The brandade, traditionally an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil, was perfectly salted and tasted heavenly with the runny yolk and Hollandaise sauce. Espelette pepper is a variety of chili pepper that was originally cultivated in Espelette in the Basque region but is now also grown in other areas; the addition of the pepper here gave the hollandaise a slight smoky tang and sweetness, rather than the heat or strength one might expect from a chilli.

Home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce

Home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce

The usual French fare of coq au vin or duck leg confit caught my eye on the menu but upon spotting rabbit, I knew this was a dish worth checking out, especially as rabbit is not common in Hong Kong. The rabbit leg was tender with a subtle game taste. Generous amounts of white wine had gone into the white sauce and the pommery grain mustard was just a tad too piquant, but otherwise the dish’s flavours combined well on the palate.

Rabbit leg with white sauce and pommery grain mustard

Rabbit leg with white sauce and pommery grain mustard

The classic apple tart with vanilla ice cream was a scrumptious end to the meal and beautifully made. I loved the crisp flaky pastry with slices of still juicy apple, finished off with an attractive dusting of sugar.

Classic apple tart

Classic apple tart

Bistro du Vin is worth the journey to Kennedy Town, and the quiet area adds to its charm. The relaxed atmosphere and quirky decoration is a definite draw, and the dishes are prepared with enough care to tell me that no detail has been overlooked.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5


Bistro du Vin, Ground Floor, Shop 1D, Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, 2824 3010

You can also read this review on Sassy.