Sometimes you just hated it when a dinner you had so much high hope for almost made it to greatness but at the end not quite close to that level... that's the impression I had after trying this much-hyped, much anticipated French restaurant in the heart of Wanchai. We have been trying to secure a booking at this restaurant for ages without much success so when our good friend C told us he have a reservation for a table we immediately jumped on joining.
The restaurant’s on the 6th Floor of a commercial building – not exactly the usual neighborhood as far as fine-dining’s concern but I like the décor inside – bare walls in deep, trendy colors with a mirror as its only decoration, an open kitchen on one end with a handful of dining tables in the main room that can sit 20-30 at max. Given we have such a hard time getting a booking, it doesn’t feel as crowded as I thought, surprisingly. Not much of a view of the outside but it certainly feels comfortable inside the cozy dining area.
Menu's simple - there are a choice of 4 or 6 course signature menu and a 6 or 8 course chef degustation menu. This arrangement made sense since everything from appetizers to mains to dessert all came out from a small open kitchen that can hardly fit 5 people working at the same time. I can’t imagine they are capable of offer any more choices other than this. Wine menu features just a handful of choices – straight from the negotiants according to the menu - it's perfectly fine if you are fan of Burgundy and they do have an interesting selection of it, but in case you are not, you are better off BYOB and pay that more than reasonable corkage fee (HK$150 at the time we went). That being said, I enjoyed the Clos Vougeot that C picked from the wine list much - classic, powerful and good combination of earthy nose quickly followed by plummy flavors and more.
The dinner started on a high note - the appetizer of shrimp with caviar on a bed of rich sauce made from shrimp heads is richly flavored and is absolutely a divine treasure from the sea. I also quite enjoyed the 2 other appetizers that followed - foie gras with fresh figs and balsamic reduction, and tuna tartar with matchstick granny smith apples and wasabi foam - though I think I could live with a slightly less-cooked foie gras and a more distinctly-flavored wasabi espuma.
One must start wondering the chef's creativity (or lack of, to be exact) as we were served a crab veloute with crab meat and roes after our three appetizers. It looked almost identical to our first appetizer, and sure it did smell good as the soup's poured into the dish by the waiter from a little ceramic bottle, but it tasted rather bland, especially compared to the rich shrimp head sauce we had moments ago.
For our 6 course degustation menu, we had a choice of crayfish and beef cheek as our main course. I picked the latter and it's quite decent. Beef cheek's cooked sous vide (for 48 hours, as we were later told by the restaurant manager) and served on a bed of onion confit. It's tender and rich but just something I would at least expect from a restaurant and chef of such caliber. On the side is 2 little piece of potatoes cooked a la boulangere with sour cream and bacons. Well, give this a French name all you want, I was quite disappointed to find a baked potato with the predictable condiments from a degustation menu by a chef whose past experience included time at the kitchens of Essex House and Plaza Athenee.
The crayfish main, which i didn't try personally, was nicely assembled with cut white asparagus, green asparagus mousse and sea urchin royale. It didn't receive high marks from our dining companions though - that's evident as much of the sea urchin royale was left on the plates almost untouched. When our friends commented that to the manager, the rebuke we got is "well, other people have similar comments before, but we thought it might be because Hong Kong people are not used to such French cooking method and texture". If such attitude persists I really can't see how we can see any improvement in here any time soon, and wonder why they even bothered to ask for our opinions in the first place.
Desserts, like other dishes of the evening, were nicely presented, but once again didn't have as nice a flavor to match. As much as people says food's a form of art one shouldn't forget it's still the taste that counts most. The portion of my lemon tart was pathetically small - even for a tartlet, and I can't taste much other than the sharp sourness. I am tempted to say Maxim's probably do a better job but drawing such comparison would have been an insult to Maxim’s. And I really don't understand why making the fuss of matching a lemon tart (topped with lemon custard and rind) with hmm... lemon mousse. There's no complement in flavors nor textures by putting these two on the same plate - they might as well pass us a bigger and better prepared lemon tart than trying to impress us with a "fancy" dessert done 2 ways.
Am I being too harsh on a small restaurant like this? Well, not if they are charging as much as their more established counterparts. Throughout the dinner, we kept saying “we have had better food at so-and-so…” – guess that pretty much summed up our verdict for this evening. A friend of ours who came here a few times did mention it’s a hit-or-miss for this restaurant, and I guess we must have come on those “miss” day. There are some good moments here and there, I did appreciate some of their efforts, and we definitely enjoyed the great company and all that, but we can’t help but feel the inconsistency in food quality and service throughout the evening.
It's unfortunate that we left with a slightly sour taste in our mouth - I am not sure it's more because of the lemon tart that we would rather forget, or just a let-down of the overall dining experience. Guess it’s going to take quite some effort for dragging us back for a second try, not that we are able to score a reservation at any time soon.
when? April 25 2011
where? Mirror restaurant, 6th Floor, Tiffan Tower, 199 Wanchai Road, Hong Kong
drinks? Domaine Louis Max Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2001
menu highlights? Shrimps “rafraichit” with golden oscietra caviar and head sauce
You can also check out more pics on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157626450366261/