April 22, 2015

No fork day, part 2: 1-star dinner

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Despite decent-but-no-magic last visit, I'm back at Akrame tonight with the Great One... at the kind invitation of Chef David Lai.  Apparently Chef Akrame Benallal was back in town, and I was invited to join a small group for dinner.  I figured that going with David couldn't hurt, and the food was bound to be better when Akrame himself was around.

Even though I'd seen my weight shoot up over the last week and secretly preferred the 6-course menu, I decided that I should just take 8 courses like everyone else.  Based on past experience, I did not expect the leave the restaurant feeling stuffed.  I would be right.

After taking out my camera, I put my bag on the floor against the wall.  As the owner was in the house and she certainly remembers me, a stool was offered for my bag, but I politely declined.

As usual the meal started with a small selection of nibbles.

These "oreos" were made with Parmesan cookies and sardine cream filling.  Yum.

Celtuce with foie gras (?) and raspberries - can't remember what the filling was... but possibly not foie gras as the whole thing was pretty light.

Olive chip with Greek yogurt

Polenta with smoked haddock and coffee sabayon - soft and delicious polenta, with olive oil that Akrame makes himself.  The haddock was salty and wonderfully smoky.  Yum.

Gillardeau oyster tartare with nori seaweed, apple, olive oil, and pepper - refreshing and delicious, with the finely diced apple providing nice crunchy texture as a contrast, as well as acidity.

Mussels with curry sauce and mustard foam - definitely felt that kick from the curry.

Lobster cooked in lobster consommé, with lentils and tarragon chantilly - one of Akrame's signature dishes seems to be the way he finishes cooking his lobster in a container by immersing it in hot lobster consommé.  This was nice.  But we all complained to the chef about not being able to drink that consommé...

Sea bass with charcoal butter and red wine sauce - ahhhhh, yes, Akrame loves his charcoal.  This was delish.

Carrots, beurre noisette, anchovies, and lemon rind - served on the side.  Loved the flavors of the anchovies.

Our palate cleanser came and it was a delicious mandarin sorbet topped with Campari jelly, served in a shot glass made of ice.

Pigeon with cocoa, asparagus, and watercress sauce - all but one of us went for the pigeon, and it's easy to see why.

The pigeon wasn't as rare as I would normally prefer, but it was still very tender.  The cocoa was an interesting touch.  Of course this is now asparagus season, so needless to say the spear was very nice.

Comté and spinach, with leeks and onion consommé - now THIS was interesting!  A millefeuille made with layers of Comté and spinach!  Very, very nice.  Loved the charred leeks and the consommé.  Nice touch with the chervil.

Chocolate mousse, edible charcoal, green cardamom - the charcoal strikes again...

Choux ice cream with chocolate chip - apparently the ice cream is made with choux pastry that's been ground up.  Kinda interesting.

Cream cheese with mixed berries and beetroot granita - liked the cream cheese, liked the berries, but unfortunately I'm one of those people who dislike beetroot because I am sensitive to the earthy flavors.  Oh well...

Our petits fours were the usual dark chocolate with sea salt, plus some meringues (?).

There is always wine when our hostess is around, and the restaurant very kindly arranged to waive the corkage for us this evening.

1990 Nicolas Potel Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - prominent toasty notes, nice and buttery, with some minerals and lemon.  Ripe on the palate but nicely balanced.

1999 Jean-Marc Boillot Pommard 1er Cru Jarrolières - nose of very exotic spices, a little leather.  A little closed at first, slightly smoky.  Still somewhat tannic on the palate.  Second pour after chilling the wine was much better.

1986 Cos d'Estournel - nose of black olives, very savory, pretty smoky, and graphite notes.  Later on the acidity was noticeably higher.  At nearly 30 years of age, there wasn't as much fruit detectable from this bottle, but starting to taste a little mature and perhaps a little tired.

This was a pretty good dinner.  We were certainly well-treated tonight, and a very friendly Chef Akrame came to explain each course.  There were a few dishes which were very tasty, and certainly all of the dishes demonstrated the creativity of the chef.  I was satiated but not stuffed, although we decided that supper with pizza or noodles was no longer viable at this point...

But a couple of us experienced a little sticker shock when the bill came.  I should have remembered that when starred chefs from France visit their outposts in Asia, the menu is often "special" and there is a corresponding increase in price.  I am sure some of the 40% premium charged tonight was reflected in the quality of the ingredients.  But at HKD 2,000 a head for an 8-course dinner (for food only), they are putting themselves in the price range of Amber, Pierre, Caprice and the like.

And at that top price range, customers have expectations not just about the food but also ambiance, service... etc., which the three aforementioned restaurants are in better positions to provide given they have the resources of 5-star hotels.  Near the start of the meal - perhaps just after the nibbles and as the first course was being served - we found ourselves with no utensils.  I can't believe that this happened to me for a second time today - and both times at restaurants with macarons from the Rubberman.  As my hostess remarked, it's just a "no fork day" for me.  But I digress...

Put it simply: at the price being charged tonight, I would expect to have my mind blown, at least by one or two dishes.  I wasn't.  It was very good, but a meal at either Amber, Pierre, or Caprice would have produced a few more "ooohs" and "wows" from me.  It was very much like my lunch at Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo - everything was technically faultless, but where was the magic?  Maybe I just don't "get" Akrame, the same way that some people don't get Pierre Gagnaire?

I gotta go see him in Paris to be sure.  But since I've already cancelled my wine trip to France this year, I guess it's gonna have to wait till next year...

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