June 28, 2016

A delicious farewell

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One of our friends is leaving Hong Kong and moving out to Canada, so Hello Kitty and I decided to send her off with a nice dinner... since she's not likely to get much fine dining choices where she's going.  Épure is a place whose food we all enjoy, and location-wise it was also very convenient, so it seemed like the perfect location.

I think I was recognized by some of the staff, and even manager Olivier came over to say hello - and mentioned that he hadn't seen us in over a year...  I guess we need to give them a little more love, then!

I had a few words to say about the "For her" and "For him" menus we had to deal with on our first two visits, so we were relieved to find that they finally scrapped that stupid sexist crap.  Diners can still choose from a 6- or 8-course tasting menu, and has a choice of having the chef decide those dishes (presumably featuring more seasonal ingredients) at a premium, or compose their own menu from a list.  Heck, they can even go à la carte!  Given that I've been literally eating nonstop for the last week, I figured 6 courses would suffice tonight.

But the best change they've made to the menu?  The names.  On top of just scribbling out the list of ingredients, each dish now has a poetic name attached.  In a way this calls to mind what Dominique Crenn does at L'Atelier Crenn, although I've yet had the pleasure of dining there.

We would start with some amuses bouches, the first few of which came in a small box.

Filo pastry with beetroot - the cheese overpowered the beetroot, which was perfect.

French vegetable tart with basil cream and tapenade - the tapenade dominated, and the veggies were crunchy.

Smoked eel tart with grapes and horseradish gel - the eel was smoky and I loved the grapes.  The sauce was sweet, too.

Beef carpaccio with cheese and spinach - not sure what kind of cheese was inside, but it tasted a little fermented and acidic at the same time.

Sea urchin royale with green pea purée - with piment d'espelette on top, which was surprising in its kick.

Zébra, ananas, cornue, tigrée... sans oublié l'infatigable terrassier des mer | chilled lobster, heirloom tomatoes three ways : jelly, sorbet, confit - the poached lobster was delicious, and I loved the flavors of the different tomatoes.  The jelly was both savory and acidic, and the confit was savory with plenty of umami.

Il était une 'foie' dans le sud-ouest | seared duck foie gras, black cherries, black pepper, Banyuls wine - love the pun!  Served with discs of spiced cherry jelly, Sauternes gel, and almond foam.

The foie was perfectly done.  Delicious.

Âgé de 9 ans il en 'riz' encore | aged rice risotto, Parmesan Reggiano, baby spinach - this looked like a wonderful risotto...

but Olivier came over and offered us some black truffle shavings on top, which was a very generous treat.

Voyageur dans l'âme | Vendée pigeon, girolles, Medjoul date and verbena carcass jus - knowing how much I love pigeons, Hello Kitty very kindly shared part of her dish with me.  The pigeon was, naturally, done perfectly rosé.  The roll on the side came with pigeon leg and crunchy diced onions, and tasted pretty sweet.

Another roll served on the side was filled with pistachio and pigeon liver mousse, which was whipped to an incredibly light and airy texture that it simply melted with the heat of my tongue.  Wow!

Le vol au vent | flaky butter puff ring, lobster line caught fish, liquorice scented coulis - wow!  I'd never had vol au vent like this!  This was a pretty damn big one, and the puff pasty ring was impressive-looking as it was deliciously flaky.  Inside was a langoustine tail and John Dory with lobster bisque foam, as well as some haricots verts.  It's no wonder that this is the signature dish of the restaurant, but I guess this only showed up on the menu in the last year or so.

Olivier very kindly offered us some cheese, and Hello Kitty picked two from the cart:

Laguiole - salty, a little smoky, definitely earthy.  Texture was a little soft and wet, but at the same time a little crumbly.

Mimolette - this must have been well-aged, since it was pretty damn salty... but tasty.

Our pre-dessert was vanilla panna cotta with honey yogurt sorbet and apricot compote.  The "panna cotta" was actually not solidified but rather liquid.  The sorbet was very rich and creamy, and the very sour apricot compote helped with that.

J'en suis baba | soaked sponge cake, rhum agricole, pineapple, Tahitian vanilla - in the very dark environment of the restaurant, I mistaken read the title as "Je suis baba".  Since my godson Bear calls me "baba", I felt obliged to order this as my dessert.  The baba themselves were a little more dense than I am accustomed to, but the tropical flavors - passion fruit, pineapple, and vanilla - were all there.

Première fois en 1867, elle est gonflée... | caramelized mille-feuille, strawberries and lime zest Chantilly - the ladies decided to share this, and our eyes opened wide when we saw it brought table-side.  This was one impressive millefeuille!  And it's meant to serve two!  Yes, the dinner spoon is in the picture for scale...

Olivier cut the giant puff in two, then ladled on the Chantilly and strawberries...

Just look at the air pockets in the puff!  Sooooo flaky!  So delicious.

It even came with a quenelle of strawberry sorbet on the side.

Finally, we have the mignardises...
Orange blossom macaron

Pistachio financier

Chocolate tart

2005 Kistler Chardonnay Stone Flat Vineyard Parmlee Hill - overripe, really sweet, lots of Chinese licorice (甘草), straw, and ripe, tropical pineapple.

A really, really good dinner. This was our third visit, and we've never been disappointed here. In fact, the level of cuisine here is consistently high - which isn't surprising given the pedigree of the chefs.  Service seems to have improved, too... but then again, having the attention from Olivier could have something to do with it...  We probably shouldn't wait for a whole year before our next visit, especially since corkage has now been reduced to a more-reasonable HKD 500.

P.S.  Many thanks to Olivier for giving us copies of their customized Hong Kong Tatler Best Restaurants Guide 2016, which has the vol au vent on the cover.

P.P.S.  I'm still curious about the party that went on in the private room during dinner, where I counted 13 young girls in the early twenties hanging out with a young guy in his early twenties...  Actually, I'm more curious about what happened after they left the restaurant...

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