November 10, 2014

Another salty evening

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Another month, another gem to unearth victim to skewer.  It's been a challenge trying to find the right restaurant that has just opened so that it's pretty much brand-new, yet interesting enough both to me and the general public.  It was harder this month than the last two, as timing changes meant I couldn't try a couple of the really interesting spots.  In the end I settled on Chez Didier Bistro - a reincarnation that has sprouted up in an alley in North Point just a stone's throw away from the MTR station.

There were only two tables occupied when I arrived at the door.  And I stood in the doorway for perhaps up to a minute, wondering if anyone would bother to come up to greet me, while the chef's wife decided that she would much rather keep chatting with the customers at one of the tables.  Eventually a waitress emerged from the kitchen and led me to a table.

It's pretty obvious from the menu that the chef comes from Provence, since Provençal specialties dotted the menu in addition to the "French classics".  Had I done a little more research on the background of the chef, I probably would have ordered a little differently and chosen.  Years ago a friend had introduced me to the chef at Cafe des Artistes, but I had never had the good fortune to taste his bouillabaisse before the restaurant's demise.  And I decided not to order it tonight.  Oh well...

Escargot persillade - my dining companion went for the "safe" choice, and this was pretty decent.  Lots of garlic, parsley and butter.

Tapenade, anchoïade, poivrons marinés - classic Provençal fare which, let's be honest, doesn't show up a lot here in Hong Kong.  Both the tapenade and anchoïade taste pretty authentic, but there's only one problem - they're both way, waaaaay too salty.  And there's simply too much of both - the chef's wife admitted that normally the chef only send out half of what I was given - to be taken with the three melba toasts.  I asked for more bread, which turned out to be the wrong thing to do... as the bread expanded after soaking up all the water I was drinking.  The marinated bell peppers, though, were really delish.

Bavette, beurre d'anchois, pommes sautées, moelle - OK, so flank isn't exactly the most tender cut of beef, therefore I'm not gonna fault the texture too much for being a little chewy.  My dining companion regretted her choice of meat, since she was likely thinking of steak from an American steakhouse...  She also probably didn't dip the meat in the anchovy butter, which would explain her comment about it "needing some A1"...  The piece I tasted certainly seemed to be on the bland side.

Brandade de morue, ratatouille, tartine a l'ail confit - once again I picked something Provençal, as I love a good brandade.  Unfortunately for my tongue, this was even more salty than the tapenade and anchoïade.  I absolutely love the flavors here... and the creamy mashed potatoes mixed in with flakes of salted cod and topped with a thin layer of gratin.  I love bacalhau, but even I couldn't take it with this much salt.  The quenelle of ratatouille on the side tasted fine but didn't do much to help.  The tartine, however, had the wonderfully tasty and fragrant garlic confit on top.  Yum!

Pommes sautées - I don't understand why the kitchen sent out a side dish of potatoes in duck fat when the main dish itself was made of lots of potatoes...  I tasted one little piece, which was decent.

I was pretty stuffed by now.  In fact, I was feeling kinda full after the tapenade... but there were still desserts to try!

Crème brûlée au pollen de lavande - this lavender crème brûlée just tasted off.  Maybe neither of us felt that lavender was good in a custard, but there was just something not quite right with this... besides the fact that it should have been served a little hotter.  The meringue on the side was OK.

Mousse de chataignes, compote de fruits - once again I picked the better dish.  The chestnut mousse was just right - with enough of the richness of chestnuts, but not sickening sweet like a Mont Blanc could be.  There were also diced pear embedded inside which added a little texture.  The layer of compote on top even included a few Sichuan peppercorns, which I thought was pretty interesting.

One minor annoyance tonight: the dishes were so salty that I kept drinking water, and had to keep asking our waitress to refill my glass.  They seemed a little reluctant to refill our glass with tap water.  Maybe they wished we would just crack open the bottle of Perrier that's placed on every table?  I was left with a very dry mouth towards the end of dinner, as our request for more water was simply forgotten... or ignored.

Well, to be honest, the dishes I ordered weren't FAILs.  The savory dishes would taste absolutely fine - if the chef could just cut down the salt by about 50%.  Chef Didier isn't new to Hong Kong, and I thought he would have known that he needs to tweak his dishes slightly to better suit people's palates here - without adulterating the flavors themselves.  Pure speculation here, but maybe after two years back home in Provence, he's forgotten the difference in tastes between the two areas.  I hope things don't stay this way.

P.S.  This has nothing to do with the food, but... When I opened the door to the men's toilet stall, I was confronted with what seemed like the most claustrophobic space ever designed for this purpose.  Sure enough, after I stepped in and let my arms fall freely to the sides, they ended up touching both walls.  I'm not the skinniest guy around, but neither am I a giant.  I wonder how many people would have a hard time fitting in here...

The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here. (requires subscription)

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