Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bibo - where art and food combine

Fine dining has often been compared to contemporary art, food displayed immaculately on a plate that is often (almost) too beautiful to eat.  I've eaten in restaurants where the Chef could only be described as an artist, and I'm sure you have too.  I've even had beautiful food in Australia's GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), where the award winning GOMA restaurant produces food that would be better placed on the walls of the gallery.  I'd never been to a restaurant that would be more appropriately called a gallery of contemporary modern art, that was until I visited Bibo.

In a sign that bohemia is alive and well in Sheung Wan, Bibo is quite unlike any restaurant you are likely to encounter, at least in this part of the world.  Bibo is short for 'bilingual bohemian' and is a mix of contemporary art and fine dining French restaurant.  Reminiscent of the speak-easy style of New York, the entrance to Bibo is a secret gold door on Hollywood Road and while you don't need a secret password to enter, you do need to get past the burly bouncer on the door. Once the Star Trek like sliding door opens, you descend steps that hint of what's to come.

An assault to the visual senses is probably the best way to describe those first few seconds in the restaurant, which was quite breathtaking.  Every spare inch of space in Bibo is taken up with contemporary art, visually stunning, it's not until you hear the story of some of the pieces that you understand the importance of Bibo - more on that later.

Seated at our table, we simply stared in muted awe at the stunning pieces that were plastered on every wall.  Our reverie was interrupted by our waiter for the night, Justin, to present our menus and give a running commentary on the options available, which included three tasting menus and an a la carte selection.  With each variation of the tasting menu explained, we decided to go for broke and opted for the seven course option - which was a pricey $1,300 but also included a number of the signature dishes of Bibo.

Contemporary French fine dining, the menu at Bibo is the construct of a culinary team lead by Executive Chef Mutaro Balde. With a background that included Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee in Paris and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London, Chef Mataro was well versed at producing exquisite French fine dining.  A quick look at the menu reflected a background that held a handful of Michelin Stars and was full of promise.

While we waited for our gastronomic journey to begin, we were provided with some fresh, warm crusty bread, our amuse bouche and SC's cocktail - a punchy concoction called 'canton bazaar'. While the bread was lovely, I did wonder at the rational of sending out so much before we'd even commenced our tasting menu.  It would come back to haunt us towards the end of the meal!  

Our amuse bouche consisted of green pea puree with a parmesan foam and a slice of watermelon covered with tomato and balsamic.  While I loved the flavours of the pea puree combined with the parmesan, I found the puree to be a little grainy, or more accurately, the aerated parmesan foam combined with the puree to be grainy.  I was also a little perplexed by the watermelon and balsamic - sure they were a great combination on their own but how did the two components of the amuse bouche fit together?

My slight hesitancy about the amuse bouche was soon well forgotten when the first of our seven courses arrived at the table.  It was hard to miss the L'oursin: Hokkaido sea urchin with Royale Street bear caviar as it made its way from the kitchen.  Immaculately presented, the dish was spectacular in it's clear bowl with dry ice producing a dramatic effect that lasted the entire course. A generous amount of caviar sat atop a dual level puree and was finished off with the bright yellow/orange of the sea urchin.  The saltiness of the urchin combined with the sweet caviar so very well and the puree, which I couldn't quite put my finger on, helped round out the dish as interesting and delicious.

We had an option for our second course and we both decided on the La Langoustine: seared scampi with green pea puree and truffle emulsion.  Simply presented and not as spectacular as our previous dish, there was a quiet refinement that almost seemed out of place in our surroundings.  Another generous helping, the expertly cooked flesh was unusually sweet for scampi, which can at times be bland.  The subtle hints of truffle worked very well with the pea puree, which seemed much creamier than the puree in our amuse bouche.  My only minor issue with the dish was the use of a bowl that made it hard to get to the dish well enough, especially given there was no spoon to mop up the tasty puree.

There has been a lot of press about foie gras of late and, regardless of the politics of the French delicacy, we'd chosen the Le foie gras poele: pan seared duck foie gras with braised endive and a hazelnut vinaigrette.  While not as amazing as our foie gras dish at Vasco Fine Dining (see post here), it was none-the-less a beautifully presented and scrumptious.  The richness of the foie gras was well balanced with the slightly bitter endive, with the hazelnut vinaigrette giving acidity and texture.  With a now recurrent theme, the serving size was generous and perhaps a little large for a tasting menu.  We were starting to feel the effects of our crusty bread and large serving sizes.

The Le Saint Pierre: line caught John Dory with carrots, rhubarb masala mashed potatoes was next up and was, you guessed it, quite a large serving with two fillets of Dory.  I've always been partial to John Dory and normally have it cooked on the bone as a whole fish, which preserves the moisture.  It was noticeable that one of my fillets was over cooked and a little dry, which killed a little of the flavour that Dory is so famous for.  My second piece was perfectly cooked, and the sweet yet strong fish flavour shone through and was much more enjoyable.  While I had a little taste of the mashed potatoes and found them to be OK, I'd had to leave them on the plate as I was starting to get rather full.

SC and I deviated in our next selection with my choice of the Le Pigeon: Burgundy pigeon with crushed ratte potatoes, black truffle and pigeon jus was a clear winner.  With clear inspiration from his time at L'Atelier, Chef Mutaro had stuffed the pigeon with foie gras - which admittedly is a fantastic combination.  The breast was panfried, which gave the breast a lovely colouring, with the gamey pigeon flavour blending with the creamy foie gras wonderfully.  The leg was confit, and while tasty, didn't fall off the bone as it should have.  

I really didn't care for SC's Le Cochon: 36 hour Sagabuta pork belly with butternut squash, green apple and yuzu kushu, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I hate butternut squash, but mostly because the pork belly didn't really taste that great.  It was more like a ham than pork belly, with a pink colouring that was a little off-putting.  SC thought it was OK, but with such a large serving, she had no way of getting through the meal.

There was no other way of putting it, we were completely stuffed, which very rarely happens.  We still had dessert to go, but sensing we were not ready for sweets just yet, our intrepid waiter Justin offered to give us a tour of the premises and art work.  SC is more of an artist that myself, and while I really loved the street art pieces by Vhils, Invader, JonOne and Banksy, SC was very much taken by the Jean-Micel Basquiat and Daimen Hirst pieces.

A good walk around the gallery/restaurant was not only inspirational, it had settled our stomachs well enough that we could face dessert!  But of course there was a pre dessert teaser and the coconut soft service sorbet with crushed cookies and banana was good enough to have me really looking forward to the final course.

Whenever I visit a French restaurant, I look for a soufflé and was super happy to see the Le Soufflé au Citron: Lemon Soufflé with rosemary sorbet.  Simply presented in a black ramekin, the soufflé had risen nicely and was expertly cooked.  Thankfully, it was just the right level of sweetness and while the lemon flavour was not as strong as I'd liked, it was still delightful.  The rosemary sorbet came wrapped in a tuile with the ubiquitous gold leaf present - it was a very decent finish to my meal.

As with the pork belly, SC made a tactical error with dessert and ordered the Le Fromage: a selection of French cheeses from the renowned Antony family (never heard of them!).  There were two cheeses, a firm and creamy cheddar that was nice and a mild blue, but the blue was a huge serving for a cheese course.  We think the main issue was the lack of accompaniments, and the cheese only came with some toasted bread.  Perhaps some fig jam and grapes would have helped cut through the flavour of the blue.

It had been a marathon of a meal, which concluded with a lovely petite four of chocolate on a blood red plate, but to be honest, there had been way too much food.  It's rare that a restaurant is so generous with their serving sizes that you can't eat the meal comfortably, but this was one of those times.  There is a bit of a covenant when ordering a tasting menu, an understanding that the portion sizes will be smaller and the meal manageable, and in this instance Bibo broke that covenant.

I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy the meal and the experience, far from it in fact, I really loved the experience and while it might seem that I have been a little picky, it's only because of the price. Reduce this meal in portion sizes, reduce the cost to (even) $1000, and I would have been much happier.  Of course, Bibo delivers on many levels, not just feasting of the palate, but feasting of the soul with incredible art and we decided that the prices probably include a little bit of upkeep for the gallery.

While Bibo doesn't have any Michelin Stars, yet, it will surely only be a matter of time.  Currently one of the few restaurants in Hong Kong that are part of the very prestigious Relias & Chateaux, Bibo presents a very unique experience that combines the visual arts of haute cuisine and contemporary art.  It's a place that very much resonated with us both and was an experience we won't soon forget.

The amazing sea urchin and caviare was a superb way to start
Our petite four - noms
The very prestigious French organisation Relais & Chateaux

The Art of Bibo

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...