Saturday, 5 December 2015

Seasons by Oliver E - a lunch to remember

I've been really stupid.  Hong Kong is rightfully known as one of the foodie meccas globally, with more restaurants than any person could ever visit in a lifetime.  A place with many Michelin Starred establishments, Top 100 tables and Tatler Top 20 restaurants, so many in fact that you could eat yourself poor by trying to visit them all!  And I've been doing just that, trying to visit and write about as many of the best restaurants in this giant of a city as possible and grumbling about the cost.  As I said, I've been really stupid.

There's another way.  Lunches!

Hong Kong's finest restaurants have been serving set menu lunches for a long time, a fact that I've recently clued into (yeah, I know, stupid) and taken advantage of.  

We booked in to Seasons by Oliver Ezra for a Saturday lunch recently.  It felt a little strange getting dressed up to hit a fancy Michelin Starred restaurant for lunch, but as we made our way to Causeway Bay's swanky Lee Gardens 2 shopping centre, it all started to make perfect sense.  

Seasons is culinary wiz Oliver Ezra's first foray into his own restaurant.  French born Ezra is better know as the former head chef of Three Star L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon's Hong Kong restaurant.  Tutored by legends of the culinary world Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire, Chef Ezra has food in his blood.  With a grandfather who was a chef to the last Tzar of Russia, there was never any doubt that Ezra would follow in his grandfather's footsteps and was one named in the best 22 young chefs in France by Gault Millau in 2007.

We were the first to arrive at the playfully interesting restaurant and after a short stint at the bar area while we waited for the restaurant to open, we were taken to our table - which coincidentally was at the bar area inside the dining room.  Stretching along the full front of the open kitchen area, we were in prime seats to watch the team of chefs in action throughout the meal.  The dining area was a cool mix of comfortable seats and open spaces and there was not a white linen table cloth to be seen, underpinning the restaurant's more relaxed approach to fine dining.

We were given the set lunch menu, which was impressive enough with four courses available and each course with at least four options.  Prices were fixed at HKD $318 for three courses, $398 for four courses or $478 for five courses and, being lunch, we opted for the best valued four course option.  For those looking for a longer lunch, there was still the option of the Oliver's eight course tasting menu at the regular price.

While we waited for our first course to arrive, a basket of warm and slightly toasted bread was presented with a lovely hit of soft salted butter.  While I spread an unhealthy amount of butter on my bread, the girl was getting a recommendation from the insightful sommelier about which wines to match with her meal selection - a task that both seemed to enjoy!

In quick time our first course had arrived.  SC had selected the butter lettuce salad with tuna in two ways with French beans, pickled red onions and a creamy tuna sauce.  A head of lettuce had been carefully crafted to stand upright with beautiful looking pieces of seared tuna sitting atop and drizzled with a vinaigrette.  There was a wonderful meaty texture to the tuna, which was fresh and perfectly cooked, which worked well with the light lettuce and creamy sauce.  One minor issue was a brown splotch on part of the lettuce head, which probably should have been removed, but was easily avoided while devouring.

My starter was absolutely perfect in every way.  Looking spectacular in a shallow black bowl, the contrasting colours of the sea scallop carpaccio with garden green vegetables and finished with an ajo blanco (white garlic) sauce.  The stark comparison of the white scallop slices against the black of the bowl really appealed to me, but most importantly, the dish was beautiful to eat.  There was a lightness from the thinly sliced scallops that was enhanced by the tang of the sweet garlic sauce.  Asparagus and razor thin radish slices balanced out the flavours to perfection.

Second course continued the beautifully presented food with an interesting take on a pumpkin velouté, with the creamy soup topped with a creamy ginger emulsion and caramelised pumpkin seeds for some crunch.  It was an interesting and unusual choice to pair the ginger with pumpkin, which we'd never seen before, but somehow it worked.  The sweetness of the velouté was all the better with the slightly harsh bite from the ginger, balancing each other out and combining for a unique flavour.

Course of the day, and one of the tastier dishes I've had in a while, was the escargots fricassée with tomato and pastis sauce.  The first thing that struck me was the wonderful colours on the plate, along with the generous serving of escargot.  I've always been a fan of snails, but usually take them in a more traditional way served inside the shells with lashings of garlic butter.  These were much better, the slightly chewy texture and earthy flavour was magnificent against the rich pastis sauce.  Slices of cherry tomato added some acidity to the dish, balancing out the decadent sauce and harmonising the plate.  I really loved the dish and would happily have finished the meal then and called it a success.

There was no doubt my escargot had been the dish of the day, but my main was not too far behind.  I'd chosen the chef's special, goats cheese and parsley micro ravioli with a rich and creamy cheese sauce, covered in black truffle.  It was as rich as it sounded!  Tiny little parcels of insanely thin pasta were filled with goats cheese and parsley puree, which gave the dish a slight green hue.  The creamy sauce was slightly on the heavy side, but there was just the right amount of ravioli to ensure the dish wasn't overly heavy.  The earthy truffle shaved over the top was a lovely foil to bring the dish back from the brink of being too rich and had the added benefit of leaving that warm umami hit at the back of my palate.

The girl had a taste of my ravioli before starting on her dish, mainly because she knew that her tastebuds would be blown by her powerfully flavoured main.  Choosing the masala prawn with venere rice risotto and topped with diced ham, the strong Indian flavours from the masala would have overridden the subtle flavours from the pasta.  I've never been a fan of big Indian flavours, so avoided trying SC's main, but by all accounts the prawns were superbly cooked and the risotto excellent.  

SC decided to skip dessert, feeling that a cheese course would be a much finer way to complete her meal and compete with the after effects of her powerfully flavoured main.  Choosing the 'two textures of camembert' , the cheese course was presented neatly on a slate with a bowl that contained a very creamy camembert with a couple of firmer slices sitting on top.  With a new basked of lightly toasted bread, SC set about devouring her cheese course with gusto.

While the girls fromage looked rustic and homey, my dessert was on the opposite side of the spectrum and looked classically beautiful and refined.  The plate was smeared with an orange glaze and a perfect circle of white chocolate entremet with passionfruit cream infused inside and topped with a quenelle of white peach sorbet.  It was almost too pretty to disturb, but disturb it I did, with equal gusto to SC devouring her cheese.  The texture of the entremet was a little grainy but that didn't diminish its wonderful flavours, sweet with a hit of tangy passionfruit to help balance.  I loved the white peach sorbet sitting on top, it was not only super creamy, but was inspirational in the context of the dessert.  

When booking lunch at Seasons by Oliver Ezra, I'd been hoping for a beautiful and tasty lunch. My expectations had been well surpassed, not only was the lunch delicious, it was a testament to modern French cuisine.  There were hints of traditional techniques, especially with the fricassee escargot and my dessert, but there were modern hits of contemporary cooking as well.  What I'd also been hoping for was to see Chef Oliver in the kitchen, but I guess a side effect of doing lunch at ridiculously cheap prices was that the head chef was not about.

We did enjoy sitting at the bar surrounding the kitchen, it enabled us to watch the huge team of chefs hard at work preparing our lunch.  Service was superb, with the well drilled team of wait staff delivering on the expectations of a Michelin starred restaurant, but were also down to earth and friendly.

When all is said and done, did I really notice a difference in the quality of the food without head Chef Oliver Ezra orchestrating the meal?  Hard to tell.  The food was superb but there was one tiny little error with SC's starter in that her lettuce head had a dark brown smudge on the side. Would an eagle eyed head chef such as Oliver Ezra picked that up?  

Probably, because that's what makes a multiple Michelin Starred chef tick.  

The team of chefs in action
But the missed a brown smudge on the lettuce for the tuna starter
My escargot was incredible
Beautifully presented dessert - delightful to eat 
We could watch our food preparation
A casual and intimate setting
And a bar too!

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