Sunday, 24 January 2016

Le Dome de Cristal - opulent decedent and oh-so-French

It might be said that heading to the first global collaboration between renowned French Champagne house Cristal by Louis Roederer and a restaurant might be a waste for a tea-totaler like myself.  I mean, I've never been a connoisseur or consumer of champagne.  But I am a fan of exquisite French cuisine and found that the prospect of the promised unparalleled dining experience by the luxury group appealing.

It was exactly that promise and the lure of the very experienced Chef Charles-Benoit Lacour and his pursuit of perfection that finally convinced me to check out Le Dome de Cristal.  After working with legendary French Chef Guy Savoy in Paris before becoming the Chef de Cuisine at Guy Savoy in Singapore, Chef Lacour continued his journey into Asia by becoming the culinary director and head chef of Le Dome de Cristal.

I'd walked past the innocuous entrance to Le Dome de Cristal, which is located in The Galleria in Central, many, many times on my way to work, never realising how close I was to the completely opulent and luxurious restaurant that took up almost ten thousand square feet.  It wasn't until we ascended the steps to the main dining room that I was able to truly understand how spectacular Le Dome de Cristal actually was.  Award winning interior designer Steve Leung was responsible for blending the contemporary and classic design which fully utilised the massive dome ceiling that was the highlight and centrepiece of the restaurant.

We walked to our table, mouth agape as we took in the opulence of the restaurant.  We were truly transported from Central Hong Kong to the 16th arrondissement of Paris.  Our table afforded us a wonderful view of the dining room, which was centred around the spectacular dome ceiling and an open void that was the only link to the real world.  Smartly dressed wait staff brought over the menu for us to peruse and without much thought, we confirmed that we would be partaking in the eight course tasting menu.  It seemed only fitting in such a setting.

Like all of the European fine dining restaurants we'd experienced, a cart was wheeled over with a selection of Champagnes to start the meal.  Forgoing the obvious choice of the Cristal, the girl chose a lesser known but equally delightful Pierre Peters Rose NV.  We were also given a selection of warm and crusty breads, clearly just out of the oven and piping hot, as well as a slab of butter that was appropriately room temperature.

Our amuse bouche was quite different from the expected, with a small serving of pickled vegetables and a soft and smokey tropical egg plant delivered.  In what would become the theme of the night, our smartly dressed wait staff also played the role of table chef by adding a scoop of seaweed granita to the dish.  The saltiness of the granita played wonderfully against the pickled vegetables, and while I didn't really like the soft eggplant, the girl found the combination to be matched perfectly.

We started our degustation with a very large Brittany oyster that came with a garlic oil and ponzu sauce, with a squeeze of finger lime.  The plump and creamy oyster had a medium salinity level, which allowed it's natural salty flavour to play delightfully with the garlic and sweet ponzu sauce. Presented simply on a black rock plate that seemed purpose made for the oyster shell, the dish was perfect in every way.

I loved the presentation of the second course, which continued the seafood theme by delivering a Brittany lobster with pickled heirloom carrots, radish and citrus.  I loved the splashes of orange from the lobster on the black bowl with geometric patterns, but the addition of a rich orange sauce veirge further enhanced the contrasting colours.  What was fantastic was the preparation of the sauce at the table, which included mixing in some butter and ginger.  The lobster was expertly cooked and was light and sweet, contrasting to the slightly sharp sauce and well rounded off from the acidity of the pickled vegetables.  There was also a creamy sauce on the plate, possibly a mayonnaise, that helped to bring the dish together.  It was both a visually stunning dish and very enjoyable to eat.

Seafood continued with our next dish, again combining the sea and land to bring a dish that was both spectacularly presented and interesting to eat.  The bowl delivered an exquisitely cooked piece of Daurade (more commonly known as Seabream), sitting on a celeriac puree and surrounded by thin strips of celery and seaweed.  Our wait staff then brought over a large teapot and pulled out a maitake mushroom and carefully placed the maitake on our fish, before pouring over a mushroom and dashi consommé and finishing off the dish by shaving yuzu rind over the dish.  It was a complicated procedure but not unwanted, with the consommé being light and so full of flavour and the yuzu rind adding some acidity to the fish.  I loved the crunch from the crispy skin on the Daurade and the mushroom broth, but found the seaweed just a little overbearing.

The simplicity of the presentation of our next dish belied the complexity in its composition and flavour profile.  Simply called wonton, the traditional Chinese pastry was filled with creamy foie gras and made to look like a large ravioli.  It was then placed into a foie gras foam and sat atop some sautéed cabbage, perfectly bending elements of East and West.  The creamy foie gras was superb and while the dish could have been incredibly rich, the addition of cabbage helped level out the balance of the dish.  

It's hard to describe our next dish, which was a process as much as it was a dish.  We were first presented with a funky bowl that contained smoked winter vegetable and slices of cooked Lyonnaise sausage.  The rest of the dish was prepared at the table, with the vegetables and sausage being added to a couple of traditional Chinese bowls containing a foamy broth that contained a slow cooked organic egg.  Our instructions were to mix up the vegetables and egg to form one final 'one pot' and then get busy consuming.  I was a bit apprehensive at first, mainly due to the contrasting styles and food groups, but it only took one spoonful to be transported to my happy place.  The combination was spectacular, with the meaty sausage offsetting the smokey vegetables and the velvety egg yolk.

We were presented with a box full of sharp knives in varying colours and asked to select our preferred 'weapon' for our main course.  The girl selected the red knife, which would have been my selection, so I was left to choose the bright pink handle.  

It was signature dish time with the delivery of Chef Lacour's well known pigeon dish, with beetroot prepared various ways, pink pralines and a super creamy mashed potato.  A sticky and acidic jus was added at the table.  The dish looked wonderful, but didn't photograph as well as I'd have liked.  There were a couple of elements that really stood out with the dish, the perfectly cooked pigeon breast and the seriously buttery mash.  Both combined well with the sticky jus and beetroot, although I found that there was just a little too much beetroot puree on the plate.  What I didn't like so much was the pigeon leg, which looked quite ugly and provided only a small amount of flesh that was quite tough and stringy.  Take that leg off the plate and just a little less beetroot puree and it would have been the perfect dish for me.  I also didn't really get the sweet pink praline surrounding the dish, it seemed just a little too sweet for the pigeon and may have been just for presentation.

It was cheese cart time and while not anywhere near as impressive as the Caprice cheese board, provided enough options to keep the girl happy.  In fact, buy the time the cheese course was presented, we were both feeling a little on the full side.

I'd decided to skip the cheese course at the beginning of the meal and instead was presented with a simple truffle salad.  To be honest, I'm not sure that it was the right choice, while I appreciated the generous amount of truffle, it was quite difficult to eat.  Perhaps an alternative to the cheese course could have been a simple pre-dessert.

There was a moment that could have gone quite wrong for both myself and Le Dome de Cristal, with the presenting of the palate cleanser.  We were given a martini glass with a decent amount of apple puree and a coconut granita, which was to be filled with the restaurant's namesake, Cristal Champagne.  I'd let the wait staff know that I didn't want the Cristal, which led to a crestfallen look and an explanation that the Cristal was needed to balance out the apple puree.  I reluctantly agreed to have some of the Cristal added, and was really surprised by the transformation that happened, the alcohol twang that I hate disappeared in the apple puree, just leaving a pleasant fresh flavour behind.

First dessert was a very pretty chocolate mousse, encircled with dollops of caramel sauce and topped with crisp chocolate tuile.  The chocolate mousse was quite dense and sat on a bed of what seemed to be a chocolate praline.  It was tough going, not because it wasn't lovely, it was just a little heavy to be finishing off a degustation that had been quite generous in its serving sizes.  I can't help thinking that a chocolate soufflé wouldn't have been a better option (yes, I do love a good soufflé!)

We weren't expecting a final dessert, but were surprised when a carte was wheeled over to our table which included the materials to make a crepe suzette.  I'd never had the quintessential 70's style French dessert before, and was stoked to be finally getting to sample the classic dish. There was a theatre to the preparation of the dish that we loved, especially when the waiter slash table chef flambeed the Grand Marnier.  It was almost mesmerising watching the whole process take place and when the final product was placed on little square plates, the result was a little bit of a let down!  It was an OK dessert, but not one that I'd order specifically again.  

We were stuffed and literally couldn't eat another bite, which became a problem with Chef Lacour came out to thank us for dining at Le Dome de Cristal and presented a box with one last treat. The little chocolate dome's would have been the perfect finish the the meal if we could have found room for them!

Our meal at Le Dome de Cristal was spectacular if not completely perfect.  The journey that the incredibly talented Charles-Benoit Lacour had taken us on had been one of the better degustations we'd had in Hong Kong.  It was so typically French with its rich flavours and beautiful sauce, but also  the little nods to Asia helped.

Service was a cut above, with the impeccable wait staff being perfect in every way, including the theatrics at our table that, in theory, could have gone wrong with lesser staff.  They were dressed perfectly for the setting, their black suits continuing the illusion of complete opulence in the centre of Hong Kong.

Look, if you're not into the opulent setting and incredibly rich French cuisine, then you might not like Le Dome de Cristal.  Personally, I loved the flavours and the pomp and ceremony of the setting, especially loving the dome centrepiece of the dining room. There's always room for decadence for those special occasions, or if you just want to treat yourself.....

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