Saturday, 19 March 2016

Pierre Hong Kong - Lunch at the Mandarin Oriental

In roughly thirty six hours I head off to Paris for a Gastronomy tour of arguably the home of modern cuisine.  To say I'm excited is an understatement.

I've been dining out at quite a few French fine dining restaurants of late, really getting myself psyched for the real deal in Paris.  I did have a cunning plan to go on a short hiatus from French food in the month leading up to our Paris trip, mainly so I didn't overdo a good thing.  It didn't work out so well though, barely a week into my self imposed ban, I found myself booked into Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental.

I like to tell myself that it was because I was having lunch with a mate from the UK that I needed to go somewhere special.  I also told myself that since I'd made a booking for Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, and surely I needed to have dined in the Hong Kong outlet before sampling the French maestro's own cooking.  In reality, I'm just a sucker for French cuisine and any reason seemed like a great idea a the time.

Located on the 25th floor of the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Pierre is one of the dozen or so two Michelin Starred restaurants in Hong Kong.  Pierre Gagnair is a culinary genius who needs little introduction in the world of modern French cooking and his Asian outlet is fronted by Gagnaire protégé, Jean Denis Le Bras.  At just 39 years of age, Chef Jean Denis was the perfect choice to lead the Pierre team in Hong Kong, accumulating an impressive amount of experience in his native home before spending time honing his skills in London.

In a perfect world, I'd have preferred to have visited Pierre for dinner, but my buddy from London was only in town for a short time and we had just enough time to squeeze in a decent lunch.  After making our way to the 25th floor of the Mandarin Oriental, we were led through the plush interior of Pierre to our seats, which had spectacular views of the Hong Kong skyline.  There was quite a modern feel to the dining room, the low and lazy chairs were almost as comfortable as lounge chairs and, while quite a formal setting, felt quite relaxing on a Friday afternoon.

As relaxed as we felt, there was still a little stiffness from our wait staff, a formality that only partially felt right in the setting.  Our menus were presented with a flourish and we stopped our joking around for a few moments while we contemplated our lunch.  We'd decided to go with the Express Lunch menu, which it had to be said was very well priced for a two Michelin starred restaurant.  With many delectable looking items on offer, we compared our possible selections and it was at this point that I was slightly berated for an item that had caught my eye.

I'm a big fan of foie gras, and mentioning to Johnzo that I was likely to order the foie gras on the menu, only to be given a lecture about how the delicacy is created.  I won't go into details now, suffice to say it's pretty ugly when you get right down to it.  So, I'd agreed to alter my choice of second course, just to appease my dining buddy.  This is an important and funny point, which I'll get into a little bit later.

Shortly after placing our orders, our waiter was back with the offer of freshly baked and crusty mini baguettes, along with a nob of specially imported salted French butter.  The crusty bread was joined by a tasty amuse bouche of gin meringue topped with a cucumber slice, which was totally ignored by Johnzo, allowing me to snaffle up both portions.

Given we were partaking in the Express lunch menu, true to form, our meal was prepared and delivered with military precision and pace.  Our first course was the marinated mackerel with grilled octopus, brown shrimp jelly, shizo paste and a butter milk and lime granita.  I quite liked the plating of the dish, which was contemporary messy where everything was carefully placed to appear rustic.  The dish itself divided the table, with Johnzo not particularly liking the dish, with the brown shrimp jelly being a little overpowering.  Being a little more accustomed to Asian flavours, I did't mind so much.  I thought the mackerel was lovely, fresh and a little fatty, it was the star on the plate.  I was a little disappointed with the octopus though, which looked and tasted much more like calamari to me.  When eating octopus, I want to see the tentacles and feel the texture!

We went in different directions for our second course. I'd ordered the poached organic egg, 'Hervé This', leek fondu, Bordelaise sauce and shaved mimolette cheese.  I'd been quite looking forward to the dish, but in what can only be described as the ultimate irony, I agreed to swap dishes with Johnzo, who'd accidentally ordered the foie gras soup!  After giving me so much grief about the way foie gras was created and prepared, he'd misread the menu and ordered the very dish I was looking at!  I never did get to taste the slow cooked egg, but Johnzo said it was pretty tasty!

My second course ended up being the foie gras soup with amontillado, gambas and grapefruit. Initially presented with the bright orange of the prawns sitting on a bed of stewed onion, the foie gras soup was poured at the table.  The light and bubbly soup looked quite lovely as it was poured, but upon tasting, wasn't the rich and creamy texture and flavour that I'd been expecting.  I love the flavour of roasted or grilled foie gras, which is creamy and sweet, but the soup had a harsh flavour that sat uncomfortably at the back of my palate, it certainly wasn't rich and creamy. The prawns were beautifully cooked and the stewed onion was actually quite nice against the bark of the foie gras soup.  I'd have loved the dish if that foie gras had been creamy...

I think Johnzo got the best of mains with his selection of grilled heart of rib-eye, served with roquefort sauce and sweet potato croquette.  The beautifully presented beef was perfectly cooked, and the wonderful colour of the sauce was the perfect accompaniment for the very strong beef flavour.  The croquette was lovely and golden, matching the colour of the roquefort sauce nicely.  For Johnzo, the meal had started off slowly but had finished off on a high with simple and delightful flavours.

There was nothing inherently wrong with my dish, the flavours from the scallops with zezette broth with Paris mushroom and mange-tout, were really quite nice.  My main problem came from the presentation, with the beautiful scallops being quartered on the plate.  Call me a traditionalist here, but I like my scallops served whole with that beautiful caramelisation driving the rich sweet flavour of the scallops.  The star of the dish was the zezette broth, which is a concoction made from herbs and coconut milk, I sure would have loved a lot more of the broth in the dish.

It was time for dessert and Johnzo decided that he'd had enough, so it was left to me to finish off the meal.  I was super happy with my choice of 'Paley Cuimet; mulberry velvety' an interesting sounding dessert that was incredibly pretty on the plate.  To this day, I still don't really know what the dessert was, but there was a creamy parfait like cream sitting on a biscuit base, surrounded by a very tart mulberry sauce and sorbet.  It was essential to mix the sauce and sorbet with the creamy substance, the sweetness balancing out the tartness, but once you got the balance right, it was delicious.

I'm always a little worried when I go to a Michelin starred restaurant for lunch, especially when you're getting a cut priced version of the main menu.  I forever ask myself if the meal will be the same quality as the full priced dinner version.  There is a part of me that want's to believe that there should be no difference in the food coming out of the kitchen, but another more practical part of me that would be disappointed if the food quality was the same at quarter the price!

Did I love our meal at Pierre?  Not particularly, but I didn't dislike it either.  It was serviceable and for the price, there were no complaints at all.  But therein lies the problem.  If I'd received the same meal at the regular pricing, I would have been very disappointed and felt just a little ripped off.  

I will go back to Pierre for a dinner with the girl, I'm really keen to be blown away and I'm hoping that a dinner at Pierre will be substantially better than lunch.  In the meantime, I'm booked in for dinner at the three Michelin starred Pierre Gagnaire in a few days time in Paris - my excitement has not at all been diminished by lunch experience - after all, I knew what I was getting myself into.

We were given a couple of chocolate tarts as a pre dessert - beautiful pastry and very chocolaty

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