Sunday, 10 April 2016

Seasons by Oliver E - 2nd visit better than the 1st

Seasons by Oliver E is rapidly becoming one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong.

One of the few Michelin Starred restaurants I've been to for lunch that actually impressed me (see post here), I decided that an excursion for dinner was required.  After all, if the food was so good with the reserve team in the kitchen, it surely would be even better with the main team, right?!

With a resume that's impressive, including time at Hong Kong's Three Michelin Starred L'Atelier de Joel Rubicon and Two Starred Pierre Hong Kong, Chef Oliver has taken the best of both to come up with his own distinctive style.  With a mission to modernise French cuisine on his own terms, Seasons by Oliver E is a restaurant serves my kind of food.

The second visit to a restaurant is really important, especially if you loved the first experience. Investing time and hard earned cash in a city with tens of thousands of restaurants is no small commitment, and with so many great restaurants to explore, you need a good reason to return. I've been disappointed with a few second visits in HK, which unfortunately means that a third visit is unlikely.  I hoped that my second at Seasons would allow me to reap the rewards of that investment.

We were placed at the bar for our first visit, which was cool enough, but were thankful that we were given a table for our second. Seasons is a relaxed dining room that throws away the pretension of white linen and fine dining, and while I do love fine dining, it's sometimes a relief to be in a more casual environ; especially when the food is great.

With a throwback from L'Atelier, we were given a breadbasket that held many different types and styles to appease just about anyone.  The thick round of hand churned salted butter that accompanied the bread options ensured that we could lather on the delicious butter, in my case on a crusty baguette.

One of the things I loved about my lunch at Seasons was the broad range of tasty looking options, and even though the lunch menu is shorter than dinner, there were many options for us to agonise over.  The dinner menu was no different, albeit with many more delicious looking options for us to choose.  While there were many, many great looking options, in the end, there were a couple of courses that just screamed 'pick-me'.

Choosing a slightly more up-market version of a lunch time favourite, the girl order the Seasons signature dish of langoustines with venere rice risotto and masala butter.  The difference between the lunch iteration was replacing prawns with the more luxurious langoustines.  Looking delightful on the plate, the perfectly cooked langoustines managed to hold their own against the strong masala flavour from the risotto.  With a golden caramelisation, the flesh of the langoustines was very sweet, enhanced by a couple of pieces of sweet cherry tomato.  The risotto was just delightful, you could see each of the rice granules in the masala butter sauce.

Beef tartare is a classic French dish, one that I often find hard to pass when I see on a menu. The Seasons version was very traditional, although there wasn't a hen's or quail yolk sitting atop; it had already been mixed in with the beef.  I loved the plating of the tartare, the specially designed plate held a spot for the beef, a small bowl of chips and a small but tasty salad.  The idea was to use the chips as crunch and texture with the tartare, which had just enough zing to make it interesting.  I'd initially thought the salad looked out of place, but it was much appreciated to help balance out the rich meaty flavour of the beef.

The girl was in raptures when she noted that the main special was venison, one of her all time favourite proteins.  The French wild deer with quince and red wine sauce looked just beautiful on the plate, the four rounds of venison shaping the plate, making a mockery of the traditional presentation in threes.  The rare venison was sensational, the powerful gamey flavour tantalising the palate.  There was a sticky jus that further enlivened the flavour and with a sharp contrast from the quince, the dish was one that would not soon be forgotten.  I'd have been completely jealous of the girl's main, if I'd not been completely distracted from my own.

I chose the French duck breast 'Maison Burgaud' with mashed sweet corn, charred corn pieces and a potato emulsion that was right out of the Joel Robuchon recipe book.  Maison Burgard is a family run business that dates back around 80 years and is recognised globally for producing the best ducks imaginable.  Up to that point, I'd been very disappointed with all of the duck I'd had in Hong Kong.  Up to that point, I'd never had a Maison Burgard duck, and now I'll probably reject any duck unless it comes from the little farm in France.  The duck was wonderful, the skin rendered wonderfully and the flesh served rare, allowing the strong flavours to shine through. The combination of the corn and the potato emulsion was a revelation, the sweetness of the corn enhanced by the buttery emulsion. The plating was a little strange, almost too old school, but I did like the contrast of the colourful ingredients on the stark black plate.

Dessert was a must, and we both made choices that should have been spectacular.  SC had chosen a tarte tatin, which is traditionally a wonderful 'upside-down' apple tart made with filo pastry.  The Seasons version was a little different and presented deconstructed - very unusual for such a traditional dish and one we were sceptical about.  Fortunately, it was delicious and while it looked very different than expected, all of the flavours were present and if you closed your eyes, you could imagine the plate filled with a classic tarte tatin.

You can't get more traditional than a soufflé and I'd been hunting for a great soufflé for ages, so of course I went for the lemon soufflé (there was also a choice of a chocolate version).  What you like to see in a great soufflé is a light, consistent texture that's well risen above the top of a ramekin.  When the Season's version was presented, I was quite hopeful of a wonderful dessert; especially given the height at which the soufflé had risen.  While it looked the goods, it wasn't quite right.  The 'skin' on the top of the soufflé was too thick, and when I tried to dig my spoon in, the dessert collapsed on itself.  Unfortunately, the bottom half of the dessert hadn't set properly, enabling the collapse.  I was happy with the slight bitter twang from the lemon soufflé, but I was a tad disappointed.  It really needed an extra minute or so to set correctly.

I started off this post with a pretty bold statement.  Seasons by Oliver E is most certainly becoming one of my favourite restaurants.  The casual and relaxed environment in the dining area is offset by a serious approach to food in the kitchen.  The contemporary take on traditional French cuisine that highlights a seriously talented chef, who has learnt from the master and continued to develop on his own.

On our two visits to date, we've loved the semi formal approach by the wait staff, who've clearly been trained well and help to enhance the experience.  I love the open kitchen where you can see the army of chefs preparing the decidedly delicious cuisine.  However, with an open kitchen, I've noted that on both of our visits, Chef Oliver has not been in the house, which is just a little disappointing.  I'd love to get along one day and see the man himself marshalling the troops and ensuring that everything that leave the pass is perfect!  (ahem, soufflé).

Well, the good news is that we'll be back, often, so I'm hoping that the next time we're visiting, Chef Oliver will be present and accounted for.

Delicious food from Seasons by Oliver E

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