Sunday, 24 July 2016

Le Reve - Japanese ingredients and French fusion cooking

Fusion is a term that's going out of fashion if you listen to some chefs, it's a term that's reluctantly used to describe the blending of cuisines. Others wear the term with pride, looking to purposefully blend cultures, cuisines and ingredients, constantly challenging themselves to come up with something new, something indescribable, something totally delicious.

You might not hear rising Japanese chef Ryogo Ozawa specifically use the term fusion anywhere, but the technically brilliant chef has perfected the art of blending traditional Japanese ingredients with innovative French cooking, a blending that he calls French cuisine, new style.  Having worked at three Michelin starred L'Assiette Champenoise in Reims, Chef Ozawa has created a menu that is both technically brilliant, visually stunning and most importantly, wonderful to consume.

Le Reve has only been open for a few months, but the contemporary French restaurant is the culmination of five friends' vision and dreams.  The five friends were all students in the UK, traveling the continent and consuming all of the delights that Europe has to offer, when the idea of one day opening their own restaurant.

Oh how those boys must feel now that Le Reve is open.

We made our way to the fancy and colourful Zing building in Causeway bay, the home of Le Reve and once we exited the elevator, our gaze fell across the compact dining area that still looked shiny and new.  With a bar close to the lift exit and a kitchen area that was partially hidden down the far end of the dining area, the room gave off a feeling of spaciousness.  Even better, there was an outdoor dining area that would have been quite spectacular to dine from, if not for the searing heat of the current Hong Kong summer.

Seated at our table, our menu was tucked into a solid and circular block of wood that served as the table's main decoration point.  The eight course menu had been pre-selected shortly after making our booking with Le Reve contacting us by WhatsApp to prepare us for our tasting menu.  Also on the table were a large autumn leaf that would feature as part of the meal and a square volcanic stone slab with wooden butter knife that would double as a bread plate.  Each of the table decorations seem connected in a way that was yet to play out.

The large autumn leaf turned out to play a role as a placemat for the hessian sack that contained our bread options for the evening.  Of the two options, I much preferred the warm and crusty baguette, which once cracked open and spread with the lump of unsalted french butter was heaven in my mouth.  Sometimes, the simplicity of warm bread and butter is so underrated.

The block of wood that had served as our menu holder came into play with our first course of 'plage et montagne'; served in a simple Chinese cup, the strips of Hokkaido crab mixed wonderfully with picked radish and perfectly diced squares of apple and peach.  Sitting atop the crab was shaved pickled beetroot, which when mixed with the sweetness of the crab and the tart bite of the radish and apple, delivered a supremely balanced dish that was devoured in seconds.

There was a congruency with the delivery of the second dish, with those same volcanic rocks forming the basis of the presentation for 'saison'.  The dish was actually a glass filled with a tomato gazpacho and decorated with a delicate cucumber flower that was the first to be consumed.  Sitting atop the stones were two pieces of lightly tempura pike conger, the delicately flavoured fish sweet on the palate.  The sweetness was a welcome contrast to the slight heat of the gazpacho that was further cooled with diced cucumber.  I simply adored the pike and tomato gazpacho combination and appreciated the simple and elegant presentation that made the dish visually appealing.

Chef Ozawa stepped up the presentation when 'tradition' was presented.  The intricate presentation was simple yet so effective, with a wedge of incredibly well cooked Nodoguro (often called rosy Seabass) ensconced in a perfect sphere of potato chip.  The sweetness of the fish was enhanced with a vin jaune sauce, essentially a white wine sauce native to France.  There was a contrasting flavour that came from a zucchini sauce and colour came from green herbs that contained peppermint.  The fusion of flavours and textures combined wonderfully,  providing one of the most enjoyable fish dishes I can remember.

Our next dish was called 'connexion' and consisted of blue lobster from Brittany and a creamy foam that was mixed with perfectly diced tomato.  Presented in a massive bowl that had a vibrant orange colour beneath the black ceramic top, the lobster was expertly cooked and tasted fantastic with the creamy substance that I couldn't quite place.  It was a luxurious piece of cooking that continued to tell a tale of contemporary French cookery.

I've had some amazing wagyu over the last few years but I would be hard pressed to have tasted such an amazing piece of beef as the Le Reve Satsuma beef sirloin (Kagoshima).  There was not a huge amount of the beef presented in the curved plate and accompanied by burnt leek and a strong jus, but the piece I had was completely mind blowing.  It was so tender, I could have cut the beef with a spoon.  The super fatty piece of beef was a perfect medium rare and so filled with sweet fatty flavour that it could have brought me to tears.  I didn't care for the overly solid leek that came with the dish, it was too astringent and completely out of place, but I did care for that piece of beef.  I will go to my grave craving another slice.

Luckily, I don't have to be so dramatic!  I could just go back to Le Reve for another piece.

Our next course was a pre dessert palate cleanser, which I was reluctant to taste, not wanting to destroy the lingering sweetness and memory of that Kagoshima beef.  Alas, I finally succumbed to the palate cleanser, and while not as delicious as my previous course, the fresh mango and grape sorbet was up to the task of following such a glorious dish.  It was actually hard for me to believe the the sorbet was not white peach, such was the interesting combination of mango and grape.  

Palate cleansed, we were ready for the final course, hoping that it would be the right crescendo to a meal that had so far been (just about) faultless.

When reading the menu, I'd been intrigued as to how the bamboo charcoal and raspberry dessert would be presented.  It was quite beautiful, the dessert presented on a square block plate, the upside down tart case made with bamboo charcoal filled with a vanilla cream and topped with fresh raspberries.  A crumble added to the effect.  The flavours were simple, the charcoal flavour more resembling chocolate short pastry but contrasting nicely with the vanilla cream.  The raspberry was sharp, helping settle the sweetness of the dish and balancing out what was a very nice way to finish a meal.

Well, not quite finish the meal, we still had the petite four to contend with, which was an interesting mix of fresh lychee on the stick, a yogurt gel and a chocolate fudge with tuille.

I absolutely adored our meal at Le Reve, I found the cooking to be exciting and very contemporary. I could see the influences from both Japan and France, with Chef Ozawa's time in three Michelin starred L'Assiette Champenoise clearly paying dividends in his new restaurant.

If I had one complaint though, it would be on the pacing of the meal, with the eight course tasting menu feeling a little rushed.  When I go for a tasting menu, I don't want the meal to be over in ninety minutes, it should be a full experience and well timed.  It was a minor complaint though as the food was simply stunning to look at and more importantly delicious to eat.

I loved the service and the explanation of each of the meals as they were presented, each course explained in detail, and although the command of English was not perfect, we were able to mostly understand each description.  Interestingly, we were the only westerners in the restaurant, which was fairly unusual in a cutting edge French restaurant.  The girl was able to have a good conversation with the sommelier throughout the evening, and her wines were matched expertly to the courses.

Le Reve is actually the type of restaurant that I love dining in, with cutting edge food that is full flavoured and not super expensive (well, not super cheap also).  Given I can't really get the memory of that Kagoshima beef out of my head, it's pretty likely that I'll be back soon enough!

The mystery of the leaf
Solved - a placemat for our warm bread rolls
Interesting place settings - all with a purpose
Simple flavours combining to a delicious and simple start to the meal
Test tubes held our sticky soy jus - but the Kagoshima beef stood well on its own
The fully stock ked bar
Just about a full house but we were the only westerners!

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