Sunday, 22 November 2015

Caprice - A generous and delicious tasting menu

When I rang to make my reservation at Caprice, I was reminded twice through the call that dress standards applied.  As if I needed reminding!  Caprice is one of the finest restaurants in Hong Kong and located in the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel, so I didn't really need to be told that dinner would be an occasion to dress up!

There was a touch of controversy in 2014, when Caprice lost both it's third star and acclaimed head chef Vincent Thierry, which meant that new face of Caprice, chef Fabrice Vulin had stepped into the lion's den.  Was Caprice on the way down, of was the loss of a star just a hiccup in the history of the great restaurant?  French born Vulin was certainly an inspired replacement, having run many two and three Michelin-starred restaurants across France and the rest of Europe.

We knew we were stepping into the heart of Hong Kong's elite when we crossed the threshold of the Four Seasons Hotel.  Not only is the building quite intimidating, the plethora of Ferraris and Bentleys parked out front reminded us that there was plenty of money in HK.  We'd not been to the HK Four Seasons before, but it's a beautiful building with immaculately presented staff that were only too happy to help us find Caprice.

We arrived right on opening time, and spent a few moment inspecting the immaculate entrance to Caprice, before our Maitre 'd noticed us and quickly came over to give us a hearty welcome. When we'd booked, we were told that we'd be unlikely to secure a window seat, so were pleasantly surprised when shown to our table that was right by the window and afforded us spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour.

As you would expect in such a setting, our wait staff were on hand to ensure our dinner would be special, which started off by presenting us with the leather bound wine list, which was as comprehensive a list as you'd see anywhere.  Next over was the dining menu, which comprised of a special 'game' tasting menu reflecting the fact that it was indeed game season, a super looking a la carte selection and the chef's signature tasting menu.  There was a moment of temptation for the game tasting menu, but we'd come to check out chef Vulin's tasting menu, so stuck to our original plan. 

In the tradition of fine dining establishments the world over, we were treated with a number of small bites before the meal commenced.  A small glass was presented with a couple of savoury amuse bouche, a little cheese puff filled with pancetta and a little donut like pastry that was incredibly light containing tomato, olive and hints of gruyere cheese.  We were also given a semolina bun that was accompanied with a super light olive oil that had peppery highlights.  The lightly toasted bun was warm and soft and very more-ish; I had to remind myself not to fill up on bread!

I love French fine dining restaurants, the atmosphere and the approach is amazing.  We had a view of the open style kitchen and were able to watch our food make its way from the kitchen to our table.  Always on a silver tray before individual dishes removed and placed with reverence and care in front of the diner.

The chef's tasting menu started lightly with a lovely French oyster, beautifully presented with delicately placed micro herbs, and filled with an apple infused tartare of fresh shellfish in a sea water jelly.  The care taken to slice the oyster and to embed the tartare was amazing, delicate and worth the effort.  There was a lovely mix of soft oyster flesh and the slightly granular filling.  I have to say though, I prefer my oysters with a little more salinity than the one presented at Caprice, which was delicious but missing that taste of the sea.

The seafood continued with the smoked Scottish salmon layered with a mascarpone fennel cream and a soft seawater jelly.  There was again a high level of precision layering the ingredients then delicately topping the dish with sea urchin, tomato, caviar and a decent amount of gold leaf.  The smoked salmon was beautiful and of the highest quality and, lightly smoked, it worked very well with the mascarpone.  I didn't really pick up the fennel, but I certainly got the contrasting saltiness from the caviar and sea urchin.  It was quite a generous size too, so I resolved to stop eating the bread rolls that were being offered quite regularly.

If you were going to over indulge with food, ingredients like foie gras and truffle would come to mind, which were exactly the ingredients for the next course.  The generous serving warm duck foie gras was offset with a foam of mushroom and Autumn black truffle essence that hid a wild mushroom ravioli.  The foie gras was as creamy and rich as you'd expect, and while I'd had better before (Vasco, see post here), it was none-the-less deliciously decedent.  The hint of truffle was just icing on the cake, but if I am honest, a little more truffle flavour would have been appreciated.

As a lover of scallops, I was excited about the next dish, which comprised pan-seared scallops bathed in an incredibly light and airy potato puree, then topped with Kristal caviar.  Beautifully prepared, there was a wonderful caramelisation on the scallops that was simply perfect with the saltiness of the caviar.  The light texture of the potato puree was interesting, almost dissolving on the palate as soon as you tasted.  Hidden under the scallops and foam was a watercress puree, which added little bite and balance to the dish, which was bordering on being too sweet until that point.

Each of the courses to date had been quite generous in size, so midway through the tasting menu, we shared a look that said 'boy, how are we going to get through this?!'  It wasn't helped with our next course of sautéed Mediterranean Sea Bass accompanied by Brittany artichokes, little parcels of spinach and a Burgundy black truffle sauce.  What was amazing about the dish was the perfectly wrapped triangles of spinach and artichoke, which were made more special by adding rounds of fresh truffle.  Of course the Sea Bass was exquisitely cooked, flakey, with crisp and salty skin. Sea Bass isn't a particularly strong flavoured fish, but the balance of the dish was in perfect harmony, so the truffle sauce and spinach didn't overpower the fish's natural flavour and sweetness.

We'd had a choice for mains, there was either the rabbit or the wagyu, so we decided to talk alternative routes.  SC chose the Beauce wild hare leg civet, conchiglie pasta and roasted onions with a red wine sauce.  It was very simply presented with the deep red of the wild hare stew offset by the white of the onions and pasta.  It was a beautifully rich and complex dish, with intense flavours from the slow cooked hare, the thigh had been used to extract even more flavour.  The roasted onion was the saviour on the dish, which helped bring down the super intense flavours from the stew.  Chatting to our waiter when the plate was being cleared, he informed us that most Asians who ordered the dish couldn't get through the plate (himself included), the flavours being too intense!

My choice had been the Japanese Wagyu beef with chickpea, artichoke mousseline and dolce-forte sauce and had come with a supplement of $250.  Being full blooded Wagyu, I'd asked for the beef to be cooked medium as opposed to my usual steak preference of medium rare.  As it turned out, I could probably have gone well done as the fat content was off the charts.  There were a couple of things I really loved about the dish, the beef was the highlight, but the sticky sauce that had hints of citrus was  the component that elevate the dish.  I didn't particularly care for the chickpea puffs, which were a little dry for me, and I wasn't a fan of the artichoke sauce. Luckily the Wagyu was the star on the plate, so I forgave the elements that I didn't like (and to be fair, were flavours I don't normally like).

You kind of expect great fromage when dining in a classic French fine diner, but the Caprice experience took the idea of cheese course and elevated it to unheralded levels.  The cheese board was so big, it had to be carried over by two wait staff and was stacked with more variations of cheese than I thought possible!  With an incredible range of soft and hard cheeses, I think we slightly disappointed our waiters by only taking a couple of small slices of cheese.  By that stage, we had serious doubts that we could finish our desserts!

Thankfully, our first dessert was more like a palate cleanser and the verrine of apple tatin with golden apple sorbet and a light crumble was nothing like I'd been expecting.  By its description, I was expecting something more like a traditional tarte tatin, but what we received was a light and refreshing taste of apples, both a foam and a sorbet.  It was just what we needed to dive into our last dessert.

My all time favourite dessert is a traditional French soufflé, so I was super excited about the piémont hazelnut and Lemon Soufflé with a side of lemon sorbet.  It was probably the only real disappointment of the night.  The soufflé was covered by a thin layer of lemon toffee, the first sign that all was not right (in my eyes).  I peeled the toffee off the souffle and dipped my spoon in, only to find that it was ever so slightly under cooked and didn't have that lovely smooth and light texture that you look for.  It didn't help that there were hazelnut and lemon or apple pieces at the bottom of the ramekin.  Texturally and flavour wise, it really missed the mark for me, but at least the lemon sorbet was a winner.

Dessert aside, we found the Caprice chef's tasting menu to be quite spectacular.  Not only were there beautifully constructed dishes that were full of flavour, there was a generous amount of food delivered.  Which helped take the sting out of the price of the tasting menu, which was right up there at HK$2,000 per person before food.  Expensive, yes, but I found it much better value than many of the other high end fine dining establishments around Hong Kong.

We really appreciated the service from the clearly professional wait staff, each and every one of them completely knowledgeable and there to ensure our every whim was catered to.  Our sommelier was brilliant too, very knowledgeable about the wines and matching, offering SC a number of different tastes before she settled on a lovely red from Bordeaux to go with her main course.  But, you'd expect nothing less from what many regard as Hong Kong's best restaurant.

Was it the best meal I'd had in Hong Kong?  No.  It was very good, and I'd put it in my top five or ten meals.  Good, great even, but not perfect.  My main of Wagyu just needed a little more flavour, especially from the accompanying artichoke puree and I just didn't like the chickpea at all. The soufflé was also a let down, and when I compare it to some of the best I've had, it was way off the mark.

With all the debate about two Michelin stars or three, I'd have to say that the guide has got this one right.  Caprice is every bit worth it's two Michelin stars, but has a little work to do to climb that mountain for three.

The petite four were almost too much!  We were so full
The souffle was not quite right for me - but the lemon sorbet was great and topped by a lifelike spun sugar green leaf!
Bigger than a cheese cart, this cheese board needed two wait staff to carry about!
A team of 26 chefs on hand so for service
There was a casual elegance in the restaurant, it was almost reverent
A beautiful table setting in a beautiful restaurant

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