Friday, 8 July 2016

Caprice - The return visit was perfection

My best mate had not been to visit for over eighteen months, so when he set out the criteria for our reunion dinner, there were two considerations.  It had to be French fine dining and there had to be a memorable fromage.

There are many high quality French fine diners here in Hong Kong, but there is only one with a cheese platter that can only be carried to your table by two wait staff.  It ended up being an easy choice, so we booked into Caprice, located at the Four Seasons.

My first and last visit to Caprice had been memorable, enjoyable, but not spectacular, so we were taking a bit of a risk by recommending it to the Big Boy.  If it didn't live up to expectations, we'd be hearing about it for many years to come.

With Two Michelin stars, Caprice is one of the best restaurants in our adopted city, and even though it lost a Michelin star in 2014, chef Fabrice Vulin has maintained an incredible standard of dining.  (For more information on Fabrice Vulin, check out my previous post).

Access to Caprice is through the beautiful Four Seasons hotel, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd entered ancient Greece with all of the marble leading up to the front of the restaurant.  An interesting dichotomy, there is just a simple plaque leading up to the doors that open automatically before you're granted access to a decadent and plushly decorated dining room and a magnificent and massive open style kitchen.  

The kitchen itself is staffed by countless supporting chefs and it's almost impossible to make out Chef Fabrice in the organised chaos of the kitchen.  It actually felt as if there were as many chefs preparing the Caprice menu as diners seated at the tables.  It was an impressive sight for the girl and I who'd seen it before, but all the more spectacular for the Big Boy, who had not.

Seated at our table, we were provided with a rundown of the menu options which included a special truffle dinner and wine pairing from head sommelier Sebastian Allano and Chef Fabrice. We were tempted by the special menu, but given my status as a non-drinker, and the fact that we'd tried the degustation on a previous visit, we opted for the simple a la carte.

I say simple, but the menu at Caprice is anything but simple.  There was a raft of options that looked tantalising, making it very difficult to decide on a final selection, in fact, it wasn't until the very last moment that I'd been able to decide on a starter and main.  Thankfully, I'd been given a little extra time by the girl and the Big Boy having similar such dilemmas.  

It's customary to enjoy a glass of champagne when dining at a fancy French restaurant, and both of my dining companions opted for a glass before the meal commenced.  Our sommelier seemed a little disappointed that I'd decided not to drink, and even more-so when I turned down the option of a cocktail.

An amuse bouche arrived at the same time as a semolina bread loaf and a rather mild olive oil. Looking very pretty lined up as a trio, it was almost a shame to select my my avocado tartlet with fennel and salmon roe.  The short pastry and creamy avocado was lovely and I soon forgot about breaking the aesthetic of the presentation.  

The warm semolina bread was extremely interesting in that our mild olive oil was perfectly matched to balance out the sweet earthy flavour of the semolina (purified wheat middlings of durum wheat). On its own, the oil was quite sharp and peppery, but became much more mild when combined with the bread.

A second amuse bouche was presented and the diced potato topped with French egg sea foam, sliced truffle and potato chips was wonderful.  Presented in an egg shell, the salty foam balanced out the earthiness of the potato, giving a contrasting flavour as it dissolved on the tongue.  Truffle helped with the flavour and potato chips added texture.  It was a sharp punch to the palate and really prepared us for the meal to come.

The Big Boy started his meal with the 'Le Foie Gras d’Alsace, La Rhubarbe'; duck foie gras terrine, with a duck consommé jelly and accompanied by a rhubarb chutney.  We were impressed with the size of the foie gras, which was a huge rectangular slab that was precisely prepared and placed on the plate.  The chutney was strategically placed around the plate, ensuring that there was just enough of the tart condiment to help balance out the richness from the terrine.  Plenty of toast was provided to help with texture, making it quite the spectacular dish.

As good as the foie gras was, it paled in comparison to the 'Homard des Côtes Bretonnes'; poached Brittany blue lobster with bouillon, vegetables and coral mayonnaise.  A very generous portion of immaculately prepared lobster, claws sitting by the side and the perfectly poached lobster tail sitting amongst the bouillon jelly and diced vegetables.  I simply loved the simplicity of the expertly prepared lobster as it contrasted with the much more complex flavours of the bouillon and coral mayonnaise.  Each mouthful was a delight and I was almost saddened when I finished my last mouthful (although I was immensely gratified that I'd ordered the dish to begin with).

The girl had also selected the poached lobster as her starter and was equally impressed.  She was also delighted with her main choice of 'La Poularde de Bresse'; Bresse chicken with the legs prepared as a caillette and served with confit tomato in Romaine leaf and a side of crushed potato. Bresse chicken is simply the best available in the world, known for it's incredible flavour and purity of breeding.  Rare in Hong Kong but more common in France, the Bresse chicken was a simple and tasty dish that left a staggering flavour on the palate once the last bite had been devoured.  

The big boy and I both chose the  beef as our main, with one small exception.  I'd splurged on the Japanese wagyu, whilst the Big By had settled on the Salers beef tenderloin.  Both were served with pommes soufflés and spring carrots then finished with a sticky dolce-forte sauce.  I never tasted my mate's steak, but did provide a piece of my Wagyu for him to sample, to which he simply stated 'perfection'.  And it was perfect, the medium rare beef was as tender as any meat I've eaten and had a deep, rich flavour that was accentuated by the sticky jus.  It would have almost been too much if it were not for the lightly cooked carrot topped with a carrot puree, the earthy yet sweet vegetable balancing out the fatty flavour of the wagyu.

It was time for desserts and as we ordered, the excellent maître d' took us for a tour of the kitchen and the secret cheese cellar located 'out back'.  It was incredible to hear how Caprice secured and stored its cheese in a temperature controlled room.  To ensure the perfect storage, the cheese sat on straw, making sure that it never came into contact with the wood panelling.  It was an impressive sight to behold.

Back at our table, our desserts finally arrived.  Well, I was the only one eating dessert, which was the tahitian vanilla souffle with Bergeron Apricot compote and streusel.  The exquisitely risen soufflé was presented on a plate that had been painted with apricot in a wicked spiral.  It was simply delicious, light and sweet (but not overly sweet) and a wonderful example of everything you'd expect from a Two Michelin starred kitchen.  

The girl and Big Boy probably had the last laugh though, by putting their trust in the wait staff to provide a fromages platter, they'd completely lucked out with so much cheese, with such variance of types and flavours, it was impossible for me to keep up.  Needless to say, I've never seen my six foot five friend beaten by any cheese course before, but this was the exception, as much as he tried (ably helped by SC) he could just not finish every bite.

There were a couple of stand outs from our evening, the food and the service.  You expect a lot from a Two Michelin star restaurant, and rightly so, but the service on the night had far exceeded any realistic expectations of good service.  The entire team were incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and all too willing to share our dining experience with us.  The tour of the kitchen and cheese storage room were fun and informative and really added to the experience.  

In fact, our service was faultless.  We simply could not have asked for more.

So too was our food and, for the girl and Big Boy, their matched wine selections were exquisite.

Initially I'd thought we were taking a risk by going to Caprice with our mate, but at the end of the meal I knew I'd made the right choice.  Last year, Caprice only just missed out on my Top Ten meals of 2015.  

I can guarantee that it won't happen for 2016.

It was simply the best dining experience we've had this year.

The best lobster dish I've had in HK, possibly anywhere!
It was an expensive cut of meat at $1300 HKD - but it was worth every dollar
The view of the kitchen from the chef's table - which led to the secret cheese cellar
Specialty cheese at Caprice - they turn over a lot!
And with the biggest and most comprehensive fromages that I've seen anywhere - it's no wonder they have a special storage room
Caprice is a special occasion restaurant - and very beautiful
Our petite four were almost too much!  But we did our best to finish them off
The path to culinary heaven

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