I was out on a walk in Chinatown last weekend and noticed a peculiar sign at the back of the flower market. It read:
“Please leave all your personal problems behind when you leave home for work.”
What a very odd place for such a sign, I thought. I could have sworn that it was directed at me. I went home thinking that someone was secretly trying to tell me to start writing again. It isn’t very nice to keep people waiting, my conscience told me. I know that. And as much as I would like to leave all my problems at home, but unfortunately I do most of my blogging there.
It is unfortunate that fate recently dealt with a set of bad cards over and I’m still trying to recover from all that has happened, in a way I best know how – by keeping silent. However, I also realized that perhaps I shouldn’t deviate from my task any longer. The best way to get over this hurdle is to face it head on -painful as it may be. What doesn’t break me only makes me stronger, right?
Hours before my mojo was taken away, I found myself up on the 25th floor of Hong Kong’s legendary Mandarin Oriental hotel with McCutie. We were greeted immediately by a friendly hostess in traditional Chinese dress complete with high slits and mandarin collars. She took the rather unglamorous shopping bags filled with last minute souvenirs from our hands, handed it to a butler and showed us to our table where our gracious host was waiting patiently for us. As he stood up to greet us, a friendly waiter came up with a black jacket for McCutie. He explained, apologetically, that the restaurant maintains a strict dress code. By now, I’m pretty sure that Geoffrey, the hotel’s social media/e-commerce manager, is not too impressed by our shabby time keeping skills or fashion sense either. I could’t help but think that we would be shown out the door with one more dining faux pas.
The restaurant we are dining in this evening is superstar Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s pied-à-terre. The 25th floor may not sound very high up on this sky scrapping island, but there is no doubt that they are at the top of their game. In fact, they just celebrated their 2nd Michelin star awarded by the highly revered gastronomic guide. It’s not very surprising given how monsieur Chef Gagniere is often regarded as THE wizard of innovative French gastronomy and is no stranger to such high accolades. He returns to the restaurant a few times a year and from what I’ve gathered, it is said to be a grand event when that happens. For me, the stunning view here alone is worthy of 3-stars. Where else can you get an almost 180-degree floor to ceiling windows framing the gorgeous Victoria Harbour and a grand view into the central business district?
AMUSE-GUEULE: Pepper clams with Chickpea Flour +Almond Crumbles + Apple Paste with Poppy Seed + Yabbies with Lemon and Mango.
Most of the time, the chef leading the culinary team here is the celebrated chef’s protégé, Olivier Elzer from Gagnaire’s team in Paris. He and his team was committed to impress us right from the start, arousing our palettes with an adorable selection of popcorn-sized amuse-gueule or “titbits”, which were all at once sweet, savoury, acidic and chewy.
Just when our bouches were amused and seduced, a trolley filled with many more small dishes pulled right up next to us. I half expected for the waiter to ask us to make our selections like we would at a dimsum restaurant. Then, I was told that these were actually the real amuse-bouche that the chef has specially prepared. Luckily I kept my mouth shut and silently watched the waiters assemble them in swift poetic movements. I soon learned that this artistic installation is the signature presentation style of chef Gagnaire.
AMUSE BOUCHE: Lettuce with Bone Marrow and Black Olive + Seaweed Salad with Sesame + Beatroot Chutney with Star Agnes + Morel Mushroom Cream with Linquorish + Clams with Tuna Cream and Banana.
And when asked if there was a particular flow as to how we should partake this exquisite course, Wilfred, our waiter simply replied, “There is no particular order, but if it was was me, I’ll go straight for the morel as that is my favourite.” He was right, no matter where we started, a kaleidoscope of different flavours tantalized our taste buds.
Dining at Pierre is a pleasure for all senses. Its interior, while dramatic is nothing but a simple backdrop to its real star – the ornate and almost architectural cuisine. The restaurant saw the world-wide introduction of a new style of cooking called ‘note by note’, created by Pierre Gagnaire with chemist Hervé This back in the early 2000’s. Made entirely of simple compounds, this style of cooking sparked a new and controversial revolution in the gastronomic world. At a time when the world demands for more “natural” products, cooking with science to create new taste, odors and textures seems a little too provocative. For me, it is just a case of po-tay-toes versus po-tah-toes. If you think about it, we have been consuming compounds like water, sugar, salt all our lives. Live and let live.
The trolley pulled right up next to our table again, this time with big shinny silver domes covering our plates. Hidden under them was my special entrée du jour.
BLACK WINTER TRUFFLES: Yabbi with Cream & Shaved truffles + Green & White Asparagus + Julienne Truffles Salad.
(*note: I may be wrong with the names of this course. I didn’t note the specials down.)
This seasonal truffle course is a novelty and must for any truffle fan. While it may sound like an overkill, surprisingly it was not. Each element was prepared with different considerations to showcase the truffle’s diverse properties. For instance, the taste of sea and earth complimented each other as cold sweet pieces of yabbi, richly smothered in an airy cream corn-like flavoured truffle cream with fresh slices of black truffle underneath giving the entire dish enough body and a nutty flavour to endure more than a just few bites. As Malaysians would say, “Tak jelak“.
TOURTEAU / KING CRAB algues et Obsiblue prawns: Whole claw; Cauliflower/Colombo mayonnaise, Tosakanori seaweed + Crab meat enrobed in Kombu seaweed jelly + Obsiblue prawns, paprika marinade; Endives with carcass dressing + Bavaroise with Amontillado, Dulce/Nori seaweed salad.
LOBSTER & MUREX: Blue Lobster salad seasoned with « Pierre » olive oil; walnuts, aloe-vera, ginger, lime and cebette + Lobster quenelle, Zezette Broth + Lobster enrobed in Bisque, crispy shiso leaves + Spicy Murex, green lentils « du Puy ».
SOLE & OYSTERS: Sole Meunière, leek and oyster “David Herve” + Gillardeau oyster, beetroot flavoured with Campari, glazed eel + Flat oyster “Yvon Madec”, Champagne sauce + Fine artichoke mousse.
LANGOUSTINES: Pan-fried Terra Sienna Langoustines with passion fruit + Grilled langoustine, black Culatello ham, chips + White Port mousseline, soya beans and kiwi + “Verdurette” spaghetti.
The mains were once again astonishingly intricate and elaborated. The restaurant’s manager, Julien Gardin, waltzes over and lyrically recites the name of the dishes and describes them in great details at the start of each course. Listening to his gentle accented explanations is akin to consuming the dishes before actually tasting them. Now, that is an evangelistic quality which we don’t see everyday.
Julien also cheekily suggested that no French dinner is complete without tasting some cheese and returned with a “small” selection after our mains.
Three types of French fresh goat cheese + Ewe milk velouté, almond paste/green tea + Pear sherbet with Roquefort blue cheese, kaki fruit pulp.
The sherbet was my favourite. I love how the icy bits were encased with a savoury note. Either that, or I was ready to move on to desserts at this point. Pierre is after all the winner of Time Out HK’s 2010 Dining Awards in the Dessert and Sweets category. No doubt I have been anticipating this moment for a while now.
9 CONDUIT STREET: Light pistachio mousseline + ‘‘Parsley, coriander, arugula’’ + Cachaça granité, galia melon soup, cucumber and green mango.
It was funny after reading through a list of sugary goodness, I ended up choosing a “salad” for dessert, which was surprisingly light and good. The mousse was bitter, grassy, earthy and almost verging on being rabbit-food, but once you dig deep to the bottom of the glass, the sweetness of the melon and acidic mango just lifts everything up. I would happily have this on a hot summers day out in a park basking under the sun. Sublime. A must for every weight-conscience epicure.
Special thanks to Geoff, who is a foodie himself, for the generous invitation and the one-of-a kind experience (and for patiently waiting for this post to be published). Also to the Pierre team for your warm hospitality. I would have to say that their impeccable level of service is perhaps the best I’ve ever come across – thus far. And I’m not judging this from the perspective of an invited guest, but I could see that the same level of attention has been given to everyone in the restaurant. Bravo.
Post-script: The experience at Pierre alone could have been the best curtain closer to any trips McCutie and I have ever been on. However, the climatic ending to our HK trip was marred by a personal tragedy a few hours after the dinner. Hence, this post wasn’t the easiest to write. Over the past few weeks I’ve tried writing this over and over again. But I could never get pass the first two lines without feeling heavy in the heart.
Today, I’m happy to have finally broken through that emotional barrier and share this with you. Hopefully, with this “blockage” out of the way, I can now resume my regular supply of jovial foodie comics. Thanks for patiently riding this out with me.
25/F, Mandarin Oriental,
5 Connaught Road, Central Hong Kong
Tel: +(852) 2825 4001
Fax: +(852) 2810 6190