Monday, October 19, 2009

Caprice: Michelin stars justified?

with the Lange Owners Group in Hong Kong



Caprice is an interesting restaurant. In the 2008 Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau, it clinched two Michelin stars. What's also interesting is that the entire executive team, from Executive Chef Vincent Thierry, Pastry Chef Ludovic Douteau, Chief Sommelier Cedric Billien and Restaurant Manager Jeremery Evrard were transplanted from Le Cinq, at Four Seasons George V in Paris. They worked together way back in the glory days when Phippe Legrande lorded over the kitchens and Le Cinq had 3 Michelin stars. More recently, Le Cinq has dropped to two Michelin stars. And the Caprice team managed to also garner two stars to equal their alma mater.

The restaurant is on the 6th floor of the Four Seasons Hongkong with an exquisite location facing the Hong Kong harbour, and an elaborate decor to match.



Huge chandeliers hover over diners, with the magnificent view of the harbour on one side, and Thierry in his open kitchen on the other. The restaurant boasted of a fine wine cellar, and while I did not exactly have a tough time selecting the wines for the dinner, the options were not as numerous as I had imagined or hoped for. We started with a safe choice...Moet & Chandon 2003. I guess there is no need to describe this champagne, safe to say it provided the necessary lubrication for the arrival of the guests (17 in total).

The first course was Langoustine carpaccio, marinated cucumber, wasabi jelly and Ostera caviar.



Excellent starter, and worthy as a signature dish of the restaurant. The lobster was fresh tasting, creamy and sweet. And went exceptionally well with the cucumber, jelly and the caviar. A fine way to start, and of course great with the Moet.

The second course was Paimpol white bean veloute with braised vegetables and chorizo



White beans from the Paimpol region in France is famous on its own right. The semi-dry white bean is speciality of the Brittany region, and done in veloute is quite exquisite. The sauce was rich, velvety (indeed veloute is derived from the French for velvet: Velour). The braised vegetable was either a brussel sprout of a small cabbage, it was totally infused with flavours of the white bean. And a sprinkling of chorizo sausage, typically from the Iberian peninsula. Well balanced, but very rich tasting dish.

I had selected the Meursault Les Tessons from Domaine M. Bouzerau 2006 for the accompanying white wine for this.



The chardonnay showed brilliantly under the hands of Michel Bouzerau. Beautiful floral bouquet greets the nose, and on the palate, hints of cooked apple with a full bodied character. We debated over whether the 2005 would be better, but the Sommelier recommended the 2006 as easier on the palate.

Next course the foie gras:



Duck foie gras, cooked perfectly...the liver was quite a large portion, and served with a crispy macaroon (interesting combination) decorated with small bits of fondant rhubarb and pool black currant jus. The foie gras was excellent - smooth, rich, creamy...full on the palate. The jus provided an elegant counterpoint with slightly sour and vinegary flavours cutting through the fat. I am undecided on the macaroon...a bit odd, and a small piece of gold foil provided some exuberant extravagance. As far as I can tell, the gold foil was tasteless...but I was given to understand it is good for the skin.

We pressed on with the wild John Dory with pumpkin puree, young spinach leaves and an almond butter sauce.



The fish was superb. Fresh, tasting of the sea, and done perfect...not overdone, but slightly...only ever so slightly under done to bring out the flavour of the fish. The John Dory, or what the French call St. Pierre is a white fish with flaky meat, and a smooth texture. Not usually considered an oily fish, it had more flavour and taste than cod. The crispy, crunchy shavings of almonds provided a wonderful texture and also provide a taste structure for the fish to shine. I don't really like complex sauces, and left the pumpkin puree much on its own safe for a quick taste. But the bed of spinach leaves was superb.

Just before the main course, we started the wine service for reds. I had initially selected a red burgundy, and Sean (who provided wonderful support in the organization of the meal) selected a red bordeaux.

First the burdundy: Charmes Chambertin Domaine Arlaud 2004.



I had initially wanted the 2005, as it was a great year for Burgundy, but was told by Cedric that he only had one bottle left...he adviced on the 2004, which he said was a bit more agressive, and had a bit more bite than the more mellow 2005. The 2004 turned out to be quite expressive...energetic, beautiful rose perfumes. On the palate, it had very strong black raspberry note, underlining an elegant finish...the tannins were a bit more agressive, but still very drinkable.

The Bordeaux was a St. Julien Grand vin...the Chateaux Beychevelle 2003.



This was a powerful wine. Strong black currents on the nose, and ripe, firm tannins with good structure on the palate. Really quite a beautiful wine.

The main course was Ibaiona pork chop, with tomato raugail, sweet corn mousseline and barbeque sauce.



Pork from the Basque region in France is famous for its flavour and great taste and quality. The ham from the region carries a protection from French Argibusiness. The pork was simply shallow fried to bring out the original taste. I found the meat a bit chewy, with strong textural muscles of the pig showing nicely, though I would prefer a more smooth presentation of the sinews with fat as one would find on a nice cut of kurobuta pork. The flavour was indeed excellent. As usual, I left the sauce aside, and enjoyed the pork on its own. I must say the Charmes Chambertin complimented the pork very well, as the powerful wine could balance well with the strong flavour of the pork.

Finally the desert: salted caramel opera...arabica coffee, dried fruits biscotti and cappucino ice cream:



This was exquisite. The salted caramel was magnificent. The caramel flavours infused with the salt...a sweet, salty treat. The cappucinno ice cream ably provided support. The biscotti was the taste equivalent to a solo picollo playing in the blast of the orchestra...sweet, coy, and piercing in its crispness. I am still not sure about the sliver of gold foil, but this was a truly wonderful dessert...even with a meal as magnificent as this, the crowining glory.

I leave you with the equally wonderful petit fours...lovely to look at, lovely to eat.



So, overall, my impressions of Caprice was truly excellent. For my taste, I prefer food where the chef allows the ingredients to shine and whose genius is to coax this to occur with as little intervention as possible. Judged against this impossibly difficult and admittedly very personal yardstick, Caprice gets a good score, but at this level of competition, I preferred Iggy's in Singapore, where we had the first LOG Peer Dinner in Aug 25. Caprice's food is more elaborate, with complex sauces and condiments...perhaps more French. Iggy's more contemporary. Of course, I would be extremely happy eating at either.

Much appreciation and thanks to Sean Li and Stephen Luk whose assistance in-situ in Hong Kong made this dinner so memorable.


Caprice
Sixth Floor, The Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street, Central
Hong Kong
Tel.(852) 3196-8888
Fax.(852) 3196-8899
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