While taste is always a question of subjectivity, having recently read a ‘professional’ review of 12,000 francs in Soho, I seriously wondered whether the writer in question had eaten in the same venue as me. The new venture in question comes from Woolly Pig, the owners of Madame Sixty-Ate, and sees Conor Beach at the helm. If you’ve read my reviews of his work at Bibo and Tri, you’ll know that I’m a fan of his work. As always, each visit I make somewhere new comes with a wholly open mind – but again, he doesn’t disappoint.
12,000 francs is admittedly a strange name, but the provenance becomes clear on reading the menu – and in tasting the food. It’s named for the 1795 Imperial cash prize offered by Napoleon to anyone who could devise a method of preserving food for his conquering armies. Confectioner Nicolas François Appert eventually claimed the Emperor’s prize, storing food in wine bottles that were heated to boiling point before being sealed. The link in Hong Kong three centuries on is that the menu celebrates the art of preservation, divided into sections: Picked + Potted, Smoked + Salted, Vacuum + Fire, and Sugar + Sweet.
The décor is classy but not in-your-face, while the huge communal table at the front is perfect for small plates and big unusual Pinots from the affable Aussie somm Greg Buttars.
But to that food. We start with Japanese bonito, marinated and grilled eggplant, fried onion, smoked almonds and smoked almond aioli, sprigs of coriander. The smoked almond aioli hits but doesn’t overpower, the textures sit well without one dominating, overall making a very nice way to start a selection of dishes which reflect Beach’s willingness to embrace flavour wherever in the word it resides:
Next comes a little bowl of joy inspired by a dish Beach ate in Thailand, a sensational dip of smoked coral trout, some tiger prawns, coconut milk, lemongrass, herbs. The traditional vehicle to taste it are crudités, but the home made bread is so good that it comes to the fore again. Think of your favourite fish curry, in some ways as South Indian as Thai, condensed into spoonable and sharable size, then spread on bread. It could work even better with toast, but that’s probably the Englishman in me coming out.
As the dining room begins to fill up, ‘Everyday People’ on the soundtrack reminds that Arrested Development were a hip hop collective long before it was a TV show:
Montanara is next, a small deep-fried pizza from Naples, finished in the pizza oven so they’re surprisingly light but still crispy on the outside. Here Beach serves them two ways, one with tomato sauce with cherry toms from New Zealand, burrata and pecorino, the other a sensational little number with carrot purée, burrata, smoked pancetta and grilled spring onions. If you haven’t had carrot on a pizza before, now is the time to try it:
Persimmon comes four ways in our final savoury dish, even if it looked like the first dessert. It’s an under rated and under used fruit – I need to get me to the annual persimmon festival in Mitchell, Indiana. Beach serves it four ways: fresh, dried, pickled and lacto-fermented, along with a creamy cloudlet of buffalo ricotta, purslane, pecans, black olive oil and a brilliant little slice of smoked beef like a bresaola.
Things close on the highest point of an already very impressive debut dinner, namely with one of the best desserts I’ve eaten in Hong Kong in 2016. (Incidentally look out for a special piece towards the end of the year, ‘Around the world in 8o plates’ which chooses my standout dishes of the last twelve months.)
A patisserie favourite in Brittany, named in the proud Breton language, is the kouign amann, a devilishly labour-intensive pastry. This is a belter. There’s super-buttery, salted pastry, French vanilla ice cream, maple syrup gel for a bit of sweetness and viscosity, toasted maple pecans and a pumpkin and kumquat spice puree. Try saying those last six words after a bottle and half of Pinot. Outrageously good. Just don’t have more than four in one go.
Per below 12,000 francs are currently only open for dinner, but that will doubtless change before long. March there soon, Napoleonic army style.
Dinner: 5.00 PM to late
Sommelier Table 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM