It’s a Wednesday evening and the six musketeers are all, miraculously, in the same city on the same evening. Belon, a spanking new ‘neo-Parisian’ bistro in Soho, has been booked a month earlier, at the only available and slightly awkward time of 8.45. Libations in the Quinary precede, before gradually meeting in the compact but decidedly chic spot on the restaurant mile – well, stretch – that is Elgin Street.
Inside the decoration is apparently “terrazzo (No, no idea either), onyx and aluminium which allow the restaurant’s sincere approach to food to shine.” Press release embellishments aside, it’s a really smart interior, classy without being too-cool-for-school. As for ‘Neo-Parisian’, a forthcoming return to Paris at the end of May will let me judge as I’m focusing on the bistronomie movement for a couple of features when I’m there and I’m guessing that this is what they’re referring to. Given the amalgam of bistro and gastronomie, it’s essentially relaxed fine dining in unshowy surroundings, quality plates at decent prices from chefs who have serious props. By this definition, Belon is about 75% there.
In the kitchen is Australian Chef James Henry, formerly of the now closed Bones in Paris. He oversees a menu divided into hors d’oeuvre, entrees, mains and desserts, whilst the Plats du Jour allow him to show his talent for nose-to-tail butchery. As we wait for the whole gang to arrive we order some gougères, unassuming little brown domes at a cool $28 each. Only after popping one in do you realise they are full of molten Comté. I was expecting gougères like Ducasse does them, airy and light puffs, but a new tongue is a small price to pay for these cheesy, crunchy if pricy balls of joy. We ordered a second round, to accompany our delivery of six new tongues.
Mercifully the tables are generously-sized and spaced apart, but acoustics are a little challenging. Given The Black Sheep Restaurant Group’s pedigree for great music, (see here, here and here), the tunes were decidedly unmemorable. Maybe they’re still working on their Spotify list.
Call it fate or luck, but not counting one vegetarian, only two of the five of us left were uni fans, so only two of the ‘sea urchin and sweet potato waffle with smoked bacon cream’ made it to the table. These were excellent, decadent mouthfuls and, given the ingredients, a comparative bargain at $78 a pop.
Ordering for six is always tough, especially so when the plates that arrive are pretty small. So an entree of Shima Aji with pomelo and avocado looked interesting if not remarkable from a distance. It’s also a hefty $198 for four very small slices.
A salad of beetroots baked in salt with Swiss tête de moine (monk’s head) cheese was a table-pleasing assembly job ($128), but didn’t come close to dislodging the foie gras terrine with tomato and chamomile.
This was an excellent execution of an old bistro favourite, while the accompanying confiture cut through it beautifully. Interestingly, the Belon online menu has it at $248, but it cost $318 on our bill. Either way, ouch.
Next came the two mains, with varying degrees of success. The first was the roast chicken, ordered as soon as we sat down as it takes an hour to prepare. Belon espouse local sourcing where possible which, ultimately, has to be a good thing. (Incidentally this is a brilliant read on how one food writer debunked ‘farm-to-table’ guff). In the case of the chicken, we were told it came from the New Territories. That’s definitely local. We wondered if it took the MTR down, but then again at $538 it could have taken an Uber and still had change. It was presented initially in the classic Chinese style, looking somewhat gutted at its demise and subsequent use a a herb vase:
Thereafter it was carved and returned to the table looking considerably less voluminous than when it had started:
It was well roasted with a fine jus, a good stuffing of chicken liver and spinach and an admirable Pommes Anna, but somehow the bird lacked the innate flavour of a Poulet de Bresse or slightly posher bird.
No qualms with the other main, a brilliant pithivier (puff pastry pie) of sweetbreads and other herbed unmentionables. Although cardiologists would doubtless dissuade me, I’d come back for this dish alone, one which would happily stand up and be counted in the brasseries and bistrots of Les Halles or La Bastille.
Tomatoes with curds and green salads were also needed to satiate the table of six, while a Clair Obscur ($698) a 2014 Enfant Sauvage ($668) and an excellent bottle of Escures ($518) kept the chatter happily flowing. We rounded off with two millefeuilles, good versions of a classic showing a smart pâtissier working out back.
The damage came in at $1000 per person. This ain’t cheap, especially not for essentially shared dishes on Elgin Street, so I do wonder whether a decidedly tough Hong Kong restaurant environment can support these sort of prices. But then again Dan Ryan managed to last 20 something years charging a fortune for terrible ribs and nachos, so maybe the industry isn’t on its last legs just yet.