Continental review date: December 16
Overall score: 8/10
When one of the genuine pioneers of contemporary British cooking opens a restaurant in Hong Kong, another marker is thrown down in the uber-competitive dining scene. Few chefs are as experienced as Rowley Leigh. To put it in context, he was cooking with the Roux brothers at London’s Le Gavroche (my intvw w/ Michel Roux senior is here) while Jamie Oliver was still at nursery school.
Le Poulbot, Kensington Place and most recently Le Café Anglais all followed, each in their own way dispelling tired and misplaced stereotypes about the quality of British produce and cooking. As the name suggests, Le Café Anglais celebrates the symbiosis between two neighbouring countries with different yet complementary cuisines. It’s this same philosophy that has been bought to the aptly-named Continental in Pacific Place.
I already touched on the interior, which is beautiful, a legacy of the late Irish designer David Collins:
The menu is pretty appealing too, as Leigh recently told the Irish Times: “The menu is entirely mine. It’s my pared down, very simple style of cooking. What people don’t understand about simple is there’s a great deal of work involved; you’ve got to get it perfect. I’m a dinosaur really. I haven’t evolved or changed.”
‘Perfect’ is a big claim, but his menu does make for very compelling reading:
Griddled scallops with chestnut purée, shiso and lemon set the tone for lunch:
I can’t recall ever having had chestnut with seafood. It doesn’t jump out on paper as a happy marriage but on the plate the union is marital bliss, sweet and cream undertones, a hint of nut, the tang and lift of lemon and the verdant brightness of shiso all playing a supporting role to perfectly seared scallops. (8/10)
From the mains I couldn’t pull myself away from the menu’s central section under ‘Josper grill‘. This is clearly the essential piece of Hong Kong kitchen kit in 2014 as I can recall at least four restaurants advertising they use it. Continental demonstrated more than any of them why their investment is money well spent. The Dingley Dell chop (I have previous with their produce) was a pork masterclass, a hefty doorstop of a cut which somehow retained its moisture through to the glorious but bittersweet finale.
Sage butter and fries rounded off another very accomplished dish. (8/10)
Mindful of an afternoon of work ahead, I was all set to pass on dessert until I saw the menu. There’s just something about ‘Pain perdu with roasted chilli pineapple and vanilla ice cream’ that spoke to me. All of it, in fact. (8/10)
In addition to his restaurants, Rowley Leigh is an award-winning cookery writer with a regular food column in the weekend FT. He can’t be in two continents at once, but he’s done the next best thing at Continental by installing his daughter Ruth as manager. It was she who wryly and dryly remarked that my companion’s sorbet wasn’t a ‘proper’ dessert. Mine however got her seal of approval.
Ruth has clearly had a good impact on Continental as service was swift, efficient and friendly. On a previous visit for dinner with my wife, it was borderline chaotic, although in fairness it was their first week. I’m not going to score it on ‘experience’ however as I was eating with a friend from Swire who paid for my lunch. Otherwise the set table d’hote lunch is $350 for three courses.
The Continental, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2704 5211 https://www.facebook.com/TheContinentalHK