Épure Hong Kong review date: Saturday May 6
Overall score: 8.2/10
Navigating Harbour City can be a challenge. One minute you’ve just hopped off the Star Ferry, the next you’re lost in the backstreets of Yau Ma Tei with no GPS. At least that’s what it can feel like. French fine dining spot Épure is up on the fourth floor, once you’ve followed the deeply unsexy ‘shop 403’ to get there.
The Épure website proclaims that they “Transform the splendour of Versailles into modern grandeur.” I’m still not quite sure what this means. Having worked for a couple summers as a tour guide, trailing American high school students behind me, I know Versailles. The Hall of Mirrors, the fake cottage where Marie Antoinette could pretend to live like a peasant, the waterfalls and the West African postcard salesmen, many of whom were doctors, teachers and engineers, reduced to politely flogging trinkets whilst wearing umbrella hats.
Versailles is unquestionably splendid, but should it act as inspiration for a Hong Kong restaurant? I’m not convinced. Regardless, Epure needn’t worry about grandiose claims to match eighteenth century royalty. The classic French food they offer ranks as some of the most accomplished I’ve encountered in Hong Kong.
Past the posh café selling macarons (more on those later) and into the dining room, outside which is an enormous and very inviting terrace. At dinner, six courses are $1,288 or eight at $1,488. Wine pairings run at $388 and $688 for three and five glasses respectively. Now admittedly this isn’t cheap, not your average Saturday night dinner à deux. But for that special occasion, when you want things right on and off the plate – Épure really delivers.
Champagne and amuses-bouches: a perfectly spherical Comté cheese ball, a tiny tartlet, sweet and creamy with celery notes and a caper. Only the third in the trio, like a quince or sweet plum paste, seemed out of sync.
Six cracking breads and three butters, all made in-house. The piment d’espelette (a chilli grown in the Basque country) adds piquancy and colour to one of the latter.
In a beautiful white grooved bowl, a tiny spinach gnocchi crowned by a slice of pear on top has earthy mushroom soup poured over: (8/10)
Next comes something of an oyster production with zucchini and cucumber, micro greens and wisps of dry ice. The dry ice seemed unnecessary given the outstanding quality of the French native oysters, but hey if it’s good enough for Cyndi Lauper, then who am I to bitch. (7.5/10)
The two lead chefs at Epure come with seriously-impressive resumés. After various Michelin-starred legends in France and the Four Seasons in Bora Bora (tough gig), the affable and warm exec chef Nicolas Boutin opened at the Landmark Mandarin alongside Richard Ekkebus. He leads a team of no less than 25, including his head pastry chef Matthieu Godard, a softly-spoken and supremely-gifted patissier who was likewise at Amber.
A long saxophone solo from the evening’s eclectic soundtrack preceded a stunning rendition of foie gras, served with tonka bean two ways, as a beurre blanc espuma (foam) and a reduction. Shaves and rolls of sweet and tart rhubarb offset it perfectly: (8/10)
My untrained wine palate was seriously intrigued by a cracking glass of Beaune du Château from Domaine Bouchard, not least because the nose reminded me of strong Thai weed from my youth. Not the pond kind.
Moving swiftly on to a dish which will live long in the memory. Jerome Galis is an asparagus legend, no less. While black truffles are his main business, his green fibrous crayons from Vaucluse have developed a cult following, with good reason. Boutin serves them with a perfect hollandaise. So simple and so very, very good. (8.5/10)
Talking of five star produce, Épure only uses French ingredients throughout the restaurant. Another case in point, veal from Hugo Desnoyer in Paris. He’s a rock star butcher if ever there was one, his website looking more like a fashion brand than a purveyor of fine flesh. The veal is sublime, the most delicate of touches at the stove, a jus which seemed to have coffee in it, artichokes, ceps and an avocado purée alongside. Knockout. (8.5/10)
From savoury on to sweet and a succession of sensational bites from Matthieu. Even though I’ve been known to have a sweet tooth in the same way that sheep are known to like grass, everything was memorable. A couple of creamy organic lemon numbers to cleanse the palate with lime zest and pineapple:
Then the main event, a baba rhum for the vegetarian, a spherical black forest gateau for me. We shared begrudgingly as both were sensational. Aged brown rum from Martinique flooded the baba with strawberries two ways:
Black forest gateau was a cake of my youth, now retro and doubtless served tongue-in-cheek in Dalston. At Épure the interplay of freshly whipped cream, chocolate, light sponge and great boozy cherries in kirsch reminded why. It was a brilliant throwback, one of the most technically-accomplished and successful desserts I’ve eaten in Hong Kong.(8.5/10)
The final flourish to an excellent dinner was the stand of petits fours, a pistachio financier with jasmine cream, a lemon tart, some chocolates but most of all – oh my – the black truffle chocolate macarons. They’re worth the trip alone – and are also sold in the café outside. Hong Kong folks happily wait two hours for a bowl of ramen or Japanese ice cream – I’d do the same for these domes of joy. (8.5/10)
Overall Épure is a real winner, combining humility and passion in the kitchen with sensational produce and flawless execution. Service from Olivier and team was discreet and informative, attentive and warm. (8/10 for ‘experience‘) Somehow Épure had slipped under my radar until now, but no longer. I also imagine the Michelin inspectors will come knocking before long. Bravo, merci et vive la France, Louis XIV and all.
Epure, Shop 403, Level 4, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong Tel:+852 3185 8338 http://www.epure.hk/index.html