Gaddi’s at The Peninsula is one of those restaurants which deserves far more critical acclaim than it gets. It’s one of Hong Kong’s most historic dining rooms, serving diners for more than 60 years. It may lack the jaw-dropping views of Felix, but its interior is still pretty special. Those beautiful Christofle candelabras? Bought to the Pen in the 1920’s. Then there’s something that you may walk past, but to do so would be a crime – the 17th century Coromandel screen depicts Emperor K’ang Hsi and his consort in the Summer Palace. Owned and loaned by the late Lord Kadoorie – owner of the hotel – it’s one of a pair made in 1690 for the Imperial Palace in Beijing. The second screen is part of a collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When a tiny porcelain ‘chicken cup’ sells for US$36 Million, this Coromandel screen redefines priceless.
The dining room under the watchful eye of manager Nikolaos Skarkalis beckons. But for this lunch I’m escorted through the kitchen to the chef’s table. The beauty of this table is that it’s not closeted away in some ante-room or away from the action. The pass (where plates are checked before service) is just one step away and all around is a blur of action, waiters and sommeliers, porters and chefs all doing their thing with quietly industrious energy. The Pen were the first hotel in Hong Kong to introduce the chef’s table – back in 2000. They also introduced the city’s first buffet, the first afternoon tea – and even had a Cathay check-in in the lobby, back in the days of Kai Tak, but that’s another story.
All told, it’s the perfect stage for chef Xavier Boyer to show off his work. And wow – what work. The Frenchman couldn’t come better qualified, having led Joël Robuchon’s Michelin-starred operations across a number of restaurants including in London and New York. For good measure, he also worked at the breathtaking three Michelin star Le Cinq in Paris (review of which to come). So all things considered, expectations were high for lunch – and boy did Boyer deliver – on every level.
As you’d expect, breads laid down the marker. This was basically butter with some flour added as an afterthought. It was ridiculously good.
There have been many beautiful plates over the years, but for sheer elegance – and symmetry – this beetroot carpaccio is hard to beat. Underneath is a sublime beetroot jelly with essence of black truffle, while the contrast of the beetroot with Comté cheese (the world’s finest, no question) made for a plate as delicious as it was aesthetically extraordinary.
Next, roasted Hokkaido scallops with lardo di Colonnata (salumi made from fatback with rosemary and other herbs, made in the Tuscan village of Colonnata since Roman times ) came on a delicate swish of cauliflower cream and bacon chips. The bacon was almost translucent, hilariously crisp, the perfect foil to the gentle maritime kiss of the scallop.
Roasted Challans duck came with fresh figs and baby turnips. If you dream of duck, then this was your happy place, the beautiful ruby red breast lifted by an aged port wine sauce, lightly spiced, ever so slightly festive.
To accompany, more butter, this time in the form of brilliantly light potato pureé that rivals even Monsieur Ducasse’s.
As the kitchen continued to hum around us, the crescendo came in the form of chocolate whipped cream, caramelised hazelnuts with lime segments and milk chocolate ice cream. It’s difficult to translate this creation in a photo, let alone in words. But imagine, if you will, the moment at Easter when you’re finally allowed to dive into your egg. That first snap of joy, the excited rush – and then inside you find a mesmerisingly clever mix of hazelnuts, lime and the best chocolate ice cream you’ll ever try. Brilliant.
There were also excellent wines, first class amuses-bouches and petits fours. The Chefs’ Table runs $828 per person for a three-course lunch, while dinner is priced at HK$ 1,988 per person for five courses or HK$ 2,688 per person for ten.
Is it worth this investment? Absolutely. This is some of the city’s most technically-accomplished, innovative, beautiful and flawlessly-executed French fine dining. Especially with Boyer now at the helm, Gaddi’s are way overdue recognition from Bibendum and co at Michelin. I seriously hope they get it.