On review date: December 19, 2014
Overall score: 8/10
If you follow the Hong Kong restaurant scene, you’ll already have been bored witless by reading about the new restaurant ‘hotspot’ of On Lan Street. I guess 3 venues in close proximity create heat of some sort, but it’s hardly the next Soho.
Regardless, it’s bang in the middle of town and boasts a good outlook over Central. On has nabbed the best views of all through it’s two-floor layout of upstairs bar/lounge and more formal restaurant set up beneath, including private dining.
The views from the outside terrace suspend you twenty eight stories high. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor indeed for those prone to fainting as the drop behind the dangerously comfortable sofas wouldn’t be softened by any one of the vermouth-focused cocktail list from former Otto e Mezzo mixer-in-chief Giancarlo Mancino.
He’s the fourth On Musketeer, if Dumas would permit me, alongside chef Philippe Orrico, sommelier Nicolas Deneux and cheesemeister Jeremy Evrard. On comes off the back of the success of their first venture, the recently Michelin-starred Upper Modern Bistro, and features a similarly laid-back approach to some pretty serious cuisine.
As I’m lunching with a PR friend we get a great look into the menu. First up is a tin of anchovies served with toast and black pepper butter. They’re not the usual white boquerones but for once are all the better for it.
Unsurprisingly the standout was an oyster, left well alone save some gentle tomato salsa that lifted it from the seabed. No bacon, barbecue sauce, breadcrumbs or other Rockerfeller abominations here. (7.5/10 average)
The French know-how in stewing beef over very long periods is rivalled only by the Irish. Here it’s dark and lustrous all at once, lifted by a red cabbage and luxuriating in a pureé that the French do better than absolutely everyone. (8/10)
The Commander-in-Cheese at On is Jeremy Evrard and he knows all too well that greedy bastards always have room for fromage. The Brillat-Savarin was so good and so perfectly kept, like mainlining double cream, that it risked knocking the king of cheses, Comté, off its perch.
And just to ensure that Christmas kicked off – true to form, with the highest possible calorific intake – a beautiful little chocolate tart materialised, tempered chocolate atop layers of biscuit and what tasted like ganache. (8/10)
While the team all deliver in their own affable and relaxed way, it’s Orrico who runs the kitchen and is ultimately most responsible for diners leaving happy. He’s well placed having worked under Pierre Gagnaire at Pierre before running four restaurants at Hullett House in TST.
Orrico grew up in the beautiful Indian Ocean island of Réunion, a cultural melting pot including Africans, French, Indians from Malabar, Chinese (mostly from Guangdong) and Muslims from Pakistan. As he explained when we sat down after dinner, it’s a “big mix of cultures and a big mix of flavours, we’d eat creole, French, Indian – that’s why I’m very confident mixing these flavours and ingredients here and at Upper.”
While lunch was more classically French, the à la carte menu features global mash-ups such as the somewhat bizarre-sounding ‘langoustine lasagna, sautéed veal, lime and coconut sauce.’ One to try another time. Here’s 60 seconds with Orrico:
Were you always destined to be a chef?
I grew up in a very culinary family who cook a lot, and well. Réunion is unique, very very special, with this mix of cultures and that affected how I cook and what I cook with. For me what some people call ‘fusion’, it’s what I ate every single day growing up.
First dish you cooked for a paying customer?
A spring roll! The first restaurant that I worked in was Chinese, ‘L’Auberge du Bonheur’ (The Inn of Happiness) with two Chinese chefs who didn’t speak a word of French. I lasted for a few months. It was interesting!
Who was your main mentor?
The Belgian chef Michel Souris (Yes, his name does translate as Michael Mouse)
Which cookery writers do you like to read?
Wow, I love to read, both food writers and classics. So Céline, especially Voyage au bout de la Nuit, Herman Hesse, Proust, Rimbaud. Within cuisine, works by Escoffier, Pierre Gagnaire and Joël Robuchon are all favourites.
Which one utensil do you use most?
Two – a tea towel and a spoon.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Häagen Dazs – chocolate or vanilla.
If you had one ingredient to cook with for eternity, what would it be?
An Orange. Or maybe foie gras. It’s complex and delicate.
Who would you dine with at your last supper?
Would have to be my close family, my wife, daughter and mother. Who is around is more important than the food.
And what’s on the menu?
A few bottles of Montrachet and a huge platter of fruits de mer.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
Salad. So versatile, the texture, crunch, sweetness and bitterness.
Childhood food memories – good or bad?
I grew up surrounded by the world’s best vanilla pods!
Any memorable kitchen disasters?
Oh sure. On opening at Pierre we were 25 people short on soup.
Where did you have your most memorable meal?
Pierre Gagnaire. The partridge was extraordinary, reaching the level of that sauce one day is my goal. I realize how long I have to work to get there!
What did you have for dinner last night?
Cheese – like most chefs, I forgot to eat.
What’s the next big trend in food or ingredient?
What I sense coming back is tableside service, such as crepe suzette, deboning and serving fish, the whole silver service. We’ll be doing that here because it makes sense.
What El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal and others do with molecular gastronomy is amazing but chefs and restaurants have to remember that 30 years before they started out there was a process for a reason. Guests are tired of crazy food which doesn’t make sense and want to get back to reality, a real dining experience. Back to real food.
I often fight with my chefs as the goal is not always to innovate and have new ideas, but to cook good food.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
Joël Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire.
What’s your kitchen management style?
I think that the more I help them to grow, the better we all get. But I’m not their mother – a friend, a big brother sure, but not a mother.
Ever feel intimidated cooking for someone?
Paul Bocuse – and my family!
On Dining Kitchen and Lounge, 29/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, Hong Kong Tel:+852 2174 8700 http://www.ontop.hk/