Pierre, Hong Kong Review date: January 7
Overall score: 8.25/10
Across the twenty or so chef interviews I’ve done to date, two names crop up time and again as people most admired within the industry: Michel Bras and Pierre Gagnaire. When some of the greatest names in contemporary cuisine rank you amongst the best and most innovative on the planet, then you’re clearly doing something very well indeed.
They’re both French and of similar ages, but that’s where the similarities end as they’ve taken very different trajectories. 68 yr-old Michel Bras runs ‘Le Suquet’ in deepest Aveyron (40 miles from the nearest train station), with his son Sébastien, holding three stars since 1999. With the exception of one outpost in Sapporo – a carbon copy of the original – he has generally eschewed the limelight and is not a name known by many outside the industry.
64 yr-old Gagnaire on the other hand is an elegant, often flamboyant figure with a global portfolio of restaurants including Sketch in London, Twist in Vegas and other outposts in Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow and St Tropez. Not to mention, of course, Pierre in Hong Kong at the Mandarin Oriental. Together his restaurants hold a jaw-dropping thirteen Michelin stars.
I’ve already bleated on about how The Mandarin manages to stay a step ahead of the competition when it comes to service. So suffice to say that lunch chez Monsieur Gagnaire has only ever been un grand plaisir. I returned late last year to experience the four course express lunch menu at HK$696, not including service.
Amuse-bouches come in many forms, but in my experience few have failed that contained Parmesan. Perfect.
‘Pâté en croûte’ was translated as the slightly less appealing ‘pâté in a crust’, but still delivered a French classic. Gagnaire’s self-proclaimed culinary philosophy is “tourné vers demain mais soucieux d’hier” – “facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday” – and the accompanying mustard ice cream seemed its perfect representation, the contemporary astride the traditional, the inventive next to the flawlessly-executed classic: (8/10)
‘Winter white velvety soup, truffled Chantilly’ leapt from the menu amongst the middle courses and proved the perfect antidote to a chilly January day. The Périgord truffle was sliced into allumettes (matchsticks) before the creamed soup was carefully ladled, submerging the contrasting textures and flavours with the advertised feel of velvet. A more beautiful soup you’d be hard pressed to find. (8.5/10)
How to choose between John Dory or risotto, veal blanquette or Ribeye? With great difficulty. I opted for the latter and was rewarded with more exemplary cooking, straight from the top drawer. The kimchi came as a smear on the plate’s rim, while the salsify played its usual role of a vastly underrated vegetable that is almost impossible to find in Hong Kong. Just as well M. Gagnaire was able to source some as it supported, physically and flavour wise, a beautiful cut of ribeye offset by of seared small cuts of squid. (8.5/10)
The signature Gagnaire dessert is a Napoleon cake but the chocolate cake came calling instead, with its ‘cocoa water, orange ice cream and crushed cocoa-lace biscuit’. I’m not sure I noticed the cocoa water, but it was none the worse for it, just a heady and stupidly pleasurable cocktail of things that are bad for the veins but wonderful for the soul. (8/10)
Service was faultless, as always, although as I was invited by the Mandarin I won’t mark for ‘experience’ as it is unfair on other restaurants to do so. Pierre is truly on its game. Even if he doesn’t cook there that frequently in person, Monsieur Gagnaire’s repute and renown is in the safest of hands.
Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel: +852 2522 0111 http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/fine-dining/pierre/