Macau is undeniably a surreal destination, but the smoky gaming rooms and mountains of jade in reception of the Grand Lisboa Hotel quickly seem a distant memory as the first of two elevators whisks you up to the eponymous Dome on the 43rd floor.
To get to the second private elevator you first walk through a jaw-dropping wine cellar which lays down a marker of the extraordinary quality and utter, unashamed Frenchness of the experience that awaits you. The finest and rarest Châteaux Latour, Lafite and Pétrus date back to the turn of the last century. ‘New world’ wine? I wouldn’t bother asking.
As you’d expect in a casino hotel, no expense is spared. A stunning Swarovski chandelier descends from the dome before Christofle, Riedel and Lalique greet you at your table, as does the manager Nicolas Defremont. He arrived in Macau only a couple months back, but seems immediately at ease in his surroundings, master of all he surveys. That’s not surprising given the extraordinary resume he brings. Seven years at Gordon Ramsay in London and New York before four spent running Ducasse at the Dorchester. You can tell within minutes why Robuchon and the Lisboa lured him out to Asia.
He makes a formidable team alongside Francky Semblat in the kitchen, a chef who has held 3 stars for longer than anyone in Hong Kong or Macau. Like Robuchon, Semblat comes from Poitiers and has spent his entire career working under the master, someone who, aside from running a global culinary empire, has a reputation as a notoriously tough task master and mentor. Tom Aikens recently told me how 20 hour days were the norm at Robuchon in Paris and there were no second chances given, if things went wrong. Semblat’s attention to detail and executional excellence means he clearly listened and learnt most carefully.
All tables look out over Macau, mainland China and the often-murky Pearl River Delta below, but once service starts, your eyes are firmly transfixed on your table. Any Robuchon bread is a joy, here an embarras de richesses with nine versions in one basket, the standout for me the Comte cheese. Only the chestnut purée doesn’t work as for me it’s too redolent of a dessert.
The amuse-bouche immediately sets the standard from the off, a delicate sweetcorn mousse with cubes of lemon jelly and popcorn. It’s a delightful little entry point, cleansing and tempting, textures and dexterity. (8.5/10)
A marinated mushroom carpaccio is smooth and silky and unusual in equal measures. The normal funk of fungi is missing because here it acts instead as the canvas for rolls of smoked foie gras, Parmesan, yellow flowers, crisped bread, radish and rocket. It’s a complicated, layered dish but somehow Semblat brings out the best in the unusual combination of ingredients and allows the foie gras to play a starring role. (8.5/10)
The Moules de Bouchots are much more classically presented, namely with cream, leek and a hint of saffron. It’s a stunning rendition of an old favourite and reminds of the power of the mussel when compared to more illustrious and expensive crustacean counterparts. (9/10)
In the background the pianist playing the grandest of Steinways showed as impressive a range as Semblat, from Norah Jones to Rachmaninov.
Very occasionally a dish will lodge itself indelibly in the mind and palate, to be re-savoured and relived many years hence. Semblat’s white mushroom veloute with parmesan cloud and romans ravioli is at the very top of that panthéon. It helps that Parmesan and Comte are two of my favourite things on earth, but still, this was a simply exceptional culinary work of art. (9.5/10)
Any plate trying to follow that would have its work cut out, so the peppery guinea fowl, a meat rarely seen on Asian menus, could be forgiven for seeming slightly underwhleming alongside its tomates farcies. Again, however, the standard was bought right back up by a Robuchon signature, his pomme pureé. As Nicolas wryly explained, “It’s butter with a little bit of potato.” (8.5/10)
To cap a famous lunch would mean triumphant desserts and once again Robuchon Au Dome delivered. An old school trolley, groaning under the weight of a stunning array of French classics, was wheeled towards me to make my choices. I could have – and wanted to – try everything, but I restricted myself to the chocolate and peanut butter tart, a cheesecake and a baba gloriously leaking rum like an old pirate ship (8.5/10). In doing so I passed up on the mille feuille, île flottante, chestnut parfait, sorbets, ice creams, profiteroles, quince creams and many more besides.
The final word however belongs to Defremont. Somehow he made time for genuine, warm conversation at every table, in between describing and presenting dishes and serving up a beautiful array of wines to perfectly match the nuance of each dish. His knowledge is encyclopedic, sometimes astonishingly so, but he has effortlessly mastered the trick of making every diner feel special and completely at ease in opulent surroundings. When I complimented him on it, he replied modestly with a smile, “We’re in the hospitality business.” He, Semblat and all at Robuchon Au Dome certainly are. (9/10 for experience) In my view, it absolutely and unequivocally merits it’s three star status – and more so than any restaurant where I’ve eaten in Asia. Book a table now. You won’t regret it.
It’s the impossible list, the reflection of a year of dining experiences which prove, despite everything, that Hong Kong is still one of the world’s greatest restaurant cities. These are not in any order of preference – and there are always some which I will have shamefully neglected or forgotten. Some may say they’re too …