There can be few more intimidating culinary experiences than cooking for a legend. It’s a theme I’ve come back to in my chef interview series, with most readily admitting that they’ve been more than slightly ‘intimidated’ if a luminary is in the dining room. Spare a thought then for Julien Cadiou, chef at Upper Modern Bistro off Hollywood Road. His guest at dinner was Pierre Gagnaire, one of the most influential chefs of his generation, a multi Michelin-starred titan.
It’s not quite as daunting as it first seems however, as Cadiou’s boss Orrico used to work for Gagnaire – but still. Dinner on a Sunday night was courtesy of a PR agency, meaning a window table facing the always-intriguing passers by of Upper Station Street. Incidentally, in common with most of the city, the building opposite carried the sign for ‘tennis training’. You know the ones.There are, apparently, 30,000 of them across the capital. You can blame Johnny Kwan.
Back at dinner, there was a pretty decent crowd in for a Sunday night, making the space quietly hum with contented diners. I’ve mentioned it before, but the team at Upper Modern, On, Picnic and others mostly came from Caprice. So the warm baguette comes in a bag that looks very familiar to fans of The Four Seasons’ finest.
Amongst the petite starters, offered as part of the menu découverte and meant to share if you’re not married to a vegetarian, crispy squid was beautifully finished and came with a dipping sauce made from black sesame. Unusual? Unquestionably. Successful? Absolutely. It needed the squeeze of lime, but it worked wonders, a nod to Japan from a French chef who worked under Kei Kobayashi.
Slivers of almost translucent beef carpaccio came with daikon, shiso and a brilliant little red onion sauce:
Best of all was the very clever foie gras creme brûlée, a plate which somehow distilled all the sensational taste of goose liver without the need for subsequent CPR.
The service was excellent throughout, another legacy from Caprice, while pigeon – rarely seen on Hong Kong menus, at least in Western cuisine – was game for a laugh, a magnificent dark ruby red. Generous breast and thinner legs, that tell-tale metallic liver taste, in a good way, served with artichokes and hazelnuts. (Incidentally the following two photos are shamelessly nicked from the good folks at http://www.lifestyleasia.com/ as my pictures managed to delete themselves)
The finale bought another winner of a dish in the form of strawberry ice cream with mixed berries, camomile jelly under milk foam. The menu découverte is $688 per person and represents consistently-accomplished cooking from one of the best culinary stables in town. Pierre Gagnaire was still laughing and knocking back the wine when we left – leaving a relieved Cadiou to have arguably the city’s most well-deserved drink himself.