What is American Cuisine?
More to the point, what is the Hong Kong version of American Cuisine?
Dining Concepts’ most recent new venture aims to answer that question; Bizou is the latest in a long line of restaurants from the group and they’ve pulled out all of the stops to give us an interpretation of American food.
Opened up in the space vacated by Grappa’s at Pacific Place, Bizou is pretty hard to miss. Present a facade that is least likely to appear in a shopping centre, a heap of what looks like maple wood is used, and if you ignore the glossy tiles and multi layered Pacific Place that surrounds the new restaurant, it could be anywhere.
Surprisingly, Bizou has secured a Swedish chef to create the menu of what’s described as an American Brasserie and Chef Magnus Hansson presents his interpretation of farm to table food. Interestingly, preparing an all American menu, from a country that’s so attached to consuming meat, Chef Magnus is a vegetarian; so we’ve immediately got a dichotomy of gigantic proportions.
As we were shown to our table for our dinner reservation, I was a little taken aback by the size of the dining area. We’d eaten at Grappa’s before, and the space certainly didn’t look big at the time. With a bar area that was large, and a dining room that catered for about 120, the space looked modern but a little out of place; looking out the windows of the restaurant was jarring, seeing nothing but shopping centre and shoppers!
Looking over the menu, there was nothing that jumped out and screamed ‘American Cuisine’, at least not in the expected Southern American sense. Looking just like a brasserie menu from any modern restaurant, there were a wide ranging choice of options that would suit most palates. I did note that there was a small change from the menu on the Bizou website, and of course, it was the one item that I’d been looking at as a starter…
I’d been eyeing off the crispy pork belly but instead had to settle for the pan roasted beets with avocado, extra virgin olive oil, toasted crushed hazelnuts, horseradish and green chilli with lemon zest. The salad was presented in a deep bowl and had plenty of height, with the cubes of beetroot featuring prominently. The instruction was to mix the salad up completely, so it looked quite different by the time I started eating! There was good flavour in the beetroot, which was earthy and intense; the avocado was smooth and creamy and the horseradish gave heat while the hazelnuts gave texture. While I’d definitely have preferred some pork belly, it was a serviceable salad.
The girl’s butternut squash soup with soft whipped cream and maple syrup was less pleasing on the eye, and didn’t really pack the punch of flavours that we were expecting. There was a lovely creamy texture, which was enhanced once the cream was fully mixed, but the cream had the effect of softening the flavour of the squash. We didn’t really pick up any sweetness from the maple syrup either; the overall profile of the soup being a little benign.
While the soup was a little lacking in flavour, you couldn’t say that for the girl’s main dish of slow-braised boneless short ribs in red wine sauce, served on a light potato puree and topped with shaved horseradish. The incredibly tender short rib literally fell apart just by looking at it, the beef flavour being intense without being overpowering. The sauce was sticky and delicious, especially as it mixed with the light and buttery potato puree. A little heat from the horseradish was a perfect foil for the red wine sauce; the flavours all well balanced, providing a dish that was very warming and enjoyable.
Bizou must have had a special deal on fresh horseradish, or we’d subconsciously ordered all of the dishes with the spicy root. My pan-seared Icelandic cod was covered in a mountain of the hot root, to the overall detriment of the dish. Served with a butter and soft boiled egg sauce and sitting in a bed of cauliflower puree, the cod was totally lost in the overpowering flavour of the horseradish. After scraping most of the offending shavings, the dish balanced a little better, I could get the nice subtle flavours of the cod, which was cooked expertly and was quite nice to eat. There was also some sautéed kale with the dish, but I tried my hardest to avoid the bitter plant.
I think that the dish would have benefited by leaving the horseradish off, and come to think of it, I’d never seen horseradish on a fish before; I now know why…. They don’t work together.
The girl had stuffed herself senseless with her short rib and didn’t feel like dessert, but I’d spied a dessert that I had to try. The gooey chocolate cake with lemon-cumquat marmalade and whipped ricotta sounded amazing; I had to try it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t was I was expecting, in fact it was far from it. When I see something with the title of gooey, I kind of expect a chocolate fondant or lava cake, something gooey. What I was given was just a typical (and quite dense) chocolate cake with a bit if whipped cream on top. Look, as far as chocolate cake goes, it was not bad, the chocolate was a little bitter and it definitely tasted of chocolate.
But it wasn’t gooey. No, not gooey at all.
When our waiter came across to take away the mostly uneaten cake, I explained that there was nothing really wrong with it, apart from the fact that it was not what I was expecting, nor was it gooey. She took the feedback well, which was indicative of the pleasant service that we received on the day.
I’d been a little excited when I’d seen the menu at Bizou, it’s the type of food that is comforting and easy to eat and I thought it could be a regular stop off point for a quick bite to eat on the way home after work. That excitement has been tempered just a little bit. There are a few more items on the menu that I want to check out that would still make a good option for a quick bite to eat on the way home, in particular the oven roasted Norwegian salmon and the pappardelle al ragu of slow braised short ribs.
What confuses me most though is the label as an American Brasserie; there is nothing quintessentially American about the food at Bizou; you could just use the term modern (insert country name here) and it would be equally correct.
In fact, with Norwegian salmon and Icelandic cod; compiled by a Swedish chef, and an interior that looks more than a little European; I have to ask myself, do we have another Nordic restaurant in disguise?