Belon: the Neo-Parisian bistro in Hong Kong

I love it when an Aussie chef does well overseas.

It’s why I was excited and intrigued to learn that James Henry had shut down his well regarded Paris Bistro Bones to establish a new dining establishment here in Hong Kong.  It seemed like a strange move to relocate from the world’s most glamorous culinary city, albeit to one of the world’s most exciting.

It seemed like the Hong Kong media were excited too, there was much fanfare and media coverage about the pending move.

Partnering with Black Sheep, Chef James was looking to establish a Neo-Parisian Bistro of the likes that graced the streets of Paris ten and fifteen years ago.  Taking fine dining to a much more accessible level; a trend that has been prevalent in countries like Australia over the last five years.  Looking to set up in Elgin Street SoHo, you couldn’t get much more accessible than the trendy strip that’s chocked with casual eateries that are frequented by tourists and expats alike.

As excited as I was to see Henry setting up shop in Hong Kong, every time I looked to visit the restaurant, something held me back.  Often I would browse the menu online and not really see any items that excited me, or warranted a visit over one of the countless other restaurants in Hong Kong.

By the time I’d finally decided to bite the bullet and get along for a meal, a funny and strange thing had happened.  I’m not exactly sure when, but very quietly the name James Henry had disappeared from any material or collateral associated with Belon.  Instead another young gun chef by the name of Daniel Calvert was in charge of the kitchen; arguably a more successful chef having worked at Pied à Terre and Per Se.

But not James Henry (who seems to have disappeared off the Internet completely!)

Anyway….

We made our way to Belon for our mid week reservation and were greeted warmly and shown to our table, before being given a couple of menus to look over.  The facade of Belon definitely stands out, the all wood frontage looked very out of place in the largely garish Elgin Street.  The interior was quite something too, turquoise tables sat elegantly in the relatively small space; and like many French bistros, mirrors featured prominently, helping to give a much more spacious feel than the actual square footage.

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The menu itself was split into hors d’oeuvres, small bites that could be purchased individually or as a mini tasting menu; and the more traditional entrees, plats, fromages and dessert.  Most of the items were interesting takes on traditional French bistro cuisine and there was one notable share item, the restaurant’s famous whole roasted chicken served with pommes puree.

As tempting as the whole chicken was, we decided that we didn’t feel like chicken and would have to leave that to try for another time.

My meal kicked off with the simply presented foie gras ‘au torchon’ with preserved blackberries, served with a side of warm rye bread.  The generous serving of cold foie gras (more like a pâté) was incredibly creamy and smooth, with a sweetness that danced on the palate quite beautifully.  Adding the preserved blackberries was a genius move, the slightly tart berries were the perfect foil for the abundantly creamy foie gras.  I also found the rye bread to be particularly delightful with the foie gras, my minor quibble was that three pieces would have worked better with the portion size (as opposed to two).

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The girl wanted something super light for her starter and chose the Shima Aji ‘salade Niçoise’.  It was an interesting take on the traditional salad, replacing tuna with Japanese Horse-mackerel, a slightly oily fish with bags of flavour.  Fresh ingredients came together to provide a wonderful light and delicious starter, a wonderful sauce coated the fish that was subtly sweet.  It was a great dish with one exception; the amount of dill that was included!  There was a serious amount, way too much and the girl ended up leaving most of it on the plate.

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There was a reason why the girl went light salad as a starter, she’d chosen arguably the heaviest main on the menu; the pigeon pithivier with fig and amaretto.  It was a seriously delicious looking pigeon pie that had been cut in half for it’s presentation, as well as being topped by pigeon legs (which looked a little creepy).  Finishing the dish was a wonderfully thick jus that had bags of flavour and was seriously sticky.

The exquisitely cooked pastry was light and buttery and covered the super earthy pigeon breast that was simply perfectly cooked.  It was actually quite a generous sized dish which the girl couldn’t finish and had to get some help from me; I had no quibbles about finishing off the expertly cooked pigeon breast and some of the pastry covering.

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I kind of needed to after so quickly devouring my main course, the lobster salad with aged parmesan.  While the girls main had been extremely generous, I found my main to be quite the opposite, it was incredibly poor value for the pricing (even considering the luxury produce).  While I felt that the portion size was tiny, I had no complaints at all about its preparation or flavour combinations.  The lobster was cooked to perfection, butter poached and delicious; the bite of the parmesan wonderful, as was the slight bite from the cocktail sauce that was hidden under portions of lobster.

We decided to share a dessert and ordered the millefeuille, which is a very traditional French dessert with unknown origins; although it first appeared in 1733 in an English language cookbook written by French chef Vincent La Chapelle.  It was a wonderful rendition of the tri-layered dessert, with incredibly crumbly pastry that was light and buttery, although I did find the vanilla custard to be a little thick in comparison to the pastry (which fell apart to the touch).

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I’d been watching with interest how the restaurant slowly filled, but was never quite full.  My initial experience when booking had been strange; I’d asked for a 7pm booking, only to be told that I could have 6:30 or 7:30; both times not really convenient.  It was almost another case of so-close-yet-so-far for our Belon meal, only after negotiating back and forth did we agree on a 7:15pm slot.

Either way, we arrived at 7pm and were shown straight to our table and to this day I’m super confused about the exchange.

Apart from the initial booking experience, service was superb on the night, the blue aproned staff were well engaged in the service and very knowledgeable and approachable.  There were  also nods towards the restaurant’s fine dining pedigree with a small amuse bouche of comte cheesy puffs and a little gift box that contained sugar crusted short bread biscuits to take at the end of the meal.

I really enjoyed the food and the experience at Belon, but I would have to say that the meal was a little on the pricey side.  It also seemed to be the place to be seen in SoHo, with quite few well known chefs and restauranteurs dining and hanging out (coming and going through the course of our meal).  I could even see myself going back for a future visit, after all, we still need to check out the restaurant’s signature dish of whole roasted chicken.

However, one small element bugs me….

What the heck happened to James Henry?!

http://belonsoho.com

@FoodMeUpScotty

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