At what point does a chef throw in the towel with a concept?
Is it when dropping from two Michelin Stars to one? Or the final ignominy of losing that final Michelin Star?
I never went to Spoon by Alain Ducasse when it was a Two Michelin Starred restaurant, but I did have the pleasure of visiting while just a ‘lowly’ one * restaurant. I thought it was really good (see post here), but then, I have a weak spot for French fine dining.
I’ll never know when the decision was made to close down Spoon; but with a location that arguably provided the best views of Hong Kong Island and its magnificent skyline, there would be no way that Mr Ducasse would give up that spot.
As they say, out of the fire, the phoenix rises; and like that Spoon was gone, replaced with Rech by Alain Ducasse.
First, a little history.
Rech is not an original concept, but an exotic outpost of a very famous Parisian restaurant that was established in 1925. Perhaps very famous is a misnomer, given that its been heralded as Paris’s most famous seafood restaurant. Rech was added to the Alain Ducasse’s vast restaurant empire in 2007, where it has gone from strength to strength.
Rech had been open for a few months by the time of our visit; enough time for a new restaurant to iron out the kinks, so I had very high expectations for our visit. We were dining with an out of town friend of the girl’s, along with one of her local study buds; as a celebration of the trio of ‘brainboxes‘ passing some incredibly difficult exams.
What better place that an ultra fine dining restaurant, on the harbour, with views to die for?
I was really quite impressed with the new fit out; gone was the slightly out of date interior that made up Spoon. In its place was a very contemporary and modern looking fit out, with clean lines and simple elegant furniture, the decor felt very now (and more importantly, was really comfortable!)
We were seated at a table that gave us fabulous views of the harbour, and we did debate sitting with our backs to the harbour, so our guests could take in the vista…. But the old adage that if you snooze you lose came to mind; hehe, if they wanted the good seats, then they should have come early (like we did).
Anyway, we were given the menus to look over while we gazed across the harbour, watching the buildings come alive as the sun slowly set. It was clear that Rech by Alain Ducasse was a replica of the Parisian original, fish rightly dominated the menu, which looked quite lovely at first glance. One anomaly though; we were informed that there was a tasting menu available as well, which oddly had meat featured as the main component of the meal…
Why come to a fish restaurant and order meat??
Our guests finally arrived as the girl and I were munching on the seaweed crackers which constituted the start of the meal. The stiff crackers stood to attention in the purpose made pebble and were incredibly crunchy; a tomato paste in a little bowl adding flavour to what were (on their own) quite bland ‘chips’. Thankfully, the combo of the sweet paste combined well with the slightly salty crackers.
The girl had been sipping on her rose champagne as well, selected from a trolly that had various styles and vintages available as an aperitif; the offer also extended to our guests, who also chose the rose. Their toast to celebrate their successes heralded the start of our Rech journey.
We’d agreed that oysters would be a wonderful start to the meal, and with four options to choose from, we took the recommendation from our waiter on the Princesse de Kermancy Creuses spéciales n°2 and the Gillardeau N°3. I was looking for a slightly higher salinity and taste of the sea with my oysters, while everyone else preferred a slightly creamier and plumper version. All were good, and we debated for some time the merits of each!
I’d also ordered off the Raw part of the menu, asking for my Hand-dived sea scallops citron/gold caviar to be delivered at the same time as the oysters. The elegant little bowl contained a lemon and yuzu gel that was covered with lovely fresh scallop chunks, and then was finished with oodles of wonderfully salty caviar. I loved the sweet and salty contrast that was provided by the scallop and caviar combo; and I initially loved the addition of the yuzu gel that underpinned the dish. However, the balance of the dish was off; there just seemed to be too much of the gel, and by the end of the dish, I’d lost that sweetness and only had a super acidic hit on the palate.
Balance was quickly restored though, with the delivery of our amuse bouche. The small bite was a sensationally cooked oyster, layered with a sabayon and creamed spinach; the plump oyster was expertly cooked and was sweet and creamy, made all the more so by the creamy sabayon sauce. The spinach brought a little earthiness to the little bite that was well appreciated.
Our crusty bread rolls were pre sliced and placed on large pebbles that were conveniently located at our table. I loved the seaweed infused butter that accompanied, not the least because they were shaped like swimming fish on their little plates. The bread was freshly baked, warm in the centre, crusty on the outside and when lathered in that salty butter, was utterly yums. I had to specifically stop myself from filling up on bread before our starters were consumed.
My choice of starter was the Pan-seared langoustine ravioles in delicate broth; which was a little bit misleading. The broth was many things, but delicate it was not. But let’s start with the trio of ravioles, the three little parcels of langoustine were surprisingly firm, the searing of the pastry giving a much cruncher exterior than I was expecting; it wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it just made the pastry a little chewy. The delicate flavour of the langoustine was quickly lost though; that delicate broth was actually quite powerful, with a strong fish flavour, it was just a bit potent and just a little bit salty for the dish.
The girl had one of the most talked about new dishes from any restaurant in Hong Kong this year; the Cookpot of tiny spelt with squid and sesame seeds. This dish was simply amazing, clearly living up to it’s reputation as a must try. Apart from being incredibly generous, the combination of expertly cooked (and rather thin) squid slices and the spelt that had clearly soaked up a delicious fish infusion through the cooking process made it an unforgettable dish. It was sweet and complex and, it must be said, pretty darn filling.
Which was just as well; the girl’s main course was probably much more like an entree at most other restaurants. The Sea scallops served in their shell with artichokes and coriander-peanut was a bit of a disappointment from a serving size viewpoint. Sure, the scallops were quite large, but there were only three of them, and in anyone’s book, that is a starter and definitely not a main. There was a dichotomy with the dish, with flavours that were quite interesting and inventive, but scallops that lacked the sweet flavour that came from being sautéed and not caramelised. Thankfully, the coriander was given a light touch, so it avoided that soapy flavour that can occur, and the peanut gave a warming and familiar hit to the palate.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with my simply names Wild cod Aïoli; but it wasn’t the intricate and impeccably plated bowl of seafood that I was presented with! While the star of the plate was undoubtably the expertly cooked cod, which was flakey and oh-so-fresh, the extra ingredients almost stole the show. Most prominent was the thick octopus tentacle with its suction cups proudly on display, but there were prawns and clams and even a snail; all mixed in with perfectly turned vegetables. It was like a hearty fish stew without the stew. I really liked it and was surprisingly full by the time I’d finished my last bite!
Desserts were a mixed bag; the girl and I chose poorly. Who’d of thought that the XL eclair, chocolate* or vanilla would be so boring? The foot long eclairs were presented to us with a flair before being sliced into quarters for much easier consuming. I think I fared much better with my vanilla eclair, it wasn’t so overpowering; boy was the chocolate version powerful! What we both agreed on however, was that the choux pastry had gone a little soggy and wasn’t as delicate and yummy as it could have been.
Our guests on the other hand, hit gold with their choices. Probably the pick was the Mr Rech: hazelnut ice cream and chocolate* sauce, which as simply irresistible! It was an ice cream sandwich, with a warm and gooey chocolate sauce poured over at the table, which coated the sandwich completely. It was glorious to try, the little bit that I had was that mix of textures that sets my palate alight! The chocolate, not only warm, but sweet and delicious was perfect with the hazelnut ice-cream and biscuit covering.
There was a solid hit of rum with the Baba with rum of your choice served with lightly whipped cream; Paul choosing the plantation original dark double aged rum to soak into the super light cake; which was then amped to the max with the addition of whipped cream. Interestingly, after the initial pour of rum over the cake, the bottle was left at the table, so Paul could keep adding to his hearts delight; turns out there is a limit to the amount of rum you can add to Baba!
As with any Alain Ducasse fine dining establishment, our meal finished with a flurry of petite four, including some dark and milk chocolate squares, madeleines and fluffy marshmallow; all much appreciated (as well as expected). However, we did receive a little unexpected gift on our way out of the restaurant (more on that soon).
If I do a direct comparison between my Spoon and Rech meals; I’d have to say that I preferred the Spoon iteration of Mr Ducasse’s Hong Kong restaurants. I say this because I found the consistency of the food at Spoon to be a little better; there were just little elements of the Rech iteration that were not quite perfect…… Yet.
One thing that was consistent with all of the Ducasse restaurants that we’ve been to was the impeccable service. Each of our various wait staff for the evening were great; we even had a couple of the Managers come over for a chat, just to ensure we were having a great time (and I suspect may have remembered me from my last visit).
Given that Rech by Alain Ducasse is still fairly new, I think there is still some improving to be done. I’m being a little critical though, partially because of the name associated with the restaurant, but mostly because of the price point. The place is not cheap and is really entering the market at a Michelin price point; something that really should wait until it has that little star next to it’s title.
As we left the restaurant, each of us were gifted a little blue and white box, which contained some of the famous Alain Ducasse chocolate, directly from his factory in Paris. It was a lovely little treat that lasted me a few days after the visit.