I’ve been trying to think about my culinary journey, more specifically, if there’s been a restaurant that I’ve visited that has the history and grandeur of Gaddi’s; Hong Kong’s most treasured fine dining destination.
When we were telling our friends that we’d booked in for a dinner at Gaddi’s, the response was almost unanimously ‘oooooh, Gaddi’s’.
The Peninsula Hong Kong has long been regarded as one of the world’s most exclusive hotels; with Gaddi’s being the premier fine dining restaurant in the prestigious location. With a history that spans over sixty years, Hong Kong was a very different place when the East’s first fine dining restaurant was established.
Waiters in white tuxedos; hosts in glamorous ball gowns and a band playing live tunes with revellers dancing the night away. Victoria Harbour lapping at the gates of the Peninsula and old style junks slowly making their way to Tsim Sha Tsui.
Sixty years later, little has changed inside the Peninsula Hotel and Gaddi’s; we were greeted by waiters in those same white tuxedoes, patrons were indeed dancing to the beat of a live band and the grand dining room showed little by the way of the 21st Century.
Of course, the hotel is no longer harbour front, reclaimed land putting an end to that particular luxury of the famed Peninsula.
We were seated at one of the raised alcoves overlooking the main dining room, with a couple of leather bound menus and a tough decision to make. Our tuxedoed waiter had given us the spiel about the nights offerings, a grand looking tasting menu befitting the environment; a special truffle menu and the gloriously packed a la carte.
Our recent health kick dictated that a la carte would be our mode of dining; tempting as the tasting menu looked, we were both aware that the multi course menu may be to much to bear (sadly).
We were immediately offered bread from our elegantly dressed waiter; my choice of mini french baguette a forgone conclusion, but the girl chasing a slightly more obscure bacon roll. The choices of butter were interesting; both the usual salted and unsalted varieties were provided, along with a variant that had a twist of lemon. All hand churned and imported from France, of course.
A little amuse bouche was delivered, wide brimmed plates holding the tiniest of morsels; the green apple and cucumber roll, sitting on a squid ink biscuit, was subtle. A soft foam and gel providing a contrasting texture to the crunchy base; light notes from the apple left a twang on the palate.
First for the girl was a very tasty dish from the Australian Black Truffle menu; home made linguini with a creamy sauce and black truffle. It sounded simple, and it was; refreshingly. The simple and clean flavour from the creamy sauce was perfect, allowing the fresh pasta to shine; the added black truffle covered the pasta nicely, the earthy umami hit accentuating the overall crispness of the flavours. It was a wonderful dish which showed a great deal of restraint.
There was little to no restraint with my first dish, and it really suffered as a consequence. Lobster with Kristal caviar covered with a delicate lobster jelly, accompanied by cauliflower chunks and puree. It sounded wonderful as I read it on the menu, the luxurious produce usually pairing nicely. It was a visually stunning, if not unusual looking dish. A perfect dome of jelly covered the lightly poached lobster and caviar; and while it looked lovely, it didn’t allow the freshness of the ingredients to shine. The flavours were muted, pure and simple; I was expecting bags of flavour and there was none. I did wonder if a little seasoning would have made all the difference.
However, it seems that what my lobster dome lacked in flavour, my lobster bisque that followed more than made up for. The contrast was like night and day; the rich bisque was intensely flavoured, and very delicious. Large chunks of lobster added texture to the bisque, which I quickly devoured. It didn’t look pretty, especially after the soup was ladled into the bowl at the table, but it was yummy.
We’d noticed the quite leisurely pace of the service to this point; almost a rejection of the fast paced lifestyle of the world outside the Peninsula. We didn’t mind though, there was something about the setting and the friendly, yet reserved service that called for such pacing.
When our mains were served, there was a level of theatre to the delivery; The girl had chosen the roasted and lightly smoked Royal French pigeon, which was presented in it’s cooking receptacle, before being carved table-side and placed immaculately on its plate. Served on a beetroot ‘checkerboard’ the very smokey pigeon was expertly cooked, the smokiness and earthiness of the beets working in harmony. Pigeon can be a strong, gamey flavour, but there was a delicate balance between the flavours that worked.
I’d chosen poultry as well, sticking with the slow cooked Challans duck served with rhubarb and textures of turnip. Cooked rare, the fatty skin was rendered perfectly, although the skin was not as crisply as I’d have expected. I loved the tart hit from the rhubarb against the strong duck, the earthiness from the turnip puree helping balance out the flavours. There was a sticky jus that had an incredibly layer of strong flavour that was just perfect, so much so I found myself using my finger to clean up the plate.
Desserts, when they came, were the highlight of the evening, more works of art than dishes from Hong Kong’s oldest fine dining restaurant. The girl had chosen an apple Tarte Tatin, which looked more like a flying saucer on a plate than any tarte tatin I’d seen before. A creme anglais was poured at the table, which took the moderately light tarte to a whole new level of luxury. The stewed apple was a little sweet and a little tart, the pastry was crisp and added texture and the vanilla ice-cream silky smooth.
I’d chosen a strawberry and cream option that was simply breathtaking in it’s construction. A dome of meringue was covered in cream and dozens of tiny little strawberries, just perfectly arranged. It was almost too perfect to bust open, but destroy the dessert I did 🙂 It was an interesting mix of differently levels of sweetness and texture; the cream soft and unctuous, the meringue crunchy and very sweet, then the strawberries like little bursts of flavour on the palate. It was a lovely finish to the meal.
From the moment we entered the grand old dining room of Gaddi’s to the moment we were escorted out, service was impeccable. Each of the staff addressed us rather formally as Mr & Mrs Clark; but if felt right. After all, I was dressed in one of my best suits and the girl had worn a beautiful dress. I was a little sceptical about the dress code of Gaddi’s, formal all the way, but understood implicitly why once we’d completed our Gaddi’s experience.
With one rather glaring exception, the meal had been superb; the skills of culinary maestro Xavier Boyer well on display. But that’s what you’d expect from a chef from the Joel Robuchon stable of alumni.
I have to say that the girl and I had just about forgotten about the fast paced and hectic madness of TST that greeted us as we left Gaddi’s for our trip home. For a short time at least, we’d experienced the peace and tranquility of Hong Kong’s oldest fine dining restaurant.